Boxing, the early years

History of boxing: The early years

Boxing is a sport of fighting with fists, also called pugilism (literally fist fight) and prizefighting (in other words, the fight for prizes/money). Boxing has been included in the Olympic Games program since 1904. For centuries people used their fists to resolve disputes before someone thought of organizing such fights as entertainment.

BC Period

There is a clear evidence that boxing existed as early as 1500 BC, on the Crete Island. The modern researchers insist that such duels had been known even earlier than that, in Africa, specifically in the region of modern Ethiopia.

The hieroglyphic scriptures dated back to the year 4000 BC revealed the popularity of this sport throughout the Nile Plateau and all over the Egypt, after the latter had conquered Ethiopia. The enhancement of the Egyptian civilization through the Mediterranean region and the Middle East caused boxing to spread its influence. In the year 686 BC boxing became an essential part of the Olympics.

However, ancient boxing barely resembles the sport we admire today. All fights were carried out on open plots, where the spectators formed a living arena. The fight normally lasted until one of the opponents was seriously injured. Although the first boxers primarily fought for glory, the winner was also granted the gold, livestock or other trophies.

To protect wrists and hands the fighters braided their fists and sometimes two thirds of their forearms with thin soft leather straps. By the 4th century BC the straps were made of harder leather and were used not just as an arm protection gadget but turned the fists into the kind of assault weapon. Later, in the Roman Empire, the leather straps were armored with special copper and iron brackets used in gladiators’ fights which usually ended with the death of one of the fighters.

No gloves and no rules!

Gradually London became the center for provincial boxing champions seeking fame, glory and money. That very reason was an incentive for the boxing development in London in particular. In those bouts each boxer’s remuneration as well as the percentage of stakes gambled by spectators were settled. The fighters did not use gloves and did not follow common rules. Weight classification was not determined, which resulted in only one Champion announcement. The lightweight boxers were often beaten. Though rounds were determined, a fight usually lasted until one of the opponents was unable to continue the fight. It was not prohibited to attack an opponent even after he fell to the ground. These conditions existed until mid-XVI century.

Despite the fact that the boxing was outlawed, it was gaining more and more popularity. In 1719, James Figg, the favorite of the public and the winner of many boxing matches, was proclaimed the Champion of England and held the title for fifteen years. Jack Brownton, one of James Figg’s followers, made an attempt to turn fist-fighting matches of the time into real athletic competition.

In 1743 Jack Brownton wrote the first Code of Rules, and those rules, with minor modifications, were used until 1838, when they were replaced by the updated ‘London Prize Ring Rules.’ Broughton abolished the fighting methods widely used by his predecessors (mostly the tactics of drunkard’s boozy brawls in pubs), giving the preference to hands fight only. The boxers were forbidden to punch beneath the waist. Under Brownton’s rules, the fight lasted until one of the fighters was knocked down. If he then was unable to enter the ring and take his stand within one yard range from his opponent, he was considered a loser.

It was forbidden to punch the opponent after he was beaten, his handlers had 30 seconds to get him into position on one side of the square, facing his opponent. Jack Brownton was recognized as the ‘Father of Boxing.’ He opened a training gym to coach his followers. He also invented ‘mufflers’ the first boxing gloves, to protect boxers’ hands and faces.

When Jack Slack had beaten Brownton, the fights for the title of Champion became more regular. The boxing lost its appeal as something extraordinary, and the public’s interest towards this sport decreased slightly, though such fighters as Daniel Mendoza and John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson were still extremely popular.

Daniel Mendoza weighed 160 pounds (76 kg) and had a strong and quick left punch. After his victory over Mendoza, Jackson contributed to the financial qualification model of prizing that gave boxing more respectability.

London Prize Ring Rules

In 1814, in London, The Boxing Society was founded. The London Prize Ring Rules, which were widely used both in England and America were adopted by that Society in 1838. These rules were used for the first time in 1838, when James ‘Deaf’ Zamnet lost his title of The Champion of England in his fight versus William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson.

The fight was conducted on the 24 square feet ring, bounded by two ropes from each side. When one of the fighters fell on the ring floor, the round was ended. At that time, the injured boxer was attended to in the corner of the ring during a 30-second break. After a 30-second break, the opponents were to take their stands in the ring center and the next round would begin. If one of the opponents did not enter the ring center within eight seconds, the other one was proclaimed a winner. It was forbidden to curse, quarrel, hit with heads and legs, and to hit beneath the waist on the ring. All those actions were claimed inappropriate during the ring fighting.

Queensberry Code of Rules

Though the ‘London Prize Ring Rules’ Code of Rules turned boxing into a more civilized sport, quarrels and cursing, not uncommon among the old-fashioned pugilists from the lower society classes, shocked the upper-class audience of the English society. It became obvious that existing bo had to be modified. In 1867 John Gram from the Chamber of Amateur Sport Club proposed the new Code of Rules, where methods and rules of boxing were described. Those rules were called after John Szolto Douglas, the Queensberry marquis. The new ‘Queensberry’ Rules differed from those of ‘London Prize Ring Rules’ in four key areas:

  • Opponents had to wear padded gloves
  • The round lasted for three minutes of fighting, with a one-minute break required
  • Any other kind of fighting except for using hands was forbidden
  • Any of the boxers who touched the ring floor had to stand up within 10 seconds, otherwise he was claimed to be beaten and the fight proclaimed ended.

Those rules also contained the classification based on the sportsman’s weight category (group). At first, the newly adopted rules were neglected and disregarded by professionals, who proclaimed them to be too “unmanly” and continued boxing in accordance with the “London Prize Ring Rules.” However, a great deal of young boxers gave their preference to the “Queensberry” Rules. James “Jam” Mace was the first sportsman who won the Champion of England title among heavyweight boxers in 1861. James “Jem” Mace, who was the first boxer to use the padded gloves in such competition, greatly contributed to the popularity of the “Queensberry” Rules.

John L. Sullivan, a famous American boxer of the time, expressed his discontent with the fact that the World Championship was arranged in accordance with the “Queensberry” Rules. In 1889 in a small London suburb where the World Championship among heavyweight boxers was conducted, Sullivan insisted on knuckle-bared boxing, without using gloves.

In 1889 Sullivan defended the Champion’s title among heavyweight boxers against Jake Karline, boxing knuckle-bared, for the last time. Because in England this rule was proclaimed unlawful the bout was conducted in the United States.

After that fight a number of legal issues forced Sullivan to defend his Champion title against James J. Corbet using the padded gloves and in accordance with “Queensberry” rules.

Development of Amateur Boxing:

Marquis John Szolto Douglas, the developer of the “Queensberry” Rules, initiated the first amateur boxing competitions in 1867. In 1880 the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) was founded and since 1881 the first regular championships had been arranged among amateurs. In 1888 in the USA the Amateur Sporting Union (AAU) was founded and since then annual national championships among amateurs had been conducted.

In 1926 the “Chicago Tribune” arranged the “Golden Gloves” amateur competitions with the status of national championship, which were competing with bouts arranged by AAU. The law forbidding the AAU to control more than one Olympic sport was passed in 1978 in the USA. This resulted in the establishment of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation (USA/ABF).

The amateur boxing quickly gained popularity worldwide. This resulted in the arrangement of international tournaments, held every year, every two years, or as in the Olympic Games case, every four years. European Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan-American Games, All-African Championships, World Military Games are among internationally recognized competitions among amateur boxers.

All amateur competitions are conducted under the control of Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur – AIBA), established in 1946 with its headquarters in London.

Author: Nigel Taylor

I`m Nigel Taylor – originally from England – owner of The Backyard Gym in Round Rock Texas. We specialize in personal training, kickboxing cardio and self-defense. With over 25 years experience as a personal trainer, I know what works! From weight loss to bulking up to toning up, I can help you get your desired look and achieve your fitness goals. I can also offer you the privacy of a 100% private personal training studio in which to enjoy and get the most out of your workouts.