Boxing is a popular sport, and, like any sport, has its fair share of rules. You can learn more about that from our recent post, but in this one, we will focus on answering the question above, regarding how many rounds are currently in boxing.
As expected, boxing has quite a long history, and the rules did not always stay the same. Currently, 12 rounds are the maximum allowed, and the duration of each round is 3 minutes maximum, to avoid injuries and ensure the wellbeing of those involved. Judges decide who wins or whether the bout can be considered a draw.
A bit of history
Back in the days, boxing was fought with bare hands, and there weren’t many rules regarding what was later to become one of the most popular sports on the planet. The number of rounds was not limited, so the bout could go on until one opponent was clearly defeated or couldn’t continue.
Therefore, the fights were brutal, and one of the longest on record, between Simon Byrne and James Burke, which took place in 1833, lasted for 99 rounds, and more than three hours. To give you an idea about the brutality of boxing during those times, Byrne died a few days after the fight, due to the extensive injuries he endured.
Boxing was an illegal sport for the most part during those times, but, eventually, with the passing of many laws and regulations, it evolved into what we know today. It was later that gloves became the norm, therefore reducing somehow the substantial injuries the fighters could suffer.
Also, it became evident that the matches had to be limited in length, too. Furthermore, the referee was given more power in the sense that he could decide who the winner was. The expression ‘going the distance’ came into existence, to define the capacity of a fighter to last through the maximum number of rounds.
Boxing evolved more and more until it became the regulated sport that we know today. For instance, judges capable of calculating points based on the accuracy of technical execution were introduced.
Reducing the distance from 15 rounds to 12 rounds
Going the distance means today the ability to last for 12 rounds, which is the maximum accepted number of rounds spent by the fighters in the ring, facing each other. However, it was not always so, and, for a while, the distance meant anywhere between 13 and 15 rounds.
The change happened in the 1980s, after some criticism and controversy. As it had happened before, it was the death of a prominent boxing figure that led to the change. While most matches didn’t last as much as the maximum of 15 rounds, some bouts dragged longer.
In 1982, the lightweight fighter Duk Koo Kim lost his life after going against Ray Mancini for 14 rounds. The World Boxing Council took an immediate stance and reduced the number of rounds from 15 to 12. The next year, Larry Holmes vs. Lucien Rodriquez was scheduled to last at most 12 rounds.
It was, however, only later that the reduction of the number of rounds was sanctioned as a general rule. Other organizations in charge of boxing matches followed and throughout the 1980s, they all agreed to the new rule.
Still, a few longer fights took place once in a while, such as Tyson’s fight against Biggs in 1987, and the one organized between Flores and Holland, in 1997.
Not everyone agrees with the change
As mentioned, this change from 15 rounds to 12 rounds, while embraced, in the end, by most organizers, was not without controversy. On the one hand, some studies show that there is more likely for a fighter to suffer brain damage when fighting for longer times. Also, 15-rounders are considered to cause dehydration and overall fatigue, because they push the boxers to their limit.
One of the ardent critics of this change, Frank Lotierzo, insisted that heavyweight matches rarely lead to fatalities and that those that happen across the sport have more to do with dehydration that many fighters subject themselves to, to qualify for certain weight classes.
Anatomy tells us that when dehydration occurs, fighters become more susceptible to brain injury, due to the lack of supportive fluid around the brain. Therefore, a hit to the head is more likely to cause damage to the brain. That was the line of reasoning Lotierzo used on many occasions to reject the change.
Another argument was that this change was merely a strategy to make the fights a good option for being broadcast on TV. A 12-rounder will take approximately 47 minutes, which means that it is enough time in one hour of broadcasting for it and the desired commercial breaks. This argument is weak, though, seeing how boxing matches are mostly pay per view programs.
The change has lead, in time, to fewer fatalities, and that’s a fact. Nonetheless, boxing still is one of the deadliest sports. There are 1.3 fatalities per 100,000 fighters still reported to this day.
What do supporters of 15-rounders say?
To this day, there are still people who consider unfair that the matches are limited to 12 rounds. They also have their fair share of arguments. For instance, they say that a lot of time has passed since the Duk Koo Kim lost his life after a ring fight, and medical science today may be able to save injured boxers.
Another argument, which they believe to be the strongest, is related to the real test the fighters would be put to if 15-rounders would be brought back. They say that it might be kept only for the most prestigious fights, where only the best of the best meet in a ring.
Also, they consider that the test of endurance is just another proof a fighter would need to establish himself as a real champion. Any boxing match is accompanied by mental and physical exhaustion, so having a more extended event would bring forward the fighter with the most grit.
It could also be a test of their intensive training. Sometimes, luck can come into play, but if a match is long enough, the best boxer would be brought forward. At least, that is what the people supporting this idea say.
An attempt to a complete answer
To be clear, no one forces a fighter to last 12 rounds in the ring. Matches can vary a great deal. Some can be won by TKO in just a few rounds, while others can drag on longer. Also, it must be mentioned that for female boxers, the maximum number of rounds allowed is 10, so slightly different from male boxers.
According to the World Boxing Federation, there are different rules to follow, depending on the type of event a fighter participates in. For instance, for world titles, the maximum number of rounds for male boxers can be up to 12, and 10 for female boxers.
The same rules apply if you compete for an intercontinental title. However, for international contests, male boxers can fight up to 10 rounds, or 12, in some cases, while female boxers can fight up to 8 rounds. Regional titles have a 10-rounder rule.
How long do rounds last?
Rounds are organized in 3-minute sessions with one-minute breaks between them. Of course, a knockout or any breaking of rules will cause the match to stop. That can be decided in case one fighter appears to be in a terrible situation. For female boxers, the rounds last 2 minutes.
What was the shortest boxing match in history?
While all the above rules are pretty much set in stone, let’s not forget that boxing can be a pretty surprising sport. For instance, the shortest match ever recorded lasted only 4 seconds and ended with a TKO.
It happened during a Golden Gloves tournament organized in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 4, 1947. Mike Collins managed to put down Pat Brownson with just one punch, thus delivering to the history of the sport the fastest TKO ever. To this day, the record hasn’t been surpassed.
Also, the shortest world title bout took place on August 7, 1993, in Puerto Rico, when Gerald McClellan won against Jay Bell in just 20 seconds. Even the best trained fighters can have bad days and fall to the floor within the first round.