Boxing in Ancient Times
The first records of boxing date back to the ancient Sumer but the oldest evidence of fist fighting involving hand covering originates from ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks considered boxing as a sport of the gods and included it into the Olympic Games. The sport was also very popular during the time of the Roman Empire. During the Roman times, it became a standard for the boxers to wear leather bands around their fists, however, the leather hand covering could also include some sort of metal. As a result, the ancient boxing bouts were often fatal for the defeated boxer.
Decline and Revival
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the widespread use of personal weapons such as swords, the interest in fist fighting began to decline. There are some references about boxing in medieval sources, however, boxing and fighting with fists once again became popular only after the decline of swords.
Boxing was revived in England in the form of the so-called bare-knuckle boxing in the 17th century, while the first evidence of bare-knuckle fight in the country dates to 1681. In 1791, England got its first bare-knuckle champion – James Figg. This was also the time when fencing with fists came to be called boxing which, however, was very different from boxing as we know it today.
Early History of Modern Boxing
Early modern boxing had no written rules, no referee and no weight divisions or rounds which made the boxers extremely vulnerable to serious injuries which could also lead to death. With an aim to protect the boxers, the English bare-knuckle champion Jack Broughton (1704-1789) introduced a set of rules that came to be known as Broughton’s rules. These rules which were adopted in 1743 banned some of the most troubled aspects of the sport such as hitting below the belt line and introduced fighting on a raised square post. The first boxing matches were fought on the ground, encircled by a ring of spectators (therefore the ring). However, there were still no breaks between the rounds. Instead, the Broughton’s rules allowed the fighter to take a 30-second break by dropping to one knee. But in practice, this rule was often disallowed because it was considered non-manly. It also greatly influenced the rules of modern boxing as the boxer who intentionally goes down to recover automatically loses points.
Marquess of Queensberry Rules
Modern boxing began to resemble the sport as we know it today with the Marquess of Queensberry rules which were drafted by John Chambers in 1867. These rules introduced 12 three-minute long rounds with one minute rest between the rounds and made hand gloves obligatory. The Marquess of Queensberry rules, however, did not replace the London Prize Ring Rules (they were adopted in 1838 and were based on the Broughton’s rules) immediately as some boxers insisted on bare fist fighting. The so-called bare-knuckle era, however, came finally to an end in 1892 when bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan was defeated by James J. Corbett. After Sullivan, no bare-knuckle boxer would become a champion again.