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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.

2 men box in London in the late 1800's in front of a crowd

Despite these universally recognised and more civilized rules, boxing struggled to be considered a legitimate sport and was banned by many states and countries. In the end, the sheer popularity of boxing forced governments to reconsider and by the 1950’s boxing was legal in just about every country.

A stadium full of men watches a boxing match

Since then boxing has gone from strength to strength and is now undoubtedly the world’s most popular combat sport. From bare knuckle fighting in Iraq 5000 years ago to $300 million superfights, boxing has come a long way.

While boxing will always have its dissenters who claim it is a barbaric practice which should be banned on health and safety grounds, there are no shortage of those who claim boxing has changed their life. Indeed, since the early 20th century boxing has represented a way out of poverty for thousands across the world.

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1 Comment

Carol Hill
Carol Hill
Jul 04, 2019

Wow, you really summed up the history of boxing very good. Loved your style of narrating and interest i n the subject matter. Are you a boxer yourself? If not, then you might have fallen in love with boxing after writing this with that amount of research. I was also searching and found this amazing list of top 10 boxers. Check it out:

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