5 Minute History of Boxing

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking him down
Boxing has risen from brutal caveman practice to the most popular combat sport in the world

Although boxing as we know it, with weight classes, gloves, and referees, was not formalized until 1880, the activity of boxing dates back thousands of years. In fact, the earliest depictions of boxing date back to 3000 BC! That’s over 5000 years ago.

The first paintings of boxing come from the Sumerian civilization in what is modern day Iraq. It wasn’t for another 1500 years until paintings of competitors wearing gloves were made, this time in Ancient Greece.

An ancient painting depicts two men boxing
This painting dates back to around 1600 BC

It was also the Greeks who introduced boxing to the Olympics in 688 BC. In those days, there were no weight classes, round times, or padded gloves (boxers wrapped leather thongs around their fists). Competitors would keep fighting until one of them was no longer able to compete and heavyweights dominated.

Boxing continued to be a popular sport in Roman times, and fighters would compete in front of sold out amphitheatres. The Romans adapted the Greek leather thong to make the leather tougher and even occasionally added iron plates, spikes, and blades. Eventually, in 400 AD, the Romans abolished boxing due to excessive brutality and the sport died out.

A drawing of a Roman boxing glove
A drawing of a Roman boxing glove

It would be 1300 years before boxing resurfaced in popular culture, where it found a home in Tudor England around 1700. This was a brutal form of boxing with very few rules- bare knuckles, bites, and eye gouges were all common.

As the decades progressed more and more rules were introduced and in 1867 the first every unified boxing rules were produced- the “Queensberry rules”- and amateur boxing was born. These rules introduced the ring, round times, standard gloves, and 10 second knockdowns.