Boxing, also called pugilism, is a combat sport in which two people engage in a contest using only their fists. There are two forms of boxing: amateur and professional. Amateur boxing is an Olympic and Commonwealth sport and is a common fixture in most of the major international games – it also has its own World Championships. Boxing is supervised by a referee over a series of between one to three minute intervals called rounds.
The result is decided when an opponent is deemed incapable to continue match by a referee or if an opponent is disqualified for breaking a rule, resigning by throwing in a towel, or by judges’ scorecards at the end of the bout.
The birth of boxing as a sport might be seen as its acceptance by the ancient Greeks as an Olympic game as early as 688 BC. Modern boxing evolved in Europe, particularly Great Britain and Germany. In 2004, ESPN ranked boxing as the most difficult sport in the world.
The Early History of Boxing
Fist fighting depicted in Sumerian relief carvings from the 3rd millennium BC, while an ancient Egyptian relief from the 2nd millennium BC depicts both fist-fighters and spectators. Both depictions show bare-fisted contests. Other depictions can be seen in Assyrian, Babylonian and Hittite art. The earliest evidence for fist fighting with any kind of gloves can be found on Minoan Crete (c. 1500–900 BC), and on Sardinia, if we consider the boxing statues of Prama mountains (c. 2000–1000 BC).
Records of Classical boxing activity disappeared after the fall of the Western Roman Empire when the wearing of weapons became common once again and interest in fighting with the fists waned. However, there are detailed records of various fist-fighting sports that were maintained in different cities and provinces of Italy between the 12th and 17th centuries. There was also a sport in ancient Rus called Fistfight. As the wearing of swords became less common, there was renewed interest in fencing with the fists.
The sport would later resurface in England during the early 16th century in the form of bare-knuckle boxing sometimes referred to as prizefighting. The first documented account of a bare-knuckle fight in England appeared in 1681 in the London Protestant Mercury, and the first English bare-knuckle champion was James Figg in 1719.
This is also the time when the word “boxing” first came to be used. It should be noted, that this earliest form of modern boxing was very different. Contests in Mr. Figg’s time, in addition to fist fighting, also contained fencing and cudgelling. On 6 January 1681, the first recorded boxing match took place in Britain when Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle (and later Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica) engineered a bout between his butler and his butcher with the latter winning the prize.
The Rules of Boxing
A boxing match typically consists of a determined number of three-minute rounds, a total of up to 12 rounds (formerly 15). A minute is typically spent between each round with the fighters in their assigned corners receiving advice and attention from their coach and staff. The fight is controlled by a referee who works within the ring to judge and control the conduct of the fighters, rule on their ability to fight safely, count knocked-down fighters, and rule on fouls. Up to three judges are typically present at ringside to score the bout and assign points to the boxers, based on punches that connect, defence, knock-downs, and other, more subjective, measures. Because of the open-ended style of boxing judging, many fights have controversial results, in which one or both fighters believe they have been “robbed” or unfairly denied a victory.
Each fighter has an assigned corner of the ring, where his or her coach, as well as one or more “seconds” may administer to the fighter at the beginning of the fight and between rounds. Each boxer enters into the ring from their assigned corners at the beginning of each round and must cease fighting and return to their corner at the signalled end of each round.
A bout in which the predetermined number of rounds passes is decided by the judges, and is said to “go the distance”. The fighter with the higher score at the end of the fight is ruled the winner. With three judges, unanimous and split decisions are possible, as are draws. A boxer may win the bout before a decision is reached through a knock-out; such bouts are said to have ended “inside the distance”.
If a fighter is knocked down during the fight, determined by whether the boxer touches the canvas floor of the ring with any part of their body other than the feet as a result of the opponent’s punch and not a slip, as determined by the referee, the referee begins counting until the fighter returns to his or her feet and can continue. Should the referee count to ten, then the knocked-down boxer is ruled “knocked out” (whether unconscious or not) and the other boxer is ruled the winner by knock-out (KO).
A “technical knock-out” (TKO) is possible as well, and is ruled by the referee, fight doctor, or a fighter’s corner if a fighter is unable to safely continue to fight, based upon injuries or being judged unable to effectively defend themselves. Many jurisdictions and sanctioning agencies also have a “three-knockdown rule”, in which three knock-downs in a given round result in a TKO. A TKO is considered a knock-out in a fighter’s record. A “standing eight” count rule may also be in effect. This gives the referee the right to step in and administer a count of eight to a fighter that he feels may be in danger, even if no knock-down has taken place. After counting the referee will observe the fighter, and decide if he is fit to continue. For scoring purposes, a standing eight count is treated as a knock-down.
