The History Of Boxing

 
The history of boxing is probably as old as time itself. Originally, it was nothing more than bare fist fighting between two willing, and sometimes unwilling competitors. As a proper sport, boxing has been around for thousands of years. Firstly in parts of Africa, before migrating over the Mediterranean Sea and entering Europe. The Ancient Greeks, who believed that boxing was a game played by the Gods, made boxing a part of the ancient Olympic Games in 688 BC.
 
A Mesopotamian stone tablet was discovered in Baghdad, Iraq. Showing two men getting ready for a prize fight, it is estimated to be about 7,000 years old.

 

There were some early records of classcal boxing, but they disappeared when interest in fist fightng lessened as the wearing of weapons took over. The sport would later resurface in Britain during the early 1500's, in the form of bare knuckle boxing, or at best with fists that were wrapped in straps of leather.

The first documented account of a bare-knuckle fight in Britain didn't appear until 1681 though, in a newspaper called the London Protestant Mercury. On 6 January 1681, the first recorded boxing match took place when Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, engineered a bout between his butler and his butcher, with the butcher comng out on top. Early fighting had no written rules. There were no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee. In general, it was chaotic.

In Britain, the first bare knuckle champion was a guy named James Figg in 1719. This is also the time when the word 'boxing' first began to be used. Contests in James Figg's time, in addition to fist fighting, also contained fencing and cudgeling.

An attempt at creating the first boxing rules, called the Broughton's rules, were crafted by the heavyweight champion Jack Broughton in 1743, in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths that were occuring in the ring. Under these new rules, if a fighter went down and could not continue after a count of 30 seconds, the bout was over. Hitting a fighter who was down, or grasping below the waist, were also banned under Broughton's rules. He is also credited with inventing and encouraging the use of what he called 'mufflers', an early form of padded gloves which were used both during training and in exhibition matches.
 
The first paper on boxing was published in the late 18th century by the successful Birmingham boxer William Futrell, who remained undefeated until his one hour and seventeen minute fight at Smitham Bottom, Croydon, on July 9 1788, against a much younger fighter who went by the name of 'Gentleman' John Jackson.

The boxing rules back then did allow the fighters one advantage that's not enjoyed by today's boxers - They permitted the fighter to drop to one knee to begin a 30-second count at any time he chose, so a fighter who was in trouble was given an opportunity to recover. However, this was considered to be 'unmanly' and was later removed from the boxing rules.

 

 
Te London Prize Rules (1838)
 
Fights occured in a 24 feet square ring surrounded by ropes.
If a fighter was knocked down, he had to rise within 30 seconds under his own power to be allowed to continue.
Biting, headbutting and hitting below the belt were declared fouls.
 
Throughout the late 19th Century, boxing or prizefighting was outlawed in Britain and much of America too, so the fights were often held in secret at gambling venues until broken up by the police. Brawling and wrestling tactics continued, and mass riots at those prizefights were pretty common. Still, throughout this period arose some notable bare knuckle champions who developed fairly sophistocated fighting tactics.
 
Click on the image below and you can watch  short video of one of the first ever filmed fights (opens in a new window)
 
Mike Leonard, commonly called the 'Beau Brummel Of Pugilism' -v- Jack Cushing - On 14th June 1894
 

Marquess of Queensberry rules (1867)

In 1867, the Marquess of Queensberry boxing rules were drafted for amateur championships that were held at Lillie Bridge in London for Lightweights, Middleweights and Heavyweights. Although he didn't actual create them, the new rules were published under the patronage of the Marquess of Queensberry, so his name has been linked with them ever since.

There were twelve boxing rules in all, and they specified that all fights should be 'a fair stand-up boxing match' in a 24-foot-square or similar ring. Rounds were to be three minutes long, with a one minute rest interval between rounds. Each boxer was to be given a ten-second count if he was knocked down, and wrestling was banned. A full rundown of the Marquess of Queensberry rules can be found on this page of the site.

The introduction of boxing gloves also changed the nature of boxing. The average pair resembled a swollen pair of mittens and were laced up around the wrists. It didn't take long for the boxers of the day to realise that those big gloves could also be used to block an opponent's blows, so as a result of their introduction, bouts became longer and more strategic, with greater importance attached to defensive maneuvers such as slipping, bobbing and countering. Now that less defensive emphasis had to be placed on the use of the forearms and more on the gloves, the classical forearms outwards, torso leaning back stance of the bare knuckle boxer was modified to the more modern boxing stance, in which the torso is tilted forward and the hands are held closer to the face.

The British court case of R v. Coney in 1882, found that a bare-knuckle fight was actually an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, despite the consent of the participants. This decision marked the end of widespread public bare-knuckle contests in Britain.

The first world heavyweight champion under the new Queensberry Rules was 'Gentleman Jim' Corbett, who defeated John L. Sullivan in 1892.

Throughout the early 1900's, boxing still struggled to achieve any legitimacy, but shortly after this era, boxing commissions and other sanctioning bodies were established to regulate the sport and establish internationally recognised champions.

 

 

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