No holds barred means that no regulations, rules or restrictions will be applied to a situation or conflict. A contest or dispute that is designated no holds barred is a contest or dispute where nothing is off-limits, it is a free-for-all during which any tactic may be fairly employed. The idiom no holds barred comes from the sport of wrestling, in which various holds are employed to pin one’s opponent. Eventually, certain holds were deemed dangerous to the participants and were banned from the sport of wrestling. Bouts in which the wrestlers did not follow the rules of the regulated sport of wrestling were advertised as no holds barred, the earliest print reference found in Manitoba in 1892. When the term no holds barred is used as an adjective before a noun, then it is hyphenated as no-holds-barred.
NO HOLDS BARRED: Hillary Clinton’s treatment of Michael Oren as ambassador (The Jerusalem Post)
No holds barred: Irate medical students hold mock funeral for government (The Express Tribune)
Emmy Bezzina hosting adults only no-holds-barred live show (The Times of Malta)
A fully-booked “no-holds-barred” debate on Britain’s future in the European Union will be held tonight in the Town Hall. (The Oxford Mail)
“Viewers will get to hear first-hand from Mr. Buffett, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, as they offer up insights in a no-holds-barred Q&A session with the on-site audience,” according to the release, “and provide business updates on Berkshire and its subsidiaries.” (Fortune Magazine)
Realizing that such a no-holds-barred approach could lead to exhaustion as well as exhilaration, the band wisely smoothed things out on its second album, Arc (2013). (The Observer)