The Early History of Boxing
In the 3rd millennium BC, the Sumerians created relief carvings showing fist fights. In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Egyptians created relief carvings that showed the fist fighters and the spectators. In both of these carvings, the fighters were bare knuckled. Assyrian, Babylonian, and Hittite art also have carvings and paintings of fist fighters. Dr. E.A. Speiser, an archaeologist, while on a dig in 1927, found a Mesopotamian stone tablet showing two men getting ready for a prize fight in Baghdad, Iraq. It is believed that the tablet found is around 7,000 years old. In Minoan Crete, which survived from 1500 to 900 BC, and on the island of Sardinia, evidence of the first gloved competitions are depicted. In Sardinia, there are boxing statues on the Prama Mountains that were erected between 2000 and 100 BC.
The 1743 Broughton Rules
When the Western Roman Empire fell, the increase in the interest of fighting with weapons outweighed the interest in boxing, therefore, the records of classical boxing records began to dissipate. Between the 12th and 17th centuries, many different cities and provinces kept detailed records of the fist fighting activities held throughout Italy. Rus hosted and ancient sport called Fistfight. When the wearing of a sword became less common for the average person, there was an increase in the interest of fist fighting as a sport. Prizefighting, or bare knuckle boxing, took place in England in the early 16 century. The London Protestant Mercury published the earliest documents on bare knuckle fighting in 1681. James Figg became the bare knuckle champion in 1719. In 1719, bare knuckle fighting's name changed to boxing. While this type of boxing is associated with today's boxing, it was still very different. The competitions held while James Figg was competing, included fencing and cudgeling with the fist fighting contests. The earliest recorded boxing match took place between the butler and butcher of Christopher Monck, who, at the time, was the 2nd Duke of Albemarle and later became the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, on January 6, 1681. The butcher won the bout.
When fist fighting was first beginning, there were no written rules involving the participants. Where in modern times, there is weight divisions, round limits, and referees, there was none of that in the beginning. The first bouts were chaotic. The Broughton Rules, the earliest boxing rules, were written up by Jack Broughton in 1743, who was the heavyweight champion, at the time. He developed these rules to protect the fighters while they were in the ring. Before the rules were established, there were many deaths that occurred. One of the rules stated that if a fighter was unable to continue the fight after being knocked down for a 30 second count, then the fight would no longer continue. When a fighter went down, continuing to hit them was now prohibited. Grabbing below the waist also became prohibited. Broughton invented "mufflers," which were a form of padded gloves that was used in training matches. He encouraged the use of the gloves for the exhibition matches. William Futrell, a successful Birmingham boxer, published the earliest paper on boxing in the late 18th Century. Futrell was undefeated until his match on July 9, 1788 at Smitham Bottom, Croydon. The match lasted an hour and seventeen minutes and was attended be the Prince of Wales. Futrell was defeated by a much younger "Gentelman" John Jackson.
The Broughton Rules gave fighters an advantage that is not seen in today's world of boxing. A fighter was allowed to drop to one knee to begin a 30 second count at any time during the fight. The fighter who felt he was in trouble and needed time to recover could take advantage of this rule. Fighters considered this move "unmanly." The Seconds of the Boxers disallowed this type of behavior and they negotiated additional rules. The additional rules stated that if a boxer was to intentionally take a knee, then he would lose points in the scoring system. Another rules states that the fighter was to use restraints when punching another in the head, because the gloves used were not padded heavily and there was no wristwraps to protect the hands of the fighters.
The 1838 London Prize Fighting Rules
The London Prize Rules were written in 1838. They were revised in 1853. The rules stated the following:
• The fights had to take place in a 24 foot (7.3 m) squared ring that was surrounded by ropes.
• When a fighter was knocked down, he had to get to his feet on his own within the 30 second count in order to be allowed to continue the match.
• A foul consisted of biting, head butting, and hitting below the belt.
The 1867 Marquess of Queensbury Rules
John Chambers drafted the Marquess of Queensbury Rules in 1867. The rules focused on the amateur championships that were held at the Lillie Bridge in London for Lightweights, Middleweights, and Heavyweights. The Marquess of Queensberry, who has always been associated with them, published the rules.
There were twelve rules that evolved from the set of rules that were already in place. The rules included the fight being a stand up boxing match inside a 24 foot square ring. The rounds had the time limit of three minutes. Between the rounds, a one minute rest period was enacted. The count was changed from 30 seconds to 10 seconds for a knock down. Wrestling was banned from the matches.
Gloves of a fair size were introduced to the bouts. The gloves evolved to a bloated pair of mittens with lace up wrists. The gloves were allowed to be used to block an opponent's hits. Rounds became longer and more strategic once these types of gloves were introduced. There was an emphasis placed on the defensive maneuvers of slipping, bobbing, countering, and angling. There was no need for the continuation of the forearms being used to block hits, so the stances were modified. The stance no longer included the forearms stretched outwards and the torso leaning backward. The stance evolved to the torso tilted forward and the hands were held closer to the face, much like in the matches held today.
The Prohibition Era
Boxing and prizefighting was a sport that was far from being legitimate throughout the late 19th century. Boxing was outlawed in England and the United States during the Prohibition Era. Gambling venues hosted the prize fights, but they were, often times, broken up by the police. The fights that took place during this time used brawling and wrestling tactics. The spectators often became involved in the fights by creating riots. Even with the fights being outlawed, there were champions who had evolved through the bare knuckle fights, creating sophisticated fight tactics.
The 1882 English court case R v. Coney put a stop to the bare knuckle contest throughout England. The ruling of the case states that the bare knuckle fighting was an assault on the other person, causing bodily harm, even if there were two consenting participants.
In 1892, "Gentleman" Jim Corbett was crowned the world heavyweight champion under the Queensbury Rules. He defeated John L. Sullivan in a bout that took place at the Pelican Athletic Club in New Orleans.
Tex Rickard, a promoter, helped boxers to achieve legitimacy throughout the early 20th century. John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey were two of the great champions that helped the sport to gain popularity. Boxing commissions and sanctioning bodies developed a short time after the Prohibition Era. They placed regulations on the sport and created recognizable champions.