Boxing is a combat sport in which two people, wearing protective gloves, throw punches at one another for a predetermined amount of time in a boxing ring.
Amateur boxing is both an Olympic and Commonwealth Games sport and is a common fixture in most international games. It also has its own World Championships. A referee oversees a Boxing match, over a series of one- to three-minute intervals called rounds.
The result is decided when an opponent is deemed incapable to continue by a referee, is disqualified for breaking a rule, or resigns by throwing in a towel. If a fight completes all of its allocated rounds, the victor is determined by judges’ scorecards at the end of the contest. When both the boxers score equal points, the match is a draw. In Olympic boxing, because a winner must be declared, judges award the content to one fighter on technical criteria.
While humans have fought in hand-to-hand combat since the dawn of human history, the earliest evidence of fist-fighting sporting contests date back to the ancient Middle East in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. The earliest evidence of boxing rules date back to Ancient Greece, where boxing was established as an Olympic game in 688 BC. Boxing evolved from 16th- and 18th-century prizefights, largely in Great Britain, to the forerunner of modern boxing in the mid-19th century with the 1867 introduction of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.
The earliest known depiction of boxing comes from a Sumerian relief in Iraq from the 3rd millennium BC. Later depictions from the 2nd millennium BC are found in reliefs from the Mesopotamian nations of Assyria and Babylonia, and in Hittite art from Asia Minor. A relief sculpture from Egyptian Thebes (c. 1350 BC) shows both boxers and spectators. These early Middle-Eastern and Egyptian depictions showed contests where fighters were either bare-fisted or had a band supporting the wrist. The earliest evidence of fist fighting with the use of gloves can be found on Minoan Crete (c. 1500–1400 BC).
Various types of boxing existed in ancient India. The earliest references to musti-yuddha come from classical Vedic epics such as the Ramayana and Rig Veda. The Mahabharata describes two combatants boxing with clenched fists and fighting with kicks, finger strikes, knee strikes and headbutts. Duels (niyuddham) were often fought to the death. During the period of the Western Satraps, the ruler Rudradaman – in addition to being well-versed in “the great sciences” which included Indian classical music, Sanskrit grammar, and logic – was said to be an excellent horseman, charioteer, elephant rider, swordsman and boxer. The Gurbilas Shemi, an 18th-century Sikh text, gives numerous references to musti-yuddha.
In Ancient Greece boxing was a well developed sport and enjoyed consistent popularity. In Olympic terms, it was first introduced in the 23rd Olympiad, 688 BC. The boxers would wind leather thongs around their hands in order to protect them. There were no rounds and boxers fought until one of them acknowledged defeat or could not continue. Weight categories were not used, which meant heavyweights had a tendency to dominate. The style of boxing practiced typically featured an advanced left leg stance, with the left arm semi-extended as a guard, in addition to being used for striking, and with the right arm drawn back ready to strike. It was the head of the opponent which was primarily targeted, and there is little evidence to suggest that targeting the body was common.
Boxing was a popular spectator sport in Ancient Rome. In order for the fighters to protect themselves against their opponents they wrapped leather thongs around their fists. Eventually harder leather was used and the thong soon became a weapon. The Romans even introduced metal studs to the thongs to make the cestus. Fighting events were held at Roman Amphitheatres. The Roman form of boxing was often a fight until death to please the spectators who gathered at such events. However, especially in later times, purchased slaves and trained combat performers were valuable commodities, and their lives were not given up without due consideration. Often slaves were used against one another in a circle marked on the floor. This is where the term ring came from. In AD 393, during the Roman gladiator period, boxing was abolished due to excessive brutality. It was not until the late 16th century that boxing re-surfaced in London.
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 Kulachniy Boy or “Fist Fighting”.
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. This earliest form of modern boxing was very different. Contests in Mr. Figg’s time, in addition to fist fighting, also contained fencing and cudgeling. 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 first boxing rules, called the Broughton’s rules, were introduced by champion Jack Broughton in 1743 to protect fighters in the ring where deaths sometimes occurred. Under these rules, if a man went down and could not continue after a count of 30 seconds, the fight was over. Hitting a downed fighter and grasping below the waist were prohibited. Broughton encouraged the use of ‘mufflers’, a form of padded bandage or mitten, to be used in ‘jousting’ or sparring sessions in training, and in exhibition matches.
These rules did allow the fighters an advantage not enjoyed by today’s boxers; they permitted the fighter to drop to one knee to end the round and begin the 30-second count at any time. Thus a fighter realizing he was in trouble had an opportunity to recover. However, this was considered “unmanly” and was frequently disallowed by additional rules negotiated by the Seconds of the Boxers. In modern boxing, there is a three-minute limit to rounds (unlike the downed fighter ends the round rule). Intentionally going down in modern boxing will cause the recovering fighter to lose points in the scoring system. Furthermore, as the contestants did not have heavy leather gloves and wristwraps to protect their hands, they used different punching technique to preserve their hands because the head was a common target to hit full out. Almost all period manuals have powerful straight punches with the whole body behind them to the face (including forehead) as the basic blows.
The introduced measures that remain in effect for professional boxing to this day, such as outlawing butting, gouging, scratching, kicking, hitting a man while down, holding the ropes, and using resin, stones or hard objects in the hands, and biting.
The Marquess of Queensberry rules have been the general rules governing modern boxing since their publication in 1867.
A boxing match typically consists of a determined number of three-minute rounds, a total of up to 9 to 12 rounds. A minute is spent between each round, when the fighters at their assigned corners receive advice and attention from their coach and staff. A referee 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 and elbows that connect, defense, knockdowns, hugging and other, more subjective, measures. Because of the open-ended style of boxing judging, many fights have controversial results. In such cases, 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 signaled 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 wins the fight. 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. Some jurisdictions require the referee to count to eight regardless of if the fighter gets up before.
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 knockout (KO). A “technical knock-out” (TKO) is possible as well. The referee rules 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 knockdowns in a given round result in a TKO. A TKO is a knockout 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 or she feels may be in danger, even if no knockdown has taken place. After counting the referee will observe the fighter, and decide if he or she is fit to continue. For scoring purposes, a standing eight count is treated as a knockdown.
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. They also are prohibited from kicking, head-butting, or hitting with any part of the arm other than the knuckles of a closed fist. Prohibition is also there on hitting the back, back of the head or neck 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. 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 knockout 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 the referee might rule hi knocked out if he is 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.