In general, boxers are prohibited from hitting below the belt, holding, tripping, pushing, biting, or spitting. The boxer’s shorts are raised so the opponent is not allowed to hit to the groin area with intent to cause pain or injury. Failure to abide by the former may result in a foul or wallet slap. They also are prohibited from kicking, head-butting, or hitting with any part of the arm other than the knuckles of a closed fist (including hitting with the elbow, shoulder or forearm, as well as with open gloves, the wrist, the inside, back or side of the hand).
They are also prohibited as well from hitting the back, back of the neck or head (called a “rabbit-punch”) or the kidneys. They are prohibited from holding the ropes for support when punching, holding an opponent while punching, or ducking below the belt of their opponent (dropping below the waist of your opponent, no matter the distance between).
If a “clinch” – a defensive move in which a boxer wraps his or her opponents arms and holds on to create a pause – is broken by the referee, each fighter must take a full step back before punching again (alternatively, the referee may direct the fighters to “punch out” of the clinch). When a boxer is knocked down, the other boxer must immediately cease fighting and move to the furthest neutral corner of the ring until the referee has either ruled a knock-out or called for the fight to continue.
Violations of these rules may be ruled “fouls” by the referee, who may issue warnings, deduct points, or disqualify an offending boxer, causing an automatic loss, depending on the seriousness and intentionality of the foul. An intentional foul that causes injury that prevents a fight from continuing usually causes the boxer who committed it to be disqualified. A fighter who suffers an accidental low-blow may be given up to five minutes to recover, after which they may be ruled knocked out if they are unable to continue. Accidental fouls that cause injury ending a bout may lead to a “no contest” result, or else cause the fight to go to a decision if enough rounds (typically four or more, or at least three in a four-round fight) have passed.
Unheard of these days, but common during the early 20th Century in North America, a “newspaper decision (NWS)” might be made after a no decision bout had ended. A “no decision” bout occurred when, by law or by pre-arrangement of the fighters, if both boxers were still standing at the end of the fight and there was no knock-out, no official decision was rendered and neither boxer was declared the winner.
However, this did not prevent the pool of ringside newspaper reporters from declaring a consensus result among themselves and printing a newspaper decision in their publications. Officially, however, a “no decision” bout resulted in neither boxer winning or losing. Boxing historians sometimes use these unofficial newspaper decisions in compiling fight records for illustrative purposes only. Often, media outlets covering a match will personally score the match, and post their scores as an independent sentence in their report.
Since boxing involves forceful, repetitive punching, precautions must be taken to prevent damage to bones in the hand. Most trainers do not allow boxers to train and spar without wrist wraps and boxing gloves. Hand wraps are used to secure the bones in the hand, and the gloves are used to protect the hands from blunt injury, allowing boxers to throw punches with more force than if they did not utilise them. Gloves have been required in competition since the late nineteenth century, though modern boxing gloves are much heavier than those worn by early twentieth-century fighters. Prior to a bout, both boxers agree upon the weight of gloves to be used in the bout, with the understanding that lighter gloves allow heavy punchers to inflict more damage.
The brand of gloves can also affect the impact of punches, so this too is usually stipulated before a bout. A mouth guard is important to protect the teeth and gums from injury, and to cushion the jaw, resulting in a decreased chance of knock-out. Both fighters must wear soft soled shoes to reduce the damage from accidental (or intentional) stepping on feet. While older boxing boots more commonly resembled those of a professional wrestler, modern boxing shoes and boots tend to be quite similar to their amateur wrestling counterparts.
Boxers practice their skills on two basic types of punching bags. A small, tear-drop-shaped “speed bag” is used to hone reflexes and repetitive punching skills, while a large cylindrical “heavy bag” filled with sand, a synthetic substitute, or water is used to practice power punching and body blows. In addition to these distinctive pieces of equipment, boxers also utilise sport-nonspecific training equipment to build strength, speed, agility, and stamina. Common training equipment includes free weights, rowing machines, jump rope, and medicine balls.