The earliest known depiction of boxing comes from a Sumerian relief in Iraq from the 3rd millennium BCE. Later depictions from the 2nd millennium BC are found in reliefs from the Mesopotamian nations of Assyria and Babylonia, and in Hittite art from Asia Minor. The earliest evidence for fist fighting with any kind of gloves can be found on Minoan Crete (c.1650–1400 BCE), and on Sardinia, if we consider the boxing statues of Prama mountains (c. 2000–1000 BC).
In Ancient Greece boxing was a well developed sport and enjoyed consistent popularity. In Olympic terms, it was first introduced in the 23rd Olympiad, 688 BC. The boxers would wind leather thongs around their hands in order to protect themselves. There were no rounds and boxers fought until one of them acknowledged defeat or could not continue. Weight categories were not used, which meant heavyweights had a tendency to dominate. The style of boxing practiced typically featured an advanced left leg stance, with the left arm semi-extended as a guard, in addition to being used for striking, and with the right arm drawn back ready to strike. It was the head of the opponent which was primarily targeted, and there is little evidence to suggest that targeting the body was common.
Boxing was a popular spectator sport in Ancient Rome. In order for the fighters to protect themselves against their opponents they wrapped leather thongs around their fists. Eventually harder leather was used and the thong soon became a weapon. The Romans even introduced metal studs to the thongs to make the cestus which then led to a more sinister weapon called the myrmex (‘limb piercer’). Fighting events were held at Roman Amphitheatres. The Roman form of boxing was often a fight until death to please the spectators who gathered at such events. However, especially in later times, purchased slaves and trained combat performers were valuable commodities, and their lives were not given up without due consideration. Often slaves were used against one another in a circle marked on the floor. This is where the term ring came from. In AD 393, during the Roman gladiator period, boxing was abolished due to excessive brutality. It was not until the late 16th century that boxing re-surfaced in London
Marquess of Queensberry rules (1867)
In 1867, the Marquess of Queensberry rules were drafted by John Chambers for amateur championships held at Lillie Bridge in London for Lightweights, Middleweights and Heavyweights. The rules were published under the patronage of the Marquess of Queensberry, whose name has always been associated with them.
File:Leonard Cushing Kinetograph 1894.ogv
The June 1894 Leonard–Cushing bout. Each of the six one-minute rounds recorded by the Kinetograph was made available to exhibitors for $22.50. Customers who watched the final round saw Leonard score a knockdown.
There were twelve rules in all, and they specified that fights should be “a fair stand-up boxing match” in a 24-foot-square or similar ring. Rounds were three minutes with one-minute rest intervals between rounds. Each fighter was given a ten-second count if he was knocked down, and wrestling was banned. The introduction of gloves of “fair-size” also changed the nature of the bouts. An average pair of boxing gloves resembles a bloated pair of mittens and are laced up around the wrists. The gloves can be used to block an opponent’s blows. As a result of their introduction, bouts became longer and more strategic with greater importance attached to defensive maneuvers such as slipping, bobbing, countering and angling. Because less defensive emphasis was placed on the use of the forearms and more on the gloves, the classical forearms outwards, torso leaning back stance of the bare knuckle boxer was modified to a more modern stance in which the torso is tilted forward and the hands are held closer to the face.
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Late 19th and early 20th centuries
Through the late nineteenth century, the martial art of boxing or prizefighting was primarily a sport of dubious legitimacy. Outlawed in England and much of the United States, prizefights were often held at gambling venues and broken up by police. Brawling and wrestling tactics continued, and riots at prizefights were common occurrences. Still, throughout this period, there arose some notable bare knuckle champions who developed fairly sophisticated fighting tactics.
Amateur Boxing Club, Wales 1963
The English case of R v. Coney in 1882 found that a bare-knuckle fight was an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, despite the consent of the participants. This marked the end of widespread public bare-knuckle contests in England.
The first world heavyweight champion under the Queensberry Rules was “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, who defeated John L. Sullivan in 1892 at the Pelican Athletic Club in New Orleans.
The first instance of film censorship in the United States occurred in 1897 when several states banned the showing of prize fighting films from the state of Nevada, where it was legal at the time.
Throughout the early twentieth century, boxers struggled to achieve legitimacy. They were aided by the influence of promoters like Tex Rickard and the popularity of great champions such as John L. Sullivan.
The sport rising from illegal venues and outlawed prize fighting has become one of the largest multi-billion dollar sports today. A majority of young talent still comes from poverty-stricken areas around the world. Places like Mexico, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe prove to be filled with young aspiring athletes who wish to become the future of boxing. Even in the U.S., places like the inner cities of New York, and Chicago have given rise to promising young talent. According to Rubin, “boxing lost its appeal with the American middle class, and most of who boxes in modern America come from the streets and are street fighters”. Although not limited to such places, anyone who has the will to compete, an aptitude for perseverance, and a willingness to live on the edge, can become a modern day boxing athlete.