Boxing is one of the first martial arts and is certainly here to stay as its popularity is only growing among fans and young athletes. So before you put on your Adidas shoes for boxing, take the time to appreciate the sport’s history and those who helped it develop. It is hard to say when boxing was invented as there are scriptures from around 4000 BC showing boxers and different forms of boxing existed around the Mediterranean Sea from 1500 BC.
Proof that boxing existed around 1500 BC has been found on Crete Island. However, researchers think that this form of dueling was known even before in the zone of modern Ethiopia. Across the Nile Plateau and throughout Egypt, there are hieroglyphic scriptures from 4000 BC revealing the fame of this sport. Its popularity became even bigger in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East due to Egypt’s civilization accession.
Ancient Greece boxing
An old form of boxing (known as „Pyx” which means „with clenched fists”) was part of the Olympics in the year 686 BC. The fighters were only allowed to punch and it was against the rules to grapple, bite, or gouge. It is still debatable if they were allowed to kick during the fight.
Boxers fought each other in a soft dirt pit called „skamma” while being closely overwatched by a referee. At that time, there were no points penalties but the referee carried a whip to hit the fighter that broke the rules or stepped out of the ring. Just like other sporting contests taking place in ancient Greece, athletes were not wearing clothes during a Pyx match.
„Pugilatus” (which later became pugilism) was the Roman name for boxing and was even more cold-blooded than the Greek version. Fighters used to put small metal spikes (known as „caestus”) in their leather braids to cause more damage. The caestus made the fight look more like a knife fight than a fist fight since it could stab and rupture a boxer.
The violence of these fights is mentioned by a Roman poet by the name of Virgil who talks about a caestus covered with blood and splattered brains. There is no surprise that most of the Roman boxing matches ended with one of the competitor’s death. Although many fighters were willing participants, slaves were bound to fight in these brutal matches.
In the Roman empire, boxing started to be used as a training method for soldiers. However, they would use protective equipment to prevent them from getting injured during training sessions. Boxing was very popular and played a serious role in Roman culture until it was outlawed in around 400 CE by Emperor Theodoric the Great. As a Christian, he opposed the numerous deaths caused by boxing and its usage as a brutal entertainment.
A regular boxing match
There are some pretty big differences between how boxing was a long time ago and today’s boxing. First of all, there was no ring. The fights were taking place in an open field, while the spectators created a fighting perimeter. There were no rounds or time-outs and the fight usually lasted until one of the fighters was severely wounded.
In the beginning, fighters fought only for the winning glory. It took some time for them to receive payment such as gold or silver, livestock and other prizes.
How they protected their hands
During the early years of boxing, there was no such thing as using gloves. They did not focus on protecting the hands since they were not thinking of a long boxing career. The first forms of hand protective equipment consisted of thin soft leather straps. Boxers used them to protect their wrists and they sometimes wrapped half of the forearms.
Provoking more damage to the opponent became a serious thinking topic for early boxers in the 4th century BC. They started to use tougher leather for the straps which turned their fists into a form of blunt weapon.
The violence of the early boxing matches increased once again during the Roman Empire. Gladiators used to reinforce the leather straps with metal brackets for greater damage. In general, the fight ended with one of the fighter’s death.
First boxing rules
The downfall of the Roman Empire made boxing to fade away and was forgotten for centuries. However, boxing did not disappear as the first official boxing match took place in England in 1681. From 1698, boxing matches were routinely scheduled at the Royal Theater in London.
In time, London was established as the most important boxing place for fighters searching glory and prizes. Fighters were paid regardless of winning or losing and they received a percentage of the money gambled by viewers. Boxers were not using gloves and there was no rulebook to be followed.
Weight classes didn’t exist yet so smaller boxers were in general defeated by bigger, stronger opponents. A boxing match now consisted of separate rounds but the fight lasted until one of the fighters could not continue. It was allowed to hit an opponent after he fell on the ground. This is how boxing matches took place until the mid-XVI century.
The Queensberry Code of Rules
The new rules were designed to protect the fighters as they imposed wearing padded gloves, introduced weight classes and regulated the round. At first, professional boxers disobeyed the new rules and affirmed they were unmanly and continued to box using the old set of rules.
Nevertheless, the new rules became the standard for boxing matches and the last bare knuckle championship fight took place in 1889. After the boxing gloves introduction, fights lasted longer and strategy started to play an important role. Defensive maneuvers such as weaving and bobbing were now part of the boxer’s skillset and counterpunching appeared.
After being part of the Greek Olympics, boxing was reintroduced as an Olympic sport in 1908 and it caused an interest growth among young athletes. The Olympic rules for boxing are a bit different than the ones we are accustomed to. A match is made of three or four rounds and the judges don’t use the 10 point system to determine each round’s winner.
Instead, they award points to the fighters depending on how many clean punches they land, regardless of the damaged produced. Boxers might wear protective headgear so the numbers of concussions, knockdowns, and knockouts are way smaller than in regular boxing matches.
Even if the fighter’s safety was increased, some of the sport’s fans are complaining that Olympic boxing lacks the spectacular characteristic which made this sport so popular worldwide. Most young fighters use the opportunity to box at the Olympics in order to gain experience before entering a professional career.
Despite almost disappearing for several centuries and having its rules changed many times, boxing manages to attract a lot of people to gyms or boxing venues. Boxing started to become famous at the start of the 20th century when Americans began to take an interest in boxing. It was now time for British fighters to witness foreign boxers become champions after a long period of dominance.
The U.S. became the boxing center because of its rising economy and a big number of foreigners arriving from all over Europe and Asia. Boxing quickly became a short route from poverty to prosperity and fame. Irish boxers were dominating the rings together with the Italians and some other fighters from Germany, Northern Europe countries, and Central Europe.
Black American boxers were also starting to touch the great boxing heights as they became the new champions. But their participation in boxing events was greatly obstructed because of racism. Some of the champions refused to defend their title against black boxers as a form of protest against black people.
Despite being very talented and hard workers, some of the black boxers were forced to leave the country after numerous persecutions.
Managers have a crucial role in a fighter’s career as they are responsible for keeping the boxer motivated, handling legal issues and supervision. During the fist fight period, the top boxers used to have patrons to take care of the financial part. When the nobility started to lose their interest in boxing, professional managers were responsible for the boxer’s best interests.
They would handle the money and select the next opponent. Just like the visible part of boxing, managing a fighter has evolved and today’s managers handle all outside-the-ring problems.