The Origins Of Boxing

Submitted by Kimball Marsden on Apr 24th 2017

The origin of boxing is a somewhat subjective idea and can be argued indefinitely. There is evidence of the sport going as far back as the 2nd millennium BC in the Mesopotanian region. You could argue that since the birth of the human species this form of hand to hand combat has been in existence. It is the primal nature of this gladiatorial sport that brings such fascination for millions of people all across the world. Boxing is a sport that takes everything away including the shirt on your back and puts you in a ring with your opponent and a pair of gloves. Then it is simply a battle of will and determination. 

Ancient Greece

One time period of note when discussing the history of the sport would be the time of ancient Greece. By this time boxing had become a well practised discipline studied by many athletes. It first appeared in the Olympics in 688 B.C.  As you might expect it was a far more brutal affair that what we see today.  There were no rounds, boxers fought until one man was knocked out, or admitted defeat. Unlike the modern sport, there was no rule against hitting an opponent when he was down. There were no weight classes and opponents were matched up randomly. This lead to some extremely mismatched fights with the heavier weights generally being more dominant as you might expect. Participants didn't wear boxing gloves, instead they used leather thongs, also known as 'himantes' which they wrapped around their hands and wrists.

Ancient Rome

Boxing was also very popular during the period of the Romans with it being even more brutal than what the Ancient Greeks practised. Roman spectators had an insatiable thirst for violence with thousands of spectators attending the amphitheatres to watch men fight to the death. This upward trend in viciousness led to the replacement of the orthodox leather straps with something called 'Caestus', a battle glove filled with iron plates or fitted with blades or spikes. As you might expect the probability of death greatly increased with this development however this was very characteristic of this time period. Ancient Rome explored violence as a form of entertainment in a way that had never been seen before and likely will never be seen again.

"Boxing in the Roman time involved a circle being marked on the floor. This is where the term 'ring' came from".

Boxing remained a very popular sport in Roman culture until around AD 393 when Emperor Theodoric the Great banned it outright. As a Christian, he disapproved of the deaths and disfigurements it could cause, and of its use as a form of violent entertainment.

 The British Isles

It was a long time before boxing appeared again in our history books. This time around the sport popped up in the British Isles and this is where the modern form of boxing that we see today was established. In it's most primitive form modern boxing was bare-knuckled with the first documented account being recorded in 1681. This early incarnation of the sport was similar to the ancient Greek style in that there were no weight classes or time limits and no referee. It was a chaotic affair with no rules, being a free for all many underhand tactics were used to gain an advantage in the ring including headbutts, eye-gouging and choking.


A man named James Figg also known as the father of modern boxing is recognised as the first English bare-knuckle boxing champion. His reign spanned from 1719 all the way up to 1730 when he retired. His record is reported to be 269-1 in 270 fights with him avenging the one solitary loss against a fighter called Ned Sutton. Figg famously opened up the very first boxing academy in the year 1719. He died in 1734 having lived a very eventful life and his legacy was carried forth by his most prominent student from the academy. That student was Jack Broughton who played a significant role by being the first to introduce a set of rules. These were known as the Broughton's rules and first appeared in 1743.  The rules stated that a round would last until a man took a knee or went down,  there was to be a 30-second interval between rounds. Despite being involved in such a physically taxing profession Mr Broughton died at the ripe old age of 84 at his home on  8 January 1789

Marquess of Queensberry rules

The next significant step in the evolution of boxing came In 1867 when the Marquess of Queensberry rules were first set out by John Chambers. This is the marking point of when boxing really began to take shape as an official sport and much of what we see in these rules are a basis for what the modern sport became.

  • To be a fair stand-up boxing match in a 24-foot ring, or as near that size as practicable.
  • No wrestling or hugging allowed.
  • The rounds to be of three minutes' duration, and one minute's time between rounds.
  • If either man falls through weakness or otherwise, he must get up unassisted, 10 seconds to be allowed him to do so, the other man meanwhile to return to his corner, and when the fallen man is on his legs the round is to be resumed and continued until the three minutes have expired. If one man fails to come to the scratch in the 10 seconds allowed, it shall be in the power of the referee to give his award in favour of the other man.
  • A man hanging on the ropes in a helpless state, with his toes off the ground, shall be considered down.
  • No seconds or any other person to be allowed in the ring during the rounds.
  • Should the contest be stopped by any unavoidable interference, the referee to name the time and place as soon as possible for finishing the contest; so that the match must be won and lost, unless the backers of both men agree to draw the stakes.
  • The gloves to be fair-sized boxing gloves of the best quality and new.
  • Should a glove burst, or come off, it must be replaced to the referee's satisfaction.
  • A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes.
  • That no shoes or boots with spikes or sprigs be allowed.
  • The contest in all other respects to be governed by revised London Prize Ring Rules.


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