The history of boxing


The rise of Muhammad Ali was central to the modern history of boxing

Photo by CC user SliderBase on Youtube

Of all the sports that we watch on a daily basis, most came about in the past few hundred years.

However, there are a select few that can trace their origins to ancient times. Boxing is one of those sports, as people have been fighting each other to prove their physical superiority since the dawn of our species.

When two motivated fighters get in the ring with each other, the action can get intense not just for the athletes, but for those in the audience as well.

There are even some that log onto websites such as William Hill at to place their bets on who they think will come out on top.

Whether one chooses to sweat the outcome of a wager, or the thrill of the fight is enough excitement on its own, there is no denying that boxing is one of the most thrilling spectacles out there today.

Still, many wonder about the history of boxing: how did it all start? How did the rules that define the game today come about?

Below, we will briefly tell the story of boxing, from its humble beginnings, to where we find ourselves today.

Ancient origins

Boxing is one of the oldest sports on Earth, as it traces its origins back to the days of the Sumerians, which is a civilization that reached its zenith almost 5,000 years ago.

Depicted on a relief found in ruins from that era, similar inscriptions found on the walls of other former Middle Eastern civilizations (Babylonians, Assyrians, etc) only bolster the claim that this part of the world was in fact the birthplace of boxing.

These illustrations showed how this sport evolved from bare knuckle fighting, to the point where hand coverings where first used. This was depicted on statues found in Crete and Sardinia, the oldest of which date back to 1650 BCE.

Ancient boxing reached its brutal high point during the Roman Empire, where slaves and professional combatants fought each other to the death.

Harder leather was developed during this period, and some fighters began to attach metal implements to their gloves to inflict maximum damage upon their opponents.

The arena in which they fought was defined by a circle, which is why this sport takes place in a ‘ring’, despite being rectangular in nature to this day.

Eventually, the action became so brutal that the ancient form of boxing was banished in the 4th century AD, ensuring its public disappearance for centuries to come.

The re-birth of boxing

Boxing vanished from public view for more than a thousand years. However, recreational fist fighting continued to occur behind closed doors throughout the Middle Ages in places like the Eastern Slavic States.

Boxing became socially acceptable again in the late 17th century, when public matches began to be held again in London.

Just as in ancient times, these fights were of the bare-knuckle variety; with a lack of rules, they were once again very brutal in nature.

Behaviors such as head-butting, eye-gouging, and choke outs were acceptable forms of combat in these fights.

The brutality of these matches lead to deaths in the ring, leading champion Jack Broughton to successfully advocate for rules that would protect the health and safety of participants.

A 30-second count was introduced when combatants were knocked down, and low blows were prohibited.

The Marquis of Queensbury ushers in the era of modern boxing

In 1867, a Scottish noble known as the Marquis of Queensbury help promote and implement a new set of rules that laid the groundwork for boxing as we know it today.

Drafted together with the help of John Chambers, they defined the size of the ring and mandated the use of boxing gloves, and they set the length of each match at twelve rounds. They were to last three minutes a piece, with a one minute rest break between each.

Doing this turned boxing into a more strategic game of physical chess, as opposed to the all-out brawl that this sport was previously.

Boxing in recent times

The institution of these rules helped to get boxing into the Olympic Games, starting with St. Louis in 1904.

Capturing the imagination of a sport-mad public, it went on to become one of the more popular sports worldwide in the 20th century.

With stars such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Mike Tyson and other ferocious fighters emerging in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has maintained its popularity to this day.