What is Boxing

Boxing is a sport in which two fighters battle with their fists. The boxers wear heavily padded gloves and fight in a square, roped-off area called a ring.

A good bout between two well-matched fighters is a fast, violent display of strength and skill.

The boxers throw powerful punches as each tries to dominate his opponent. At the same time, each boxer must guard his head and body against the other’s punches by dodging or blocking the blows.

There are several ways to win a fight. See the Scoring a fight section in this article. The action may range all over the ring as the fighters weave about or press forward to create openings for blows.

Good boxers must be strong, quick, skillful, and in excellent physical condition. They also should have the courage and determination to fight in spite of pain and exhaustion. Train With Professionals & Improve Your Skills With Owings Mills Boxing club Library Of Online Boxing Exercises.

Boxers fight as amateurs or professionals. Most amateurs compete as members of an organization or a team, and some box in tournaments. Amateurs may not accept money for boxing. Professionals fight for money and are often called prizefighters.

Boxing began thousands of years ago, and for much of its history was an extremely brutal sport. Modern boxing enjoyed great popularity in the United States from the 1920’s through the 1940’s.

However, spectator interest in the sport of boxing then began to decline. Today, only the top professional championship bouts and competition in boxing during the Olympic Games regularly draw widespread attention from the public.

Boxing has been criticized as a dangerous sport because of the possibility of injury. However, rules attempt to reduce the chances of damage to boxers.

Fighters must wear protective equipment and a doctor must be present at fights.

Beginning in the 1980’s, most professional fights were reduced from 15 to 12 rounds to cut down on injuries due to fatigue in late rounds.

Boxing regulations

This section describes the boxing rules that are followed in the United States and in international and Olympic Games competitions.

The boxing rules differ somewhat between amateur and professional boxing. The chief differences are noted in the discussion.

Weight classes.

Boxers compete in classes, or divisions, based on their weight. To fight in a particular class, a boxer may not weigh more than the maximum for that class.

The tables in this article give the weight range in each class for professionals and amateurs.

The Ring

The ring is the area inside the ropes. At least three ropes, attached to posts near each corner, establish the dimensions of the ring.

The ring may measure from 16 to 20 feet square (4.9 to 6 meters) for amateur bouts, or 16 to 24 square feet (4.9 to 7.3 meters) for professional bouts. The ring floor stands 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) higher than the arena floor, and has a canvas covering stretched over felt or foam rubber.

For professional championship fights, the boxers may select the ring size with the local boxing commission’s approval.


A boxer’s hands are wrapped in soft cloth bandages. Over the bandages, he wears padded leather gloves.

The gloves soften his punches and so help protect his hands as well as his opponent from injury. Some U.S. states require the use of thumbless gloves to reduce potential eye injuries. Boxing gloves weigh from 6 to 12 ounces (170 to 340 grams).

Boxers wear trunks and lightweight shoes. A mouthpiece of hard rubber protects the teeth, and a plastic cup protects the groin area.

Amateurs and professionals wear a protective leather helmet when they are training. Amateurs may also wear a helmet in competition, though professionals do not. The helmet covers the back and sides of the head and the ears.

Time Periods.

Time periods of a boxing match are called rounds. Each round lasts two or three minutes in amateur matches. Rounds in major professional bouts last three minutes. In all matches, there is a one-minute rest period between rounds.

A professional bout may be scheduled for 4 to 15 rounds. Most professional championships are 12 rounds.

Amateur fights, including championships, are scheduled for either 3 three-minute rounds or 5 two-minute rounds.

Fight officials.

During a round, the referee is the only person in the ring besides the boxers. He sees that the fighters obey the rules.

The referee warns a boxer who violates a rule. He may disqualify a fighter for committing a serious violation or for committing too many violations.

Two or three judges sit at ringside and score most fights. However, amateur championship fights require five judges.

The timekeeper keeps track of the time and sounds a bell to signal the beginning and end of each round.

This person also begins the knockdown count that the referee picks up and continues. An official ring physician is present at every bout to provide medical treatment and also to advise the referee how serious an injured fighter’s condition may be.

Scoring a fight.

A boxer wins a fight by (1) a knockout, (2) a technical knockout, (3) a decision, or (4) a disqualification. Sometimes, a professional bout may end in a draw, with neither fighter declared the winner.

Amateur fights cannot end in a draw. In a close bout, the amateur who showed better style or committed fewer violations may win.

A knockout, or KO, occurs when a boxer is knocked down and does not get up within 10 seconds, as counted by the referee.

In some U.S. states, if a round ends while a fighter is down but before 10 seconds are up, the fighter is “saved by the bell.”

But in most states, the count continues after the bell until the fighter either stands up or is counted out. In most states, the count stops at the bell that ends the last scheduled round.

A technical knockout, or TKO, occurs when a boxer is judged physically unable to continue fighting. Such a judgment may be made by the referee, the official ring physician, the fighter himself, or the fighter’s assistants.

A decision results when two boxers fight the scheduled number of rounds without a knockout or a technical knockout.

In most parts of the United States, three ringside judges, or the referee and two ringside judges, then decide the winner. In professional bouts, the officials may declare the fight a draw.

A decision may be unanimous, with all three officials agreeing on the winner. Or a decision may be split, with the victory going to the boxer judged the winner by two of the three officials.

In a majority decision, two of the officials judge a boxer to be the winner of the fight, with the third official scoring the bout a draw.

In Olympic competition, the referee has no vote, and five judges decide the winner.

A decision is based on either the round or point system of scoring. Some states in the United States use the round system for professional bouts.

In this system, the referee and the judges decide individually after every round which fighter won that round or whether it was a draw.

At the end of the bout, each official votes for the fighter he has awarded the most rounds.

States that do not use the round system for decisions in professional fights use some form of the point system.

In a point system, the referee and the judges separately award each fighter a number of points after every round based on his performance.

At the end of the fight, each official adds up all the points he has given to each boxer.

The boxer scored as the winner by two of the officials wins the bout. Some states use a 5-point or 10-point must system. In this system, each official gives the boxer he considers to be the round’s winner 5 or 10 points and the loser fewer points. If an official decides the round is a draw, each boxer gets 5 or 10 points.

All decisions in U.S. and international amateur fights are based on the 20-point-must system. Each official awards the winner of a round 20 points.

The loser receives 19 points or fewer, depending on how the officials judged his performance. If the round is judged even, each fighter gets 20 points.

Fight rules.

A boxer may not hit below the belt, in the back of the head, or strike an opponent who is down, even to one knee. Such actions are called fouls.

Other fouls include kicking, tripping, wrestling, excessive holding, hitting an opponent’s eye with the thumb of the glove, hitting with the forearm or the inside of the glove, butting with the head, or using the elbows.

A boxer who commits a foul is warned by the referee and may lose points. Too many fouls may result in disqualification.

After a fighter is knocked down, his opponent must immediately go to the farthest neutral corner—one of the two corners not occupied by either boxer between rounds. The referee then begins the count.

If the fallen boxer rises, the count is ended. In amateur and some professional bouts, however, a fallen boxer must take a mandatory eight-count.

Under this rule, fighting may not resume after a knockdown until the referee has counted to eight, even if the fallen boxer rises immediately.

If a boxer in an amateur fight is knocked down three times in one round, his opponent wins the match on a TKO. This rule also applies to many professional bouts.

Boxing skills

In time, every boxer develops his own style. But all boxers use the same techniques of offense and defense. In the ring, a boxer adopts a basic stance (posture) that helps him move quickly and easily.

A right-handed boxer keeps his left side toward his opponent and stands with his feet about shoulder-width apart.

The boxer holds his left fist a short distance in front of the left shoulder and his right fist just to the right of the chin.

He keeps his elbows close to the body to protect the ribs. Many left-handed boxers adopt this same stance, though some of them reverse it.

The basic stance puts a boxer in the best position to avoid or block the punches of his opponent. This stance also allows the boxer to throw effective blows.

To create openings for his punches, a boxer uses various feints, jabs, and combinations. A feint is a faked punch. For example, a boxer may make a feint with his left hand and then deliver an actual blow with his right hand.

A jab is a quick blow in which the arm is extended straight from the shoulder. The jab is effective as both an offensive and a defensive weapon.

A combination consists of two or more lightning-fast punches in a row. A typical combination is a left, a right, and another left punch.

Good boxers keep in top physical condition and spend many hours practicing boxing skills.

They do much roadwork—that is, running and jogging—to develop their endurance. They skip rope to improve their footwork, and they practice their punching ability on punching bags.

When boxers are training for a bout, they practice under fight conditions by boxing with sparring partners.

Amateur boxing

In the United States, many schools, boys’ clubs and camps, and various branches of the armed services offer boxing as part of their sports programs.

The majority of this amateur competition is conducted under the regulations set by the U.S.A. Amateur Boxing Federation (USA/ABF).

The USA/ABF conducts amateur boxing championships every year. It also supervises the selection of United States boxers for the Olympic Games and various other international events.

In addition, the USA/ABF is a member of the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA).

The annual Golden Gloves tournament is probably the most famous U.S. amateur boxing event.

The nationwide tournament is approved by the USA/ABF and operates under USA/ABF rules. Local and regional elimination bouts lead to the final championship matches.

Professional boxing


Professional boxers fight for money in bouts that are arranged by promoters. A promoter may be an individual or a corporation.

The promoter rents an arena or stadium, settles the amount to be paid each boxer, sells tickets, and takes care of all other necessary arrangements.

In addition, the promoter may be able to sell television (network, cable, or closed-circuit), motion-picture, and radio rights for an important bout.

The promoter schedules several matches for the same evening. The main event features two top boxers.

Several preliminary bouts between less important boxers come before the main event. Most preliminary bouts are scheduled for four or six rounds.

Most professional boxers have a manager to handle their business affairs. The manager makes agreements with promoters for bouts, hires the fighter’s employees, and sets up a training camp.

The manager may get up to a third of the prize money. A boxer’s employees include a trainer and one to three seconds. The trainer drills the fighter in boxing techniques and directs strategy during bouts. The seconds assist the trainer.

Promoters generally pay less-experienced boxers a flat fee. Well-known fighters usually receive a percentage of the gate (ticket receipts) and other revenue producing areas. They also may share in the profits from the sale of any entertainment rights.


In the United States, state and local boxing commissions regulate professional boxing. Most of these commissions belong to the World Boxing Association (WBA), some to the World Boxing Council (WBC), and others to the International Boxing Federation (IBF), or to all three.

The WBA, WBC, and IBF are international organizations that recommend rules to their members.

Each organization names its own list of world boxing champions. The three lists often differ. The Canadian Boxing Federation supervises professional boxing in Canada.


Ancient times.

Boxing is one of the oldest known sports. Stone carvings indicate that the Sumerians, who lived in what is now Iraq, boxed at least 5,000 years ago.

The sport probably spread from the Sumerians to peoples throughout the ancient world.

Boxing was a brutal spectacle in ancient Greece. Two young men would sit on flat stones, face to face, with their fists wrapped in thongs (strips of leather).

At a signal, they began to hit each other until one of them fell to the ground unconscious. The other man then continued to beat his opponent until he died.

According to legend, the thongs were later fitted with metal spikes so that the fights ended more quickly.

The Romans also staged brutal boxing matches. On their hands and forearms, the fighters wore cestuses, which consisted of leather straps plated with metal.

In time, the sport became so savage that the Romans forbade the use of cestuses. In the last hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Romans prohibited boxing.

The beginning of modern boxing.

Boxing almost disappeared as a sport until the late 1600’s, when it reappeared in England. However, it remained a cruel sport, and many fighters were crippled, blinded, or even killed while fighting.

In the early 1700’s, James Figg, one of England’s most famous athletes, introduced modern boxing. In Figg’s day, boxing involved much wrestling.

Figg became successful by punching instead of wrestling. In 1719, he opened a boxing school in London and began to teach his style of bare-knuckle (gloveless) fighting.

Figg’s boxing rules were still brutal, however. For example, one rule required that boxers continue to fight without rest periods until one man could not go on.

In 1743, Jack Broughton, a well-known British boxer, introduced new rules. Under Broughton’s rules, a fight ended when one man was knocked down and could not get up within 30 seconds. However, bouts were still continuous.

Broughton’s rules, with some additions, became standard for all bouts. They were known as the London Prize Ring Rules, and they helped make boxing less savage.

From bare knuckles to gloves.

In the mid-1860’s, the Marquess of Queensberry, a British sportsman, sponsored a new boxing code of 12 rules.

In 1872, the Queensberry Rules were first used in a professional tournament in London. They have been used throughout the world ever since with only slight changes. The rules require boxers to wear gloves.

They also call for three-minute rounds with a one-minute rest period between rounds. The rules further state that a man down on one knee may not be struck and that a fallen man must be given 10 seconds to get back on his feet.

During the 1850’s and 1860’s, British boxers visited the United States, where they tried to create greater interest in boxing. But many Americans opposed the sport. It was also illegal in many areas. The matches themselves drew only small crowds that watched boxers battle with bare knuckles.

In 1882, John L. Sullivan, an American, claimed the world bare-knuckle championship. But he realized that there was no future in bare-knuckle fighting and that the police allowed matches held under the Queensberry Rules. Sullivan therefore joined a traveling theatrical group and staged gloved boxing matches throughout the country. Huge crowds turned out to watch these exhibitions.

During the 1880’s, Sullivan occasionally took time off from theatrical appearances to defend his bare-knuckle championship.

He defended the title the last time in 1889, when he defeated Jake Kilrain in the 75th round. The fight was the last world heavyweight bare-knuckle championship ever fought.

In 1892, Sullivan fought James J. Corbett to decide the heavyweight championship under the Queensberry Rules. Corbett knocked out Sullivan in the 21st round.

The golden age of U.S. boxing.

During the early 1900’s, boxing remained illegal in many parts of the United States. Then in 1920, New York passed the Walker Law, which permitted public prizefighting. Soon other states legalized boxing.

Boxing then grew quickly as a spectator sport and entered its golden age.

George L. (Tex) Rickard was the leading fight promoter of the 1920’s. In 1921, he promoted the first match to draw a “million-dollar gate.” The bout was between the U.S. heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and the French challenger Georges Carpentier, the light heavyweight champion.

Dempsey reigned as heavyweight champion from 1919 until 1926, when Gene Tunney defeated him for the title.

When Dempsey and Tunney fought again in 1927, more than 100,000 persons paid $2,658,660, a record at that time, to watch the bout, which Tunney won.

Joe Louis became one of the most famous boxers of the golden age. He held the heavyweight title longer than any other fighter—from 1937 until he retired in 1949.

Louis came out of retirement in 1950, but lost to the heavyweight champion, Ezzard Charles. He then won several comeback bouts. In 1951, in his last fight, Louis was knocked out by Rocky Marciano.

Several outstanding boxers of the golden age held the championship title in more than one weight class. Harry Greb held the light heavyweight crown from 1922 to 1923 and the middleweight crown from 1923 to 1926.

Mickey Walker was the welterweight champion from 1922 to 1926 and the middleweight champion from 1926 to 1931. In the late 1930’s, Henry Armstrong held the welterweight, lightweight, and featherweight titles all at the same time.

The rivalry between middleweights Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano was a boxing highlight of the 1940’s.

The two men fought for the championship three times. Zale knocked out Graziano in the first and third fights, and Graziano won the other.

The mid-1900’s.

Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Rocky Marciano were three of the greatest fighters of the 1950’s.

Moore held the light heavyweight title from 1952 to 1961. Robinson was the welterweight champion from 1946 to 1951 and then went on to win the middleweight crown five times. Marciano was the heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956 and won all his 49 professional fights.

However, attendance at boxing matches declined during the 1950’s with the rise of television. Many fans preferred to watch major fights on television at home rather than attend other fights in person.

As a result, small boxing clubs, where fighters got their start in the sport, were forced out of business.

In time, the general public’s interest in boxing decreased to the point where only some championship bouts were televised.

Recent developments.

Muhammad Ali became one of the most colorful fighters in boxing history and helped stimulate renewed interest in the sport in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Ali won the heavyweight title in 1964 with an upset victory over Sonny Liston.

A new generation of fighters sparked even greater interest in boxing during the 1980’s. One of the most popular was Sugar Ray Leonard. He won a gold medal in boxing at the 1976 Olympic Games.

After winning the WBC welterweight title in 1979, he fought Roberto Duran twice in 1980, first losing his title and then regaining it from Duran.

In 1981, Leonard defeated previously unbeaten Thomas Hearns for the world welterweight title. In 1987, Leonard defeated Marvin Hagler for the WBC middleweight championship.

Larry Holmes was generally considered the top heavyweight of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In 1986, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight ever to win a portion of the world championship when he won the WBC title at the age of 20.

In 1990, Buster Douglas knocked out the previously undefeated Tyson in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.

Late in 1990, Evander Holyfield defeated Douglas to win the title. Holyfield won the WBA heavyweight championship two more times, defeating Riddick Bowe in 1993 and Mike Tyson in 1996.

• Bert Randolph Sugar, J.D., Publisher-Editor, Boxing Illustrated.