Boxing, as we know it today, is a sport that involves two contestants hitting one another with fists. Leather gloves cover the fists. And, there are rules for hitting opponents. Every fighter has to abide by these.
Fights come in a specific number of rounds, with each round being universally three minutes long.
Boxing fights happen in a ring. It’s an 18 to 22 feet canvas floor with four pillars (on each corner), and two to three strands of ropes tied across the pillars. Think of it as a squared-enclosure.
But it has not always been like this. Boxing has evolved over many years to become what it is today, with all the rules and the immense popularity.
People have obviously thrown fists at each other since time immemorial. But where did boxing originate, as a sport?
The first form of recognizable boxing can be traced to as far back as 3000 years BC, in Egypt. Heliographs found by archeologists depict people punching one another.
At that time, boxing is believed to have been for entertainment purposes only, and events were staged in the king’s court.
With the spread of the Egyptian civilization, the sport of boxing was introduced to the Mediterranean region and the Middle East.
It quickly became popular in ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks even included it in the Olympics as part of the competitive sports. This was in 688 BC, according to available evidence.
In Rome, boxing became a way through which slaves and slight offenders could buy freedom while at the same time providing entertainment. They were made to contest in front of spectators, with the winner being set free.
Boxers of the time would fight without any rules, with hands that had leather bands strapped to their fists, and a part of the forearm for protection.
There were no guidelines. As a result, boxers fought until one of them was knocked unconscious (even died). Fights were lethal, and competitors often fought to the death, especially when they later started to attach metal parts to the rubber straps covering their hands.
With the collapse of the Roman empire, and the spread of Christianity (which shunned violence), the sport of boxing slowly died, both in Rome and Greece.
Boxing in the 18th Century
But it would later resurface in Great Britain, in the 18th century, after centuries of “silence.” It gained quick popularity, with London becoming the epicenter of boxing.
The first official boxing match in England took place in 1681. Later, such matches become the order of the day at London’s Royal theater.
The Britons fought on bare knuckles, and still, no rules governed the sport. As the rich started to wager large amounts of money to the fights, the boxing industry in England grew to unimagined proportions.
Secret clubs used to organized matches in private. The government banned boxing. Thus, the professional boxers were no longer able to pursue their careers. Meanwhile, Americans loved boxing as a combat sport. The ban led many boxers to shift to America.
Jack Brownton wrote the first set of rules for boxing in 1743. However, later in 1838, Jack Broughton (the second boxing champion of that time) further modified the original rules.
The rules introduced sanity into boxing, limiting fights to hitting only, as compared to the haphazard ways of the past. The rules also stated where to and where not to hit. The improved boxing was to usher in the ‘Golden Age’ of boxing, the 1920s.
Boxing in the 1920s
The 20th century came with many promises for the boxing world. America was just becoming powerful, and money was flowing. Boxing was becoming the real sport there as well.
Technology had just advanced to the level that was ideal to spread the word about boxing matches and boxing personalities. The first official match broadcast via radio took place in 1921. The NBA (National Boxing Association) was also formed in the same year.
The sheer number of spectators who loved attending boxing events in the 1920s and the huge budgets involved gave rise to many things.
Among them were media growth and the emergence of promoters. But the most notable was the rise of famous professional boxers.
Boxing attracted a lot of racism during the 1920s. Nonetheless, it helped popularize the sport. Many professional boxers reached to stardom because of this push.
Boxers in the 1920s: The notable fighters of the era
1. William Jack’ Harrison Dempsey
He was the first proclaimed champion in the heavyweight category. He held the title for several years, from 1919 to 1926, a feat not achieved by many fighters of that time.
It made him immensely popular; he appears on the list of ‘ Top 100 Greatest Punchers, and ‘The Ring’s all-time heavyweights.’ He was famous for his unique style when on the ring and the strength of his punches.
2. Benny Leonard
Born in 1896, Benny Leonard became a boxing sensation in his time by winning 103 fights, losing 70 and drawing in 11.
He held the title in the lightweight category for close to seven years. He appears on the Ring magazine’s list of ‘Eight Best Fighters of The Last 80 Years’, and the ‘ 50 Greatest Boxers of All Time’ list by the popular sports network TV the ESPN.
3. Billy Miske
Although he died at a young age of 29 years, Billy goes down the books of history as a great boxer of the 1920s. He fought in 101 matches, losing in 15, drawing in 14, and winning in an impressive 72.
His skills in boxing earned him the nickname, ‘the St. Paul Thunderbolt.’
4. Barney Williams
He was born in 1861 in the US. Barney took part in many fights, 287 in total, and won in 196 of them, losing 54 and drawing in 37.
His love for boxing is what fans remember him for. All his career life was boxing fights, and he demonstrated great skill in it. He died in 1949 aged 57.
5. Tommy Loughran
Tommy cut out his name in the boxing arena at a very young age. At only 20, he won over Harry Grebb in, 1923.
He’s well known for his achievement of defeating three reigning heavyweight champions. He showed great and smart tactics on the ring, which gave him an upper hand over his opponents.
Boxing – Current Scenario
Boxing has evolved from the crude and often lethal form of the past to the great sport it is today.
With the modern and better rules, protective gear, especially in amateur boxing, and division of boxers according to their weights, fighters rarely die from fights.
There are massive amounts of money involved too, and the modern professional boxer is immensely wealthy.