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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
"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.
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 three rounds of three-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. 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 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 England, judges might score the fight under a 5 point must system instead, and they might also award half a point to the loser (example 4 and a half points) if desired, except when a world title fight is being held. Although generally referees do not act as judges, in England, referees are sometimes allowed to score too, although they can not score in world title fights held there either.
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.
Serious injuries are far more common in professional boxing, a sport with considerable (though waning) spectator appeal, but with a large number of dubious organisations promoting "world championship" bouts and a long connection to organised crime.
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 may be better than the real alternative, dueling. There is some reason to believe that English gentlemen quietly promoted boxing as a humane alternative to the deadly Irish Code Duello. Certainly it was promoted by the class of English gentlemen that were prone to duel, and many observers said that dueling with pistols was too dangerous a way to maintain anyone's honor.
By 1867, when the John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry lent his name to John Graham Chambers' rules, sporting fisticuffs had become a nearly perfect replacement for dueling. It made for a satisfyingly brutal and (for the loser) humiliating fight but it was nearly impossible to cause permanent damage. One indication of this movement is that the rule-makers of the time promoted the rules for "amateurs," a code word for noblemen. Another is that swank clubs and gymnasia took it up with a will, leading to its present popularity. Another is that even now, there is a tradition of urging hot-headed young men to "get in the ring, and work it out."
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".
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.) and the New York State Athletic Commission (N.Y.S.A.C.) began to sanction "title-fights". 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. The influence, internationally, of the N.Y.S.A.C. declined. In 1983, another world body, the International Boxing Federation (I.B.F.) was formed and, in 1989, this was followed by yet another, the World Boxing Organisation (W.B.O.). Each body sanctions its own title-fights and recognizes its own "champions". By the end of the 20th century, a boxer had to be recognized by four separate bodies to be the "undisputed champion" of the world, and each year saw over 100 "title-fights" take place in up to seventeen weight divisions.
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.
Among British amateur boxers, only those who won Olympic gold medals tended to achieve recognition beyond the limits of boxing enthusiasts. They included Harry Mallin (Middleweight), 1920 and 1924), Terry Spinks (Flyweight, 1956), Dick McTaggart (Lightweight, 1956) and Christ Finnegan (Middleweight, 1968). In 1908, at the Olympic Games in London, five weight divisions were contested, Bantam weight, Feather weight, Lightweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight. British boxers won them all, and four of the finals were all-British!
It is the professional side of boxing, however, that has produced the celebrities whose activities the public have generally followed. In the period between bare-knuckle pugilism and post-Queensberry boxing, Jem Mace was important. He carried many of the traditions of the old London Prize-Ring, but promoted the use of gloves and helped to popularize the sport in the United States and Australia. In the post-Queensberry era, the first British fighter to achieve superstar status was Bob Fitzsimmons. He weighed less than 12 stone but won world titles at Middleweight (1892), Light-heavyweight (1903) and Heavyweight (1897) and fought his last bout at the age of fifty-two.
Successful fighters have provoked fierce local pride. The best example was Jimmy Wilde, a Welsh Flyweight who won the world Flyweight Championship in 1916 and held it until 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. He was idolized in Wales, where they commonly believed him to be the best boxer, pound-for-pound, that ever lived. He was described as the "Mighty Atom" and "the ghost with a hammer in his hand". Freddie Welsh (Freddy Hall Thomas), from Pontypridd, won the Lightweight title in 1912.
The Scots had a similar pride in Benny Lynch, a Flyweight from Glasgow, who held the world Flyweight title in 1935 and again in 1937. Over the years, Scots have had great success at this weight; Jackie Paterson won the title in 1943 and Walter McGowan in 1966. Ken Buchanan won the Lightweight title in 1971 and Jim Watt in 1980. In Northern Ireland, Rinty Monahan held the Flyweight title from 1947 to 1950 and Barry McGuigan won the W.B.A. Featherweight title in 1985.
England, too, had its successes at the lighter weights. Among the Flyweights, Jackie Brown won the title in 1932, Peter Kane in 1938 and Terry Allen in 1950 and Naseem Hamed in the 1990s.
The Welsh had their own featherweight legend Jim Driscoll. His nickname was "Peerless Jim", he was born in the onetime Irish "slum" of Newtown. Jim was the first outright winner of the Lord Lonsdale Belt. Jim had prolific wins of the British, Empire and European titles. Jim is considered by many to be the best pound for pound fighter of all time.
Britain has had other popular world champions. In the 1930s, Jackie Berg won the Light-Welterweight title; in the 1940s, Freddie Mills won the Light-Heavyweight title; in the 1950s and 1960s, Randy Turpin and Terry Downes won Middle-Weight titles; and in the 1970s, John Conteh and John Stracey won the Light-Heavyweight and Welterweight titles respectively. With so many title-awarding bodies in the 1980s and 1990s, the public became unsure about who actually was the champion. Nevertheless, the successes of Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Joe Calzaghe continued to bring extensive media coverage to boxing and sustained a considerable public following.
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.
Britain had to wait 100 years to have its first Heavyweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons lost his title in 1899. Lennox Lewis became undisputed champion in 1999, having first gained the W.B.C. title in 1993. Frank Bruno held the W.B.C. world Heavyweight title shortly between 1995 and 1996, after beating the man who beat Lewis, Oliver McCall. He lost it to Mike Tyson in a rematch of their 1989 title bout.
Sue Atkins (alias Sue Catkins) helped to pioneer women's boxing in Britain in the 1980s, but without any official recognition. The first British woman to be issued with a license was Jane Couch from Fleetwood, who won the Women's International Boxing Federation (W.I.B.F.) Welterweight title in 1996. Most experts would agree, however, that it was the Christy Martin-Deirdre Gogarty world championship bout, also in 1996, that helped women's boxing popularity grow internationally. Weeks after defeating Gogarty by a six round decision, Martin was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Outside the United Kingdom, of course, boxing has also produced many celebrities on a world_wide basis. Muhammad Ali of United States, often recognized and self appointed as The Greatest, is probably the best example. Puerto Rico has three boxers to be generally considered national heroes out of a cast of over 50 world champions from that country, these being Félix Trinidad, Wilfred Benitez and Nicaragua has Alexis Arguello, Mexico, out of over 100 world champions, Ruben Olivares, Salvador Sanchez and Cuba has Jose Napoles and amateur legend Teofilo Stevenson, Argentina Panama Roberto Duran and Eusebio Pedroza, Australia Jeff Fenech, Japan Jiro Watanabe, Ghana Azumah Nelson, South Korea Jung Koo Chang and so on. These are boxers whose fame transcended the boxing borders and became household names among regular folks.
Medical authorities around the world have consistently argue for a ban on boxing (or at least the changing of the rules to prevent blows to the head) because of the brain damage found in large fractions of professional boxers, but such calls have not been successful, both on civil liberties grounds and the argument that banning boxing would lead to underground, illegal bouts with far fewer safety regulations than currently.
In Mississippi City, on February 7, 1882 the last heavyweight boxing championship bareknuckle fight took place.
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.
- The Boxing Record Archive (http://www.boxrec.com)
- The Boxing Report (http://www.boxingreport.net)
- The International Amateur Boxing Association (http://www.aiba.net)
- The World Boxing Association (http://www.wbaonline.com)
- The World Boxing Council (http://www.wbcboxing.com)
- The World Boxing Organization (http://www.wbo_int.com)
- The International Boxing Federation (http://www.ibf_usba_boxing.com)