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The Complete Guide to Boxing: From Ancient Times to Modern Demographics

Two fighters wear padded gloves and engage in a fistfight for a set number of rounds. The bout is decided by knockout or technical submission during any of the rounds or by the judge’s decision if both fighters survive through the rounds. This sport, boxing, is the world’s most famous combat sport and one of the oldest. Boxing has created several legends who have inspired millions more to pick up the gloves and step foot in the boxing ring. 

Amateur boxing has been an Olympic sport for over a century, while professional wrestling has organizations that host fights and ensure professionalism in the sport. With prehistoric roots, many controversies, and several styles, boxing has always been exciting. Although professional and amateur boxing today is from 19th century Britain, the sport itself dates back to prehistoric times. This article discusses the brief history of boxing, followed by the complete rules, styles, and techniques, all of which combine to make boxing the most cheered combat sport of all time.

History of Boxing 

Pugilism and Prizefighting, known in modern days as boxing, is a sport that has withstood the sands of time. The origins of boxing trace back to the brutal arenas of ancient civilizations. Stone carvings from Sumeria, a region now part of Iraq, suggest that boxing was a grim spectacle during the 3rd millennium BCE. The walls of ancient Egyptian tombs dating back 2,000 years also feature drawings of men engaged in a life-or-death struggle, surrounded by a crowd. In those days, boxing was a raw and unforgiving contest fought with bare fists, making it one of the most savage and deadly sports of its era.

Ancient Boxing With Rules

The first defined boxing with proper rules was from ancient Greece. Back then, there were no number of rounds. The fighters would wear strong leather straps on their fists, sit face to face, and hit each other until one man acknowledged defeat by holding up a finger or was unable to continue. Oftentimes, a fighter would fall to the ground unconscious or, even worse, dead. Clinching was not allowed, and all the matches were held outdoors in blazing sunlight to add further intensity to the fight. Greek literature suggests that most of the contestants in these boxing matches were from wealthy families. 

The Greeks added boxing to the ancient Olympic Games alongside the already present foot races, jumping, discus throwing, and Pankration.

The Brutality of Pugilism

After their conquest of Greece, the Romans adopted Greek boxing and also added it to the Gladiatorial events. Roman soldiers were also trained in boxing alongside wrestling as a martial art to improve their hand to hand combat skills. Boxing in the Roman Gladiator sports was ruthless, the only ending to a bout was when one of the fighters died. With the rise of Christianity in 313 AD, steps were taken to remove brutality from the sport, but they had to end up banning pugilism around 393 AD as it was too savage.

London, the Birthplace of Modern Boxing

The next formal boxing bout was recorded in 1681, followed by regular pugilism events held at the Royal Theatre London. These were illegal, underground battles with set purses on each fight, along with side bets and wagers. Just like the ancient times, there were no rules, bare knuckles, no weight classes, and the fight ended when one man was unable to continue. This is where the term ‘Prizefighting’ was introduced. 

Boxing, although illegal, became very famous in Britain in the early 1700s. The last of the great stage gladiators, James Figg captured fame as the champion of England, and was ultimately declared ‘The Father of Boxing’

The Modern Boxing Rules

Jack Broughton, champion from 1734 to 1758, introduced boxing schools. He was also the first to formulate initial boxing rules and invented mufflers to protect the boxer’s hands and opponents’ faces. These mufflers would later pave the way for the introduction of modern boxing gloves. Broughton’s rules, with minor changes, were converted into the detailed London Prize Ring rules in 1838, which governed the boxing world for some time. Boxing moved across the sea in the early 19th century, and America became Britain’s only close boxing rival. 

With the endorsement of influential figures like Theodore Roosevelt, boxing’s popularity continued to soar. As the sport gained traction, rules and guidelines were implemented to ensure the safety of fighters, a crucial step in the evolution of boxing. The Marquess of Queensberry Rules eliminated wrestling and below-the-belt moves from boxing and, therefore, defined the rules still followed in modern boxing. These measures have shaped the sport into the beloved and regulated activity we recognize today.

Professional Boxing Organizations: One Governing Body

There has never been a single governing body for boxing. This all started in 1920 and has since gotten even worse. The National Boxing Association(NBA), now known as the World Boxing Association is the first major sanctioning body in boxing. It was found as a private body alongside the New York State Athletic Commission. This divided control led to both organizations crowning their own world champions. Several attempts were made to convince all the major professional boxing organizations to unite under the umbrella of a single governing international body, but to no success. The following events happened, further complicating the system:

  • The World Boxing Council (WBC) was founded in 1963.
  • The NBA changed its name to the World Boxing Association (WBA).
  • The International Boxing Federation (IBF) was founded in 1983.
  • The World Boxing Organization (WBO) was founded 1988.

WBC is considered the most prestigious of the sanctioning bodies in professional boxing. The Council amounted to $2.69 million in revenue as of 2020, which was 37% less than the year before due to the global pandemic. 

Info: Today, Professional Boxing has potentially 306 titles compared to the 8 at the time of legends like Sugar Ray Robinson, Sonny Liston, and Muhammad Ali.

Modern Boxing by the Book: The Official Rules and Regulations

Modern boxing is a competitive combat sport that follows a set of rules made and compiled by the major governing bodies. Here are the major rules, regulations, and standards of modern boxing:

Weight Divisions: A Crucial Aspect

Initially, there were no weight classes in professional boxing. They later added Heavyweight (above 160 lbs) and Lightweight (below 160 lbs) to counter the problem, but there were still problems. The eight original weight classes were introduced, with a champion for each division:

  • Heavyweight (200 lbs and above)
  • Light Heavyweight (175 lbs)
  • Middleweight (160 lbs)
  • Welterweight (147 lbs)
  • Lightweight (135 lbs)
  • Featherweight (126 lbs)
  • Bantamweight (118 lbs)
  • Flyweight (112lbs)

When the WBC and WBA split in the 1960s, further divisions were made. The names of the new 17 classes were later determined by the major organizing bodies. Modern weight classes are:

  • Minimumweight, 105 pounds (48 kg)
  • Light flyweight, 108 pounds (49 kg)
  • Flyweight, 112 pounds (51 kg)
  • Super flyweight, 115 pounds (52 kg)
  • Bantamweight, 118 pounds (53.5 kg)
  • Super bantamweight, 122 pounds (55 kg)
  • Featherweight, 126 pounds (57 kg)
  • Super featherweight, 130 pounds (59 kg)
  • Lightweight, 135 pounds (61 kg)
  • Super lightweight, 140 pounds (63.5 kg)
  • Welterweight, 147 pounds (67 kg)
  • Super welterweight, 154 pounds (70 kg)
  • Middleweight, 160 pounds (72.5 kg)
  • Super middleweight, 168 pounds (76 kg)
  • Light heavyweight, 175 pounds (79 kg)
  • Cruiserweight, 200 pounds (91 kg)
  • Heavyweight, (anyone over 200 pounds) 

Although there is no set weight division for women’s professional boxing, here are the amateur divisions:

  • Flyweight, not more than 106 pounds (48 kg)
  • Bantamweight, 112 pounds (51 kg)
  • Featherweight, 119 pounds (54 kg)
  • Lightweight, 126 pounds (57 kg)
  • Light welterweight, 132 pounds (60 kg)
  • Welterweight, 141 pounds (64 kg)
  • Middleweight, 152 pounds (69 kg)
  • Light heavyweight, 165 pounds (75 kg)
  • Heavyweight, 179 pounds (81 kg)
  • Super heavyweight, any weight over 179 pounds (81 kg)

Ring Size and Rules in Boxing

Each country has their own rules for professional boxing. In the United States itself, each state has different rules. Here are the general rules for professional and Amateur boxing:

Number of Rounds:

  • Professional boxing matches can last 4 to 12 rounds of 3 minutes with a 1 minute break between each round. 
  • Women’s matches and some matches in Great Britain usually last 2-minute rounds. 
  • Olympic boxing features 3 three minute rounds with a 1 minute break between each round.

In-Ring Conduct:

  • Boxers are only allowed to deliver blows with closed fists on the head and body.
  • Below the belt blows, headbutts, elbow and forearm strikes, hitting a fallen opponent, excessive clinching, and biting are all considered fouls.

Judging Criteria

A referee is in the ring with the boxers to regulate the match, but in most jurisdictions, the referee doesn’t participate in the judging:

  • Three ringside officials score the match, and a boxer needs to win on two of the three scorecards to win the match. 
  • Olympic matches are electronically scored by five judges. Each judge has a dedicated button which he can press whenever a punch is believed to have landed. At least three judges must press the button for a legal punch to be recorded. 

Knockout, Draw, and Decision Rules:

  • A match ends with a knockout when a boxer is knocked down and cannot get up by the count of 10. 
  • A fight can be stopped by a technical knockout (TKO) when a boxer cannot defend themselves properly, they have sustained a severe injury, or a boxer or their seconds decide they should not continue. 
  • A match may also end in a decision when the match has gone the scheