Boxing has come a long way since its origins. It’s a sport that has lasted millenniums by captivating its audience through its physical intensity. Over time the sport has evolved with the changing of the culture and laws. Let’s start with the earliest known record of boxing.
The earliest known instance of boxing dates back to 3,000 BC in Sumer, which is now modern-day Iraq. After that, there are many depictions from other early civilizations in 2,000 BC that depict boxing. Some cultures even had boxing matches until one competitor died. In 1350 BC an Egyptian Thebes relief sculpture shows two people boxing.
These early depictions are important because they show us that competitors fought bare-fisted and had bands supporting their wrists. As you can also see going for the face was the competitor’s goal.
Boxing reached major popularity in Ancient Greece and around 688 BC it was introduced for the first time in their 23rd Olympics. Boxers would wear leather thongs around their hands to protect themselves.
There were no rounds and the only way a match would end is if one would admit defeat, or could no continue. Weight categories were not introduced which meant that heavyweights tended to dominate.
Researchers state that boxers in this time used a primarily left leg stance while focusing their hits toward the head. Not much evidence shows that they would go for body hits. Like many Greek idea’s boxing eventually made it’s way to Rome.
In Rome competitors used much harder leather thongs around their hands, doing greater damage to opponents. They would even add metal studs to the thongs which transformed them into a weapon. The Roman form of boxing had the competitors box until one died. This led to many slaves competing for their masters. Often slaves were used against one another in a circle marked on the floor, in fact, this is where the term “ring” came from. In AD 393, during the Roman gladiator period, boxing was abolished due to excessive brutality. After that boxing disappeared for nearly a thousand years.
Wearing swords are starting to go out of fashion around Europe and especially in England. This would start up a resurgence in people using their fists to settle conflicts. Boxing would later resurface in England during the early 16th century in the form of bare-knuckle boxing sometimes referred to as prizefighting. For about a hundred years boxing would become chaotic thanks to having no rules, weight limits, or restrictions put upon it.
John Chambers drafted first rules for boxing called the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. There were twelve rules in all, and they specified that fights should be “a fair stand-up boxing match” in a 24-foot-square or similar ring. Rounds were three minutes with one-minute rest intervals between rounds. Each fighter was given a ten-second count if he was knocked down, and wrestling was banned.
Gloves were also introduced during this time with a standard size and other rules. With gloves introduced the sport started lasting longer which added more strategic depth. You can read the full list of rules here.
Early 20th Century to Modern Day
In the early 20th century boxing struggled to find its way to legality. It had become outlawed in England and much of the United States which resulted in prizefights that were often held at gambling venues and broken up by police.
The National Boxing Association was founded in 1921 and began to sanction title fights. This led to the creation of some star athletes like Jack Dempsey, who became one of the most popular competitors in the 1920s. Television helped boost the popularity of boxing due to its low production costs. The sport rose above its illegal venues and prizefighting to become one of the largest multibillion-dollar sports today.