Boxing is a martial art and combat sport in which two people engage in a contest of strength, speed, reflexes, endurance and will, by throwing punches at each other, usually with gloved hands. Historically, the goals have been to weaken and knock down the opponent.
Amateur boxing is both an Olympic and Commonwealth sport and is a common fixture in most international games—it also has its own World Championships. Boxing is supervised by a referee 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, resigns by throwing in a towel, or is pronounced the winner or loser based on the judges’ scorecards at the end of the contest. In the event that both fighters gain equal scores from the judges, the fight is considered a draw.
While people have fought in hand-to-hand combat since before the dawn of history, the origin of boxing as an organized sport may be its acceptance by the ancient Greeks as an Olympic game in BC 688. Boxing evolved from 16th- and 18th-century prizefights, largely in Great Britain, to the forerunner of modern boxing in the mid-19th century, again initially in Great Britain and later in the United States.
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. It should be noted, that 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.
Early fighting had no written rules. There were no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee. In general, it was extremely chaotic. 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.
An early article on boxing was published in Nottingham, 1713, by Sir Thomas Parkyns, a successful Wrestler from Bunny, Nottinghamshire, who had practised the techniques he described. The article, a single page in his manual of wrestling and fencing, Progymnasmata: The inn-play, or Cornish-hugg wrestler, described a system of headbutting, punching, eye-gouging, chokes, and hard throws, not recognized in boxing today.
These rules did allow the fighters an advantage not enjoyed by today’s boxers; they permitted the fighter to drop to one knee to begin a 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. 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 as almost all period manuals have powerful straight punches with the whole body behind them to the face (including forehead) as the basic blows.