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2004 Armed Forces Amateur Boxing Championships, held in 2003. The headgear and white area gloves seen here are not used in professional boxing fights
2004 Armed Forces Amateur Boxing Championships, held in 2003. The headgear and white area gloves seen here are not used in professional boxing fights

Boxing is a combat sport. In both amateur and professional versions, the fighters wear padded gloves, attacking and defending only with fists. Each bout generally lasts for three minutes and the winner is the one who lands the most punches or knocks out his opponent. Boxing is also called Pugilism and prizefighting.



Fighting with the fists for sport and spectacle is probably as old as sport itself. Boxing contests are found throughout antiquity. Greek boxers would wear boxing gloves (not padded) and wrappings on their arms below the elbows, but were otherwise naked when competing. There is evidence to suggest that boxing was prevalent in North Africa during 4000 B.C.

The word "boxing" first came into use in England in the 18th century to distinguish between fighting to settle disputes, and fighting under agreed rules for sport. It is now used to describe a sport in which two contestants (boxers) wearing padded gloves face each other in a "ring" and fight an agreed number of "rounds" under recognized rules. Although men have always been the most numerous participants, there are some references to fights between women during the 18th century, and women's boxing was organized again at the end of the 20th century.

Pre Queensberry era

18th- and early 19th-century pugilism (bare-knuckle fighting) was an important precursor of boxing in Britain. Boxing, however, probably grew most specifically out of the demonstrations held at the Fives Court and the Tennis Court in London in the early 19th century. These promotions had several features that anticipated the future sport of boxing. The boxers wore "mufflers" (padded gloves), "time" was called after a set period, and the length of the fight was predetermined. Wrestling throws were also barred. None of these features were present in bare-knuckle pugilism.

For a generation following the creation of the Queensberry Rules, bare-knuckle and glove-fights were both promoted. The bare-knuckle fights were usually held under the "New Rules" produced by the Pugilistic Benevolent Society in 1866, which had superseded the "Pugilistic Association's Revised Rules" of 1853. They were often popularly referred to as the "Rules of the London Prize-Ring".

Queensberry rules

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"Boxing" as distinct from any other form of fist fighting can be dated from 1867, when John Chambers drafted new rules. There were twelve rules in all, and they specified that fights should be "a fair stand-up boxing match" in a 24-foot ring. Rounds were to be of three minutes duration with one minute between rounds. Ten seconds were allowed for a man to get up if he had gone down during a round. New gloves of "fair-size" were to be worn and "wrestling or hugging" was specifically forbidden. These gloves' purpose is to protect the knuckles. An average pair of boxing gloves appears like a bloated pair of mittens, are often red, and are laced up around the wrists. The rules were published under the patronage of the Marquess of Queensberry, whose name has always been associated with them. The first fighter to win a world title under these rules was "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, who defeated John L. Sullivan in 1892 at the Pelican Athletic Club in New Orleans.

The success of boxers has always been associated with their size. In the early years of pugilism, however, there was only one "Champion", who always tended to be one of the heaviest. The term "light weight" was in use from the early 19th century and fights were sometimes arranged between the lighter men, but there was no specific Championship for them. The terms lightweight, welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight became common during the late 19th century, but there was no universally recognized definitions of weight class. Throughout the 20th century, new weight classes were added, extending the range down to strawweight and up to superheavyweight but with varying agreement over their definitions.

In the early days of pugilism, all fighters were "professional" in the sense that few would fight for "love" rather than money. No distinct "amateur" sport existed until 1867, when amateur championships under Marquess of Queensberry Rules were held at Lillie Bridge in London for Lightweights, Middleweights and Heavyweights. By this date, the old professional bare-knuckle "Prize Ring" was in terminal decline. It had always been against the law, but in the early part of the century it survived because it had widespread popular support and because there were many influential men who supported it. By 1867, however, the results of fights were increasingly suspect, and sometimes boxers even failed to turn up for fights. Less money came into the sport and bare-knuckle pugilism slowly died out.

Conversely, the amateur side of the sport flourished, not only in schools, universities and in the armed forces, but also in the working-class areas of the expanding urban centers.

With the gradual acceptance of Marquess of Queensberry Rules, two distinct branches of boxing emerged, professional and amateur, and each produced its own local, national and international governing bodies and its own variation of the rules.

Amateur boxing

In amateur boxing (the version of the sport found at the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games) the primary emphasis is on landing scoring punches rather than concern with doing actual physical damage to one's opponent (though it still occurs). Competitors wear protective headgear, and box for four rounds of two minutes each. Each punch that lands on the head or torso is awarded a point. A referee monitors the fight to ensure that competitors use only legal blows (a belt worn over the torso represents the lower limit of punches - any boxer repeatedly landing 'low blows' is disqualified). Referees also ensure that the boxers don't use holding tactics to prevent the opponent from swinging (if this occurs, the referee separates the opponents and orders them to continue boxing. Repeated holding can result in a boxer being penalised or, ultimately, disqualified).

If a competitor is punched sufficiently hard to have trouble continuing the fight, and the opponent inflicted this condition with only legal blows, the match is over and the competitor still standing is declared the winner by knockout. In amateur boxing, referees will readily step in and award knockouts even if the competitor is only relatively lightly injured.

The Queensberry Amateur Championships continued from 1867 to 1885, and so, unlike their professional counterparts, amateur boxers did not deviate from using gloves once the Queensberry Rules had been published. In Britain, the Amateur Boxing Association (A.B.A.) was formed in 1880 when twelve clubs affiliated. It held its first championships the following year. Four weight classes were contested, Featherweight (9 stone), Lightweight (10 stone), Middleweight (11 stone, 4 pounds) and Heavyweight (no limit). By 1902, American boxers were contesting the titles in the A.B.A. Championships, which, therefore, took on an international complexion. By 1924, the A.B.A. had 105 clubs in affiliation.

Boxing first appeared at the Olympic Games in 1904 and, apart from the Games of 1912, has always been part of them. From 1972 through 2004, Cuba and the United States have won the most Gold Medals, 29 for Cuba and 21 for the U.S. Internationally, amateur boxing spread steadily throughout the first half of the 20th century, but when the first international body, the Federation Internationale de Boxe Amateur (International Amateur Boxing Federation) was formed in Paris in 1920, there were only five member nations. In 1946, however, when the International Amateur Boxing Association (A.I.B.A.) was formed in London, twenty-four nations from five continents were represented, and the A.I.B.A. has continued to be the official world federation of amateur boxing ever since. The first World Amateur Boxing Championships were staged in 1974.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, amateur boxing was encouraged in schools, universities and in the armed forces, but the champions, in the main, came from among the urban poor.

Women's boxing first appeared in the Olympic Games as a demonstration bout in 1904. For most of the 20th century, however, it was banned in most nations. Its revival was pioneered by the Swedish Amateur Boxing Association, which sanctioned events for women in 1988. The British Amateur Boxing Association sanctioned its first boxing competition for women in 1997. The first event was to be between two thirteen-year-olds, but one of the boxers withdrew because of hostile media attention. Four weeks later, an event was held between two sixteen-year-olds.

The A.I.B.A. accepted new rules for Women's Boxing at the end of the 20th century and approved the first European Cup for Women in 1999 and the first World Championship for women in 2001. Women's boxing will be an exhibition sport at the 2008 Olympics, and it will become an official Olympic sport at the 2012 Olympics.

Professional boxing

Missing image
Professional boxing gloves in various colors. Generally these weigh from 8 oz to 12 oz.

Professional bouts are far longer (consisting of anything from four to twelve rounds), headgear is not permitted, and knockout wins are usually only awarded when the competitors are knocked down and stay on the canvas for ten seconds (or are repeatedly knocked down, a "technical knockout", or TKO). At any time, however, the referee may stop the contest if he believes that one participant can not or should not continue to box. In that case, the other participant is also awarded a technical knockout win, which in the boxer's record also counts as a knockout win (or loss). A technical knockout would also be awarded if a fighter lands a punch that opens a cut on the opponent, and the opponent is later deemed not fit to continue by a doctor because of the cut. If a boxer simply quits fighting, or if his corner either tells the referee the boxer will not continue or throws a towel into the ring (signalling they are quitting), then the winning boxer is also awarded a technical knockout.

In case no knockout or disqualification occurs in professional boxing, the fight must go to the scorecards. Professional fights have three judges each, and each of the judges must use the 10 point must system: Under this system, each time a boxer wins a round in the judges' eyes, the judge gives that boxer 10 points, and the other 9, with points deducted every time a boxer suffers a knockdown or loses a point because of illegal blows. If the judge deems the round to be a tie, he or she may score it 10-10. When the fight reaches its scheduled distance, all scores are added, round by round, to determine who won on each judges' cards. When all three judges have the same boxer as the winner, this is an unanimous decision. When two judges have one boxer winning the fight and the other one has it a tie, this is called a majority decision. When two judges have one boxer win the fight and the other judge has the other boxer win, this is called a split decision. In the case one judge gives his or her vote to one boxer, another one gives it to the other boxer and the third judge calls it a tie, this is a draw, and it is also a draw when two judges score the fight a tie, regardless of whom did the third judge score the bout for, or when all three judges scored the fight a tie.

In Britain, the bout is only scored by the referee except if a World Title is at stake in which case it is scored by three judges.

In the rare case a fight can not go on because of an injury caused to one of the competitors by a headbutt, there are different rules: If the fight has not reached the end of round three, (in some places, round four), the fight is automatically declared a technical draw. If it has reached beyond the end of round three (or four), then the scorecards are read and whoever is ahead, wins by a technical decision.

Evolution of Pro boxing

In 1891, the National Sporting Club (N.S.C.), a private club in London, began to promote professional glove fights at its own premises, and created nine of its own rules to augment the Queensberry Rules. These rules specified more accurately the role of the officials, and produced a system of scoring that enabled the referee to decide the result of a fight. Previously, all fights ended with a knock-out or, more usually, when one fighter was too exhausted to continue. It was thanks to the N.S.C. Rules that the sport emerged into one of skill rather than one of endurance. The British Boxing Board of Control (B.B.B.C.) was first formed in 1919 with close links to the N.S.C., and was re-formed in 1929 after the N.S.C. closed.

In 1909, the first of twenty-two belts were presented by the fifth Earl of Lonsdale to the winner of a British title-fight held at the N.S.C. In 1929, the B.B.B.C. continued to award Lonsdale Belts to any British boxer who won three title-fights in the same weight division. The "title fight" has always been the focal point in professional boxing. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, there were title-fights at each weight. Promoters who could stage profitable title-fights became influential in the sport. So, too, did boxers' managers. The best promoters and managers have been instrumental in bringing boxing to new audiences and provoking media and public interest. The most famous of all three-way partnership (fighter-manager-promoter) was that of Jack Dempsey (Heavyweight Champion, 1919-1926), his manager Jack Kearns, and the promoter Tex Rickard. Together they grossed US$ 8.4 million in only five fights between 1921 and 1927 and ushered in a "golden age" of popularity for professional boxing in the 1920s. They were also responsible for the first live radio broadcast of a title-fight (Dempsey v. Georges Carpentier, in 1921). In Britain, Jack Solomons' success as a fight promoter helped re-establish professional boxing after the Second World War and made Britain a popular place for title-fights in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the first part of the 20th century, the United States became the centre for professional boxing. It was generally accepted that the "world champions" were those listed by the Police Gazette. After 1920, the National Boxing Association (N.B.A.)began to sanction "title-fights". Also, during that time, the "Ring Magazine" was founded and it listed the Champions. The N.B.A. was renamed in 1962 and became the World Boxing Association (W.B.A.). The following year, a rival body, the World Boxing Council (W.B.C.), was formed. In 1983, another world body, the International Boxing Federation (I.B.F.) was formed. By the end of the 20th century, a boxer had to be recognized by the three separate bodies to be the "Undisputed Champion" of the World. "The Ring" also continued listing the World Champion of each weight division, and its rankings continue being of the most appreciated by fans.

Although women fought professionally in many countries, in Britain the B.B.B.C. refused to issue licences to women until 1998. By the end of the century, however, they had issued five such licenses. The first sanctioned bout was in November 1998 at Streatham in London, between Jane Couch and Simona Lukic.

Medical concerns

Throughout the latter part of the 19th century and the whole of the 20th century, amateur and professional boxing operated in parallel. In the final quarter of the 20th century, however, amateur boxing lost much of its popular support. Traditional concerns about bruises and black eyes gave way to more serious concerns about long-term eye and brain damage. Medical checks on boxers, and medical supervision of their fights, became an increasingly important feature of both amateur and professional boxing.

In the past, matches were traditionally fought for up to fifteen rounds in professional boxing, but the tragic death of boxer Duk Koo Kim in November of 1982 after a fight with Ray Mancini began to change that. By 1988, all fights had been reduced to a maximum of 12 rounds only. With the discovery, in April of 2004, that Heavyweight Joe Mesi, a relatively new, undefeated prospect, had suffered several blood clots to his brain during a win against Vassiliy Jirov, more medical testing may be required for professional boxers. However, as of May, 2004, doctors have only said that they will look at the matter. Mesi has expressed desire to continue fighting; his critics say he could face death if he ever fights again.

However, in spite of the dangers involved, boxing has continued to thrive due to multi million dollar super-fights. Moreover, most of the good contenders come from the poorer sections of the society for whom boxing is seen as a ticket out of poverty.


In boxing defence and offence are achieved via the padded fists. Generally four types of punches exist. All other punches are basically variants of the below. If you are a righty, your lead foot will be your left, and vice versa.

  • Jab - This is a quick forward punch thrown with the lead hand. The power comes from a quarter-rotation of the shoulders, while the position of the fist rotates through 180 degrees, bringing the lead shoulder up to guard the head.
  • Hook - This punch is thrown in a side arc with a bent arm. It can be thrown with either hand but is typically a lead hand punch. The power in a hook comes from the explosive rotation of the hips and shoulders. The classic hook is thrown in a horizontal plane, but the punch can also be thrown at a 45 degree angle (a "Mexican hook" or "shovel hook"), blending into the uppercut.
  • Uppercut - This punch is thrown upwards with either hand (although a rear hand uppercut is marginally more common). The uppercut travels vertically up the opponent's chest, underneath the guard and makes contact with the chin. The power in the uppercut comes from the legs and hips.
  • Cross ( a.k.a. "straight") - This is a straight punch (with the dominant hand). The rear hand crosses the body, the shoulders rotate toward the target and the rear foot makes a half-step forward, with the power coming from the push-off on the rear leg and the rotation of the shoulders. In close in-fighting, a "short cross" can be thrown without the half-step; this is more of an arm punch.
  • A fifth category of punch, the "bolo" is occasionally seen, more often in amateur boxing than professional, although it is used to great effect by Cuban fighters. The bolo is an arm punch which owes its power to the shortening of a circular arc rather than to transference of body weight; it tends to have more of an effect due to the surprise of the odd angle it lands at rather than the actual power of the punch.


  • Bob and Weave - This movement attempts to avoid an opponent's punch by bending the legs (and, often, the waist) in order to bring the head into a position under the opponent's extending arm. The legs and waist are then extended to bring the body back to its upright position. As the boxer rises, the body his moved either to the boxer's left or right in order to avoid the (presumably) still extended arm. To move to a position on the outside of the opponent's extended arm is sometimes called "bobbing to the outside" and is, generally, the preferred method of defense. "Bobbing to the inside", or moving the body to a position on inside of the opponent's extended arm, is considered defensively weak because the boxer is then vulnerable to punches from the opponent's opposite fist.
  • Slip - The slip is a maneuver performed with the defending boxer's head. As a straight punch (such as a jab or straight/cross) comes toward the boxer's face, the head, using only the neck, is moved slightly to one side, allowing the punch to "slip" by. The less the boxer has to move his or her head, the more skillful he or she is considered at this technique.
  • Parry - This action is rarely seen in professional boxing.Some coaches consider it too unreliable to be worth teaching.The parry is performed most often against a straight punch. As the opponent's arm is extended, the defending boxer moves the fist (most often of the dominant arm) towards the oncoming punch, usually rotating the wrist and elbow so that the palm is facing the opponent. As the opponent's punch makes contact with the extended glove, it is directed away from its initial target.
  • Clinch - The clinch, or grappling of the opponent while standing, is considered a defensive maneuver in modern Western boxing because it is most often employed to interfere with the opponent's offensive maneuvers. Since the distanced between the fighters is closed, the majority of boxing's offensive techniques (which mostly rely on hip/torso rotation and arm extension) cannot be employed. Since the clinch is broken up by the referee immediately, the clinch is often seen as a method for the disadvantaged fighter to gain a short reprieve and perhaps interfere with the dominant fighter's concentration.

Stance and Movement

  • The modern boxing stance is a reflection of the current system of rules employed by professional boxing (it differs in many ways from the typical boxing stances of the 19th and early 20th centuries). The boxer must stand with the legs approximately shoulder-width apart. The boxer places the lead foot (the left foot for a right-handed fighter, the right foot for a southpaw) slighty more forward than the back foot, twisting the body accordingly. The toes point straight forward, towards the opponent. The lead fist (the jabbing fist) is carried in front of the cheek. The back fist is carried near the chin to protect this sensitive area (many knockouts are scored with punches to the chin). Modern boxers can sometimes be seen "tapping" their cheeks or foreheads with their lead fist in order to remind themselves to kept their fists up in this defensive position (which becomes difficult during long bouts). The torso is kept straight and the chin is tucked into the lead shoulder (which is often kept tense to further protect the chin).
  • Modern boxers are taught to "push off" with their feet in order to move effectively. Forward motion involves lifting the lead leg and pushing with the rear leg. Rearward motion involves lifting the rear leg and pushing with the lead leg. During lateral motion the leg in the direction of the movement moves first while the opposite leg provides the force needed to move the body.


The boxing world has produced talented and world famous personalities both in the amateur and professional world. Famous amateur boxers were gold medalsists in the Olympics. The Olympic games has been considered a springboard for professional entry. The notable exception was Teofilo Stevenson. However it is the professional side of boxing, that has produced the celebrities whose activities the public have generally followed.

If the bareknuckle era produced legends like John L Sullivan, in the period between bare-knuckle pugilism and post-Queensberry boxing, Jem Mace was notable.

It is the post-Queensberry era, or the modern era that naturally has the most number of legendary boxers. Beginning with Jim Jeffries & later Tommy Burns who lost to the first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson(1910-1915), the initial years were more open fights where boxing style and technique was still rugged and spunk and stamina were assets. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey(1919-1926) was one of the most important fighters of this era. Boxing in the 1930s despite being hit by depression saw one of the greatest boxers of all time. Joe Louis. From 1937 he began dominating the heavyweight scene for 12 years before he retired as World Champion.

The beginning of WW2 saw great fighters like Max Schmeling, Billy Conn and Joe Louis involved in matchups billed as a battle among the warring nations involved. 1950s had a boxer who would go down in history as the only undefeated world heavyweight champion. His name is Rocky Marciano. The title of the movie Rocky was inspired by this legend. The reason for his legendary status was that the 50s also had other champions like Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore and many others who broke several records that would stand for decades.
Missing image
Muhammad Ali towering over Sonny Liston before winning.

The decade of the 1960s & 1970s is best remembered by the dominance of a boxer named Cassius Clay, who would, in his own words shock the world, declare himself against war, and change his name to Muhammad Ali. Many sociologists, observers and critics now view Ali as a reflection of the changing society of that decade. But Mohammad Ali had tough opponents like Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks, Ken Norton and George Foreman. Yet Ali kept bouncing back time and again. Larry Holmes an apprentice of Ali, and the electric promoter Don King both gained prominence during this time.

If ever there was a bad boy of boxing, the title surely would go to the man burst into professional boxing like a hurricane. Mike Tyson nicknamed "iron" becaused he possessed the most devastating punches of all time took the world by storm. He ran through his opponents in just a few rounds winning mostly by knockout. Both on and off stage, he was always in the news, having been jailed more than once, having been barred after biting Evander Holyfield's ear and going into bankruptcy. By the time he faced Lennox Lewis he was beaten physically and mentally. Lennox Lewis, the only British in decades would retire as champion leaving Vitali Klitschko the reigning heavyweight champion.

Even in other weight cateogries, successful fighters have provoked fierce local pride. The best example was Jimmy Wilde, a Welsh World Flyweight Champion(1916-1923). He once had a sequence of eighty-eight fights without defeat. Between 1911 and 1923, he won seventy-five of his fights by a knockout. Willie Pep a featherweight champion who lost just 1 of his 230 fights is another pugilist who dominated the lower weight class. But the greatest of the pugilists in non heavyweight division would undoubtedly be Sugar Ray Robinson who won an unprecedented five world titles in five weight classes and competed in some of the era's most memorable contests. Pound for pound he is regarded by many boxing pundits as the greatest boxer of the century.

The most popular boxers, however, have not always been the world title-holders. Just fighting for the world title in the Heavyweight division can bestow celebrity status, as was shown by Henry Cooper, who twice unsuccessfully fought Muhammad Ali in the 1960s.

In 2004, female boxer Ann Wolfe surpassed Henry Armstrong (until then the only man to hold world titles in three divisions simultaneously), by becoming the only boxer ever to hold world titles in four different categories at the same time. A rule preventing men from holding titles in more than one weight class at the same time is in place since soon after Armstrong held his three titles.

List of current champions in different titles. (

Impact of Boxing on the English Language

Numerous metaphors common to everyday speech derive from the sport of boxing. Some of these include:

  • saved by the bell -- rescued from defeat by dint of time running out, an unexpected turn of events, etc.
  • on the ropes -- on the verge of being defeated
  • ring down the curtain -- to call it quits
  • throw in the towel -- to quit, give up
  • come out fighting -- to throw oneself into an activity or competition
  • in one's corner -- on someone's side, to help or cheer him on
  • down for the count -- knocked out but not definitively defeated
  • sucker punch -- hitting an opponent who is off his guard, unfairly taking advantage of a vulnerability
  • hitting below the belt -- a grossly unfair attack (in everyday life, usually of a verbal nature)
  • punch drunk -- dazed or incoherent (originally, from being repeatedly struck, can refer to dazes generally)
  • pull one's punches -- to hold back, withhold full force or attack
  • in the arena -- to be participating, engaged
  • keep your guard up -- to remain alert, on the defensive


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