Boxing, often called “the manly art of self-defense,” is a sport in which two competitors try to hit each other with their glove-encased fists while trying to avoid each other’s blows. The competition is divided into a specified number of rounds, usually 3 minutes long, with 1-minute rest periods between rounds. Although amateur boxing is widespread, professional boxing has flourished on an even grander scale since the early 18th century.
Amateur fights consist of 3 rounds, professional fights from 4 to 15 rounds. The recognized length of championship fights is 12 rounds. In most countries, professional boxing is the more popular version, but the rules vary because there is no true governing body. Even in the United States, boxing regulations vary from state to state.
In all boxing, however, winners are determined either by a decision of the judges (who keep points or round victors on a scorecard as the fight progresses), the referee, or both. The winner also may be decided by a knockout, in which one rival is sent to the floor by a punch and cannot get up within 10 seconds. A doctor or referee can declare the boxer injured or defenseless even if there is no knockdown. A tied or even match is ruled a draw.
The boxing ring is actually a square, 12 to 20 ft (3.7 to 6.1 m) on each side and enclosed on each side by three or four ropes. Gloves have been worn by boxers as a general practice since 1892. Gloves are made of leather, have no finger holes except for the thumb, and weigh from 8 oz (227 g) for amateur bouts down to 6 oz (170 g) for professional and all title bouts.
Boxing originated when a person first lifted a fist against another in play. Different eras of the sport have been distinguished by the use or nonuse of fist coverings. The ancient Greeks believed fist fighting was one of the games played by the gods on Olympus; thus it became part of the Olympic Games in about 688 BC. Homer has a reference to boxing in the Iliad. During Roman times the sport began to thrive on a wide scale. Boxers fought with leather bands around their fists for protection and sometimes wore metal-filled, leather hand coverings called cesti, resulting in bloody, often duel-to-death, battles. Boxing diminished after the fall of Rome. It was revived in the 18th century in England and became especially popular during the championship reign of James Figg, who held the heavyweight title from 1719 through 1730. Boxing became a workingman’s sport during the Industrial Revolution as prizefights attracted participants and spectators from the working class. Organization was minimal at first, and the bouts of those eras resembled street fights more than modern boxing.
The second heavyweight champion, Jack Broughton of England, drew his own set of rules for his own fights, and these were recognized in 1743. They outlawed some of the gorier aspects that the sport had acquired, such as hitting below the belt line. Instead of a ring of spectators–hence, the name ring–Broughton insisted upon a squared-off area. His rules governed what is known as the “bareknuckle era.”
In 1866 the Marquess of Queensberry gave his support to a new set of rules, which were named in his honor. These rules limited the number of 3-minute rounds, eliminated gouging and wrestling, and made the use of gloves mandatory. Bareknuckle bouts did not cease immediately but did begin to decline. A new era dawned in 1892, when James J. CORBETT defeated the last of the great bare-fisted fighters, John L. SULLIVAN, under the new rules.
With the growing popularity of boxing, especially in the United States, weight classes other than the unlimited heavyweights emerged. These classes became popular as world championships were held at the new weights. Currently, there are eight major professional divisions: flyweight (up to 112 lb/50.8 kg); bantamweight (118 lb/53.5 kg); featherweight (126 lb/57.2 kg); lightweight (135 lb/61.2 kg); welterweight (147 lb/66.7 kg); middleweight (160 lb/72.6 kg); light heavyweight (175 lb/79.4 kg); and heavyweight (unlimited). In recent years there has been some recognition of junior weights, or between-weights, such as junior lightweight and cruiserweight.
Because of its violent nature and its identification with betting, boxing has had a controversial history. There have been periodic efforts to outlaw the sport. The November 1982 death of South Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim, for example, prompted two editorials in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jan. 14, 1983) calling for a ban on all boxing. The results of a study by an AMA-sponsored scientific council appeared in that same issue, and the council, expressing the official AMA position, called not for a ban but for improved controls and medical facilities at ringside, centralized record keeping, and standardization of safety regulations. Despite these periodic efforts, boxers remain internationally famous, particularly heavyweight champions, most of whom, in this century, have come from the United States. Among the best heavyweights have been Muhammad ALI, Jack DEMPSEY, Jack JOHNSON, Joe LOUIS, Rocky MARCIANO, Gene TUNNEY, Corbett, and Sullivan. Outstanding champions in the lighter weights have included Benny Leonard, Mickey WALKER, Barney Ross, Henry ARMSTRONG, and Sugar Ray ROBINSON. Louis, Marciano, and Ali benefited greatly–both in popularity and financially–from the promotion of televised fights.
Asia and Latin America have produced many champions in recent years in some of the lower weight classes, which are less popular in the United States. The Communist bloc has done exceedingly well in Olympic competition.