History of Boxing


History of boxing:

Boxing is a sport of fighting with fists, also called pugilism (literally fist fight) and prizefighting (in other words, the fight for prizes/money). Boxing has been included in the Olympic Games program since 1904. For centuries people used their fists to resolve disputes before someone thought of organizing such fights as entertainment.

BC Period

There is a clear evidence that boxing existed as early as 1500 BC, on the Crete Island. The modern researchers insist that such duels had been known even earlier than that, in Africa, specifically in the region of modern Ethiopia.

The hieroglyphic scriptures dated back to the year 4000 BC revealed the popularity of this sport throughout the Nile Plateau and all over the Egypt, after the latter had conquered Ethiopia. The enhancement of the Egyptian civilization through the Mediterranean region and the Middle East caused boxing to spread its influence. In the year 686 BC boxing became an essential part of the Olympics.

However, ancient boxing barely resembles the sport we admire today. All fights were carried out on open plots, where the spectators formed a living arena. The fight normally lasted until one of the opponents was seriously injured. Although the first boxers primarily fought for glory, the winner was also granted the gold, livestock or other trophies.

To protect wrists and hands the fighters braided their fists and sometimes two thirds of their forearms with thin soft leather straps. By the 4th century BC the straps were made of harder leather and were used not just as an arm protection gadget but turned the fists into the kind of assault weapon. Later, in the Roman Empire, the leather straps were armored with special copper and iron brackets used in gladiators’ fights which usually ended with the death of one of the fighters.

Minoan youths boxing, Akrotiri (Santorini) fresco. Earliest documented use of 'gloves'.

Common Era

With the spread of Christianity and the collapse of the Roman Empire, fist fights ceased to exist as an entertainment and were forgotten for several centuries. The first official bout was registered in England in 1681. And since 1698 regularly scheduled boxing matches were conducted in the Royal Theater in London.

Gradually London became the center for provincial boxing champions seeking fame, glory and money. That very reason was an incentive for the boxing development in London in particular. In those bouts each boxer’s remuneration as well as the percentage of stakes gambled by spectators were settled. The fighters did not use gloves and did not follow common rules. Weight classification was not determined, which resulted in only one Champion announcement. The lightweight boxers were often beaten. Though rounds were determined, a fight usually lasted until one of the opponents was unable to continue the fight. It was not prohibited to attack an opponent even after he fell to the ground. These conditions existed until mid-XVI century.

Despite the fact that the boxing was outlawed, it was gaining more and more popularity. In 1719, James Figg, the favorite of the public and the winner of many boxing matches, was proclaimed the Champion of England and held the title for fifteen years. Jack Brownton, one of James Figg’s followers, made an attempt to turn fist-fighting matches of the time into real athletic competition.

In 1743 Jack Brownton wrote the first Code of Rules, and those rules, with minor modifications, were used until 1838, when they were replaced by the updated ‘London Prize Ring Rules’. Broughton abolished the fighting methods widely used by his predecessors (mostly the tactics of drunkard’s boozy brawls in pubs), giving the preference to hands fight only. The boxers were forbidden to punch beneath the waist. Under Brownton’s rules, the fight lasted until one of the fighters was knocked down. If he then was unable to enter the ring and take his stand within one-yard range from his opponent, he was considered a loser.

It was forbidden to punch the opponent after he was beaten, his handlers had 30 seconds to get him into position on one side of the square, facing his opponent. Jack Brownton was recognized as the ‘Father of Boxing’. He opened a training gym to coach his followers. He also invented ‘mufflers’, the first boxing gloves, to protect boxers’ hands and faces.

When Jack Slack had beaten Brownton, the fights for the title of Champion became more regular. The boxing lost its appeal as something extraordinary, and the public’s interest towards this sport decreased slightly, though such fighters as Daniel Mendoza and John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson were still extremely popular.

Daniel Mendoza weighed 160 pounds (76 kg) and had a strong and quick left punch. After his victory over Mendoza, Jackson contributed to the financial qualification model of prizing that gave boxing more respectability. In 1814, in London, The Boxing Society was founded. The London Prize Ring Rules, which were widely used both in England and America were adopted by that Society in 1838. These rules were used for the first time in 1838, when James ‘Deaf’ Zamnet lost his title of The Champion of England in his fight versus William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson.

The fight was conducted on the 24 square feet ring, bounded by two ropes from each side. When one of the fighters fell on the ring floor, the round was ended. At that time, the injured boxer was attended to in the corner of the ring during a 30-second break. After a 30-second break, the opponents were to take their stands in the ring center and the next round would begin. If one of the opponents did not enter the ring center within eight seconds, the other one was proclaimed a winner. It was forbidden to curse, quarrel, hit with heads and legs, and to hit beneath the waist on the ring. All those actions were claimed inappropriate during the ring fighting.

Queensberry Code of Rules:

Though the ‘London Prize Ring Rules’ Code of Rules turned boxing into a more civilized sport, quarrels and cursing, not uncommon among the old-fashioned pugilists from the lower society classes, shocked the upper-class audience of the English society. It became obvious that existing bo had to be modified. In 1867 John Gram from the Chamber of Amateur Sport Club proposed the new Code of Rules, where methods and rules of boxing were described. Those rules were called after John Szolto Douglas, the Queensberry marquis. The new ‘Queensberry’ Rules differed from those of ‘London Prize Ring Rules’ in four key area:

  • Opponents had to wear padded gloves
  • The round lasted for three minutes of fighting, with a one minute break required
  • Any other kind of fighting except for using hands was forbidden
  • Any of the boxers who touched the ring floor had to stand up within 10 seconds, otherwise he was claimed to be beaten and the fight proclaimed ended.

Those rules also contained the classification based on the sportsman’s weight category (group). At first, the newly adopted rules were neglected and disregarded by professionals, who proclaimed them to be too “unmanly” and continued boxing in accordance with the “London Prize Ring Rules”. However, a great deal of young boxers gave their preference to the “Queensberry” Rules. James “Jam” Mace was the first sportsman who won the Champion of England title among heavyweight boxers in 1861. James “Jem” Mace, who was the first boxer to use the padded gloves in such competition, greatly contributed to the popularity of the “Queensberry” Rules.

John L. Sullivan, a famous American boxer of the time, expressed his discontent with the fact that the World Championship was arranged in accordance with the “Queensberry” Rules. In 1889 in a small London suburb where the World Championship among heavyweight boxers was conducted, Sullivan insisted on knuckle-bared boxing, without using gloves.

In 1889 Sullivan defended the Champion’s title among heavyweight boxers against Jake Karline, boxing knuckle-bared, for the last time. Because in England this rule was proclaimed unlawful the bout was conducted in the United States.

After that fight a number of legal issues forced Sullivan to defend his Champion title against James J. Corbet using the padded gloves and in accordance with “Queensberry” rules.

Economic Incentive

In the beginning of the XX th century, the boxing became probably one of the shortest way to glory and wealth. The center for professional boxing promotion gradually moved to the USA. This was primarily caused by the growing US economy, as well as by a great number of immigrants arriving there from all over the world. The extreme poverty and hunger forced thousands of Irish people to seek sanctuary in the New World.

By 1915 the Irish became the dominating national group in the professional boxing, representing such boxers as Terry McGovern, “Philadelphia” Jack O’Brien, Mike (“Twin”) Sullivan and his brother Jack, Packey McFarland, Jimmy Clabby, Jack Britton and many others.

A number of talented boxers from Germany, Scandinavia and the Central Europe emerged as well. The outstanding Jewish sportsmen, such as Joe Choynski, Abe Atell, “Battling” Levinsky and Harry Lewis who were actively boxing until 1915 were followed by the second wave of such boxers, as Barney Ross, Benny Leonard, Sid Terris, Lew Tendler, Al Singer, Maxie Rosenbloom and Max Baer. One cannot help remembering such world famous American boxers of Italian origin, as Tony Canzoneri, Rocky Marciano, Johnny Dundee and Willie Pep.

Meanwhile, the black Americans also started to reach the great boxing heights. Peter Jackson, Sam Langford, Joe Walcott, and George Dixon are among the African Americans who reached the peak of glory in boxing in the USA. Joe Gans who won the Worlds Championship in lightweight group in 1902 and Jack Johnson, who became the first black champion among heavyweight boxers in 1908. Due to racism the participation of black Americans in the world boxing championships was highly hindered. Sullivan refused to defend his World Champion title against black Jackson, and Jack Dempsey, also known as “Manasa Mauler” refused to bout versus black Harry Wills. Johnson was not recognized as the champion due to his skin color, and after multiple persecutions, he was forced to leave the USA.

Black American boxers persecution lasted until the “Great Depression” of 1929. In 1937 the black boxer Joe Louis won the World Champion title among heavyweight boxers and became one of the most noted boxers. Henry Armstrong, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, “Jersey” Joe Wolcott, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier also won the World Champion titles in various weight groups.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century the black fighters dominated other boxers. “Sugar” Ray Leonard, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks and Mike Tyson are among them.

Spain also contributed with its famous boxers, such as Carlos Monzon, Pascual Perez, Roberto Duran and Alexis Arguello. Pancho Villa from the Philippines was the first Asian boxer who won the World Champion title in the lightweight group in 1923. In the late 20s the Eastern Asia presented a great number of boxers, who were successfully fighting for the highest titles in the professional boxing.

Development of Amateur Boxing:

Marquis John Szolto Douglas, the developer of the “Queensberry” Rules, initiated the first amateur boxing competitions in 1867. In 1880 the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) was founded and since 1881 the first regular championships had been arranged among amateurs. In 1888 in the USA the Amateur Sporting Union (AAU) was founded and since then annual national championships among amateurs had been conducted.

In 1926 the “Chicago Tribune” arranged the “Golden Gloves” amateur competitions with the status of national championship, which were competing with bouts arranged by AAU. The law forbidding the AAU to control more than one Olympic sport was passed in 1978 in the USA. This resulted in the establishment of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation (USA/ABF).

The amateur boxing quickly gained polpularity worldwide. This resulted in the arrangement of international tournaments, held every year, every two years, or as in the Olympic Games case, every four years. European Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan-American Games, All-African Championships, World Military Games are among internationally recognized competitions among amateur boxers.

All amateur competitions are conducted under the control of Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur – AIBA), established in 1946 with its headquarters in London.

In 1950 the Soviet Union joined the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur – AIBA and took part in the Olympic games in 1952, where the high level of professionalism of Soviet sportsmen in this kind of sports was demonstrated along with the East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Cuba. The professional boxing is still forbidden by the F. Castro’s government in Cuba, therefore the Cuban boxers dominate in the international amateur boxing.

Teofilio Stevenson, the Cuban heavyweight won the Olympic Gold in 1972, 1976 and 1980. Boxing in Africa started developing in the 50-s – 60-s, after the majority of countries of that continent became politically independent.

Professional Boxing Managers and Promoters:

Managers are , frequently, the most influential people in a professional boxers’ career. A manager is responsible for maintaining his boxers’ fitness and motivation levels, handling contracts, coaching, supervision and preparation for fights.

In the fistfights times, the best fighters had patrons who defended their financial interests. However, when boxing became less popular among nobility, boxers were engaged by professionals, who took care of money issues and chose appropriate opponents for boxers as well. This very function became managers’ major task.

A good manager thoughtfully leads his protege to fame and in reward for a job well-done, receives a portion of profits. The most successful managers often become as popular as the boxing champions themselves. Promoters are people responsible for fight planning and organization, invitation of boxers, and probably play the most important role benind the scene (or outside the ring!).

George “Tex” Rickard, the first prominent promoter, was the man who turned boxing into a big business. In 1906, after he arranged the fight for the lightweight World Champion title between Joe Gans and Oscar “Battling” Nelson in a small miners’ settlement Nev. Goldfield, he understood that he could get considerable profits arranging professional boxing fights. Rickard, playing up the public feelings and professionally using the advertising for attracting spectators to the boxing tournaments, had considerably increased the earnings from ticket sales. He also was the first person to suggest the idea of broadcasting boxing matches that increased boxing audience and the number of fans. He invested over $1million into each of the five matches to promote Jack Dempsey, the World Champion, in 1919-1926. During the years of the “Great Depression”, when the sporting career of Jack Dempsey was over, the dividends from Rickard’s previous investments gradually decreased. Then, in 1935 promoter Mike Jacobs signed the contract with Joe Louis, starting the new era of big profits. The earnings gained throughout Louis sporting career exceeded $5,000,000.

The English promoter Jack Solomons, who helped one of the ailing British boxers to get on his feet after the World War II, encouraged many leading American boxers to cross Atlantic, while they would rather have stayed at home. Many outstanding English promoters such as Harry Liven, Mikky Daff, Mike Berrett and Berry Irn followed Solomons’ way.

Lately, promoters are often suspected in dubious deals and undertakings. Scandalously known American promoters Don King and Bob Arum were under close FBI investigation. King is probably one of the most controversial people in modern boxing. Although he worked hard to promote the sport of boxing and his boxers, Tyson and Chavez, his methods and style were rather questionable.

The spotlight of the English promoter Franck Warren in 1990 gave rise to the anxiety about the integrity of the sport.

TV and Professional Boxing

The TV was playing a significant role in professional boxing promotion after the World War II. Because of relatively low funds needed to be invested into professional boxing matches broadcasting from the mid 1950s, boxing broadcasts became more regular than other sport events. The interest towards professional boxing broadcasting decreased after 1962. However, in 1976 when five American boxers won the Olympic gold and then entered the rank of professionals, the interest of the TV audience in boxing matches grew again. The introduction of the cable TV in the USA in the mid 1980s influenced the emergence of a large number of professional clubs where young boxers were coached and trained.

TV broadcasts have significantly increased the professional boxing returns. The multimillion earnings gained from the fights for the Super Heavyweight World Champion title in the mid 1960s became a part of the deal. The boxing legend, Muhammad Ali earned over $ 69,000,000 during his 20 year-long career.

On April 6, 1987 two famous welterweights Ray “Sugar” Leonard and Marvin Hagler shared the fees of $ 30,000,000. In addition to TV broadcases, professional boxing popularization in America and Europe was done through arrangements of boxing matches in casinos. The most prestigious casinos in Las-Vegas, Atlantic City and New Jersey profited from professional boxing tournaments, although those boxing shows were worldwide recognized as well.

Professional Boxing Associations

The world professional boxing doesn’t have the unified organization controlling both amateur and professional boxing.

Two organizations were founded In 1920 in the USA:

  • National Boxing Association – public organization;
  • New York State Athletic Commission – governmental organization.

The sharing of the control resulted in the situation when the competing organizations awarded similar titles to different boxers.

In Europe, the International Boxing Union became the body governing professional boxing, which was reorganized in 1948 into the European Boxing Union. Several attempts were undertaken to establish a unified association controlling the professional boxing worldwide, but they all failed.

The World Boxing Council (WBC) was established In 1963. The National Boxing Association (NBA) changed its name for the World Boxing Association (WBA) in early 1960s. In 1983 the International Boxing Federation (IBF) was formed and in 1988 the World Boxing Organization (WBO) started its activities.

The International Boxing Organization (IBO) was established in 1991. It has adopted an independent computerized rating system as its own rating.

The weight groups (classes)

The growing boxing popularity inspired the boxers’ weight groups classification formulation during the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century. The fact that the boxer who weighed more had an advantage over the less weighed opponent served as a basis for that classification. The weight classification was developed both in the USA and the UK.

Eight weight groups were singled out, which are recognized worldwide:

  • flyweight – less than 112 pounds (50,8kg)
  • bantamweight – 118 pounds (53,5kg)
  • featherweight – 126 pounds (57,2kg)
  • lightweight – 135 pounds (61,2kg)
  • welterweight – 147 pounds (66,7 kg)
  • middleweight – 160 pounds (72,6 kg)
  • light-heavyweight – 175 pounds (79,4 kg)
  • heavyweight – over 175 pounds (79, 4 kg).

The above weight groups should be observed in all the world and national competitions. If the boxer’s weight exceeds the weight provided in the specified weight group, which he represents, he should be given the time to fit his weight in accordance to the accepted standards. If he fails the fight might be abolished. If after the Champion’s title awarding it becomes known that the boxer’s weight exceeded the one specified by the weight classification, the title of Champion would be taken away from that boxer.

Two additional weight groups such as “junior-lightweight” – 130 pounds (59 kg) and “junior-welterweight” – 140 pounds (63, 5 kg) were registered in the USA in the 1920s (the term “junior” doesn’t have any relation to the age) in boxing. These weight classifications were adopted for boxers, who couldn’t fit the above eight weight groups.

The great popularity of the professional boxing resulted in actual existence of 17 weight groups. The World Boxing Council (WBC) introduced the following weight classification for boxers:

  • cruiserweight – 195 pounds (88,5 kg)
  • super middleweight – 165 pounds (74,8 kg)
  • super welterweight – 154 pounds (69,9 kg)
  • super bantamweight – 122 ponds (55,3 kg)
  • super flyweight – 116 pounds (52,6 kg)
  • light flyweight – 110 pounds (49,9 kg)
  • straw weight – 105 pounds (47,6 kg)

Ring, Rules, Equipment

As far as there is no unified controlling authority both in professional and amateur boxing, the unified rules of boxing fights arranging and running, equipment for the boxing rings and for boxers’ fit out are not defined. The USA and other countries have their own rules for boxing tournaments.

The boxing tournaments are conducted in a square ring, the side of which may vary from 18 till 22 feet (from 5 m, 49 cm till 6 m, 71 cm). Three stretched ropes encircle the ring.

The rules regulating amateur boxing tournaments are unified all over the world.

The rules regulating amateur boxing tournaments are unified all over the world. The amateur boxing tournaments are usually divided into three rounds paused by two one-minute breaks. The duration of one round is three minutes. Boxers should protect the heads with specially fitted helmets. The referee usually controls how the rules of a tournament are observed. The scoring in the amateur tournaments is usually carried out by three to five referees standing close to the ring and deciding who is the winner. The amateur boxing tournament rules should be strictly followed.

The amateur boxing rules differ significantly from those adopted in professional boxing. The professional boxing fights may last from four to twelve rounds. The duration of one round is limited by three minutes, although the two-minutes rounds are often arranged in England. The professional boxing tournaments used to last for fifteen rounds, however by the end of the1980s, WBC, WBA and IBF passed the common decision to limit the number of rounds by twelve.

The boxers are usually equipped with padded gloves weighing from eight to ten ounces (226,8 – 283,3 g).

The referee usually stands in the center of a ring and observes how the fighting rules are followed. Some rules allow presence of two-four referees outside the ring. But scoring is carried out only by three of them (ringside referees), which estimate the scores for each of the boxers and make a decision regarding a winner. The scoring is done for each round, and in order to determine the winner at least two or three referees should give a preference to one of the boxers. Such victory is usually called “by scoring win” (in the fights listing it is qualified and marked as “W” for winner and “L” for loser).

The bout may be ended by a knockout when one of the fighters is knocked down and is not able to stand up and continue fighting within ten seconds, i.e. when the referee started counting and counted till ten (in fights listing such victory is listed as KO for winner and LKO for loser). The fight may be ended by the so-called technical knock out (it’s listed in the fights listing as TKO for winner and LTKO for loser). This occurs when the referee stops the bout because of the obvious advantage of one of the fighters; coaches and bottle-holders of the boxer make a decision to terminate a bout (in this case the white towel is hoisted); if one of the boxers is injured and this does not allow him to continue a bout, or, if the trauma may menace one of the boxers’ life and health (such decision can be made by a doctor being a member of a panel of referees). The tournament may be drawn as well, i.e. the referees didn’t give their preference to any of the boxers upon the completion of all the rounds determined for the bout. In this case the referee makes a “no contest” decision, that is the tournament didn’t take place. In the fights listing it’s marked as NC. This decision may be taken when two boxers are disqualified or withdrawn from the tournament.

The win may be awarded to one of the boxers if the other is disqualified. The disqualification may be caused by the rules violation by one of the boxers (hitting by head, punching beneath the waist, etc), the sporting equipment or the weight group of one of the boxers does not fit the specified weight qualification. In the fights listing this may be marked as WDSQ for winner and LDSQ for loser).

Boxing tactics

The boxers’ tactics is the outmost decisive element in boxing. An efficient attack in boxing usually depends on the ability to make the strong and fine hand punches in the head and body of the opponent.

The defense tactics comprises:

  • Parrying and ability to stand one or several opponent’s punches
  • Ability to avoid opponent’s punches while moving across the ring
  • An active body work, that doesn’t allow the opponent to punch in a head or a body.

The legs movements are very important for attack and defense.

There are two main standing positions in boxing: right-sided “orthodox” and left-sided, “southpaw”. In the first case the left hand and the left leg are put ahead, in the second stand-up – the right leg and the right hand are positioned ahead. There are also so-called “switch-hitting” boxers who use both positions during the whole tournament.

In any of the positions the attacking hand is stretched ahead the body, the other hand is under the chin and defends it. The chin is pulled down on the breast, the shoulders are stooping. Obliviously, each boxer has his own individual standing.

There are four main punches used in boxing:

  • Jab – a sudden punch. The short and quick punch effective both in orthodox and southpaw standings made by the leading hand. The punch may be effected by any of the hands;
  • Hook – the short side punch of the hand, bended in elbow and wrist, twisted inside.
  • Uppercut – the short swinging upward punch with the fist delivered in the opponent’s chin.
  • Cross – the straight punch delivered across the opponent’s body on the shoulders’ level. The punch is usually accompanied by the main hand punch after the attacking hand punch.

All other punches are modifications of these four above punches.

The Style

In the past, when boxers arranged their tournaments bare-knuckled, the fight was focused only on the power of delivered punch. Such style was followed until one of the opponents became unable to continue fighting. The hands of a boxer didn’t have a definite position, neither did the legs’ movements. When the boxing gloves were introduced together with the scoring system and the boxers had a chance to win by scores, boxing tactics, comprising both hands and legs movements became more important. James G. Corbett was the first modern heavyweight boxer who focused on the boxing tactics.

The heavyweight Champ Jack Dempsey was very famous among the spectators because of his aggressive fight tactics and his attempts to end the fight by knockouts. Dempsey conducted the fight using the low standing position, pending as a pendulum and allowing his opponent to attack.

The Champ Joe Louis improved the “stalking” style, which he used to persecute the opponent across the ring until he ultimately knocked him down. The super heavyweight Mike Tyson, in the late 1980s won the WBA, WBC and IBF World Champion titles using the same tactics in boxing.

Prior to Muhammad Ali, it was believed that super heavyweights could not move fast across the ring. But Ali proved that he was the fastest heavyweight of his time. As if he would dance around his opponents with the hanging hands able to quickly take a standing for defense and attack. Although he did not have crashing punches, he won a lot of fights by knockouts conducting the powerful and quick punches combinations.

The choice of the style is very individual for each boxer, however, swift moves and precise punches are the two key elements in the modern boxing tactics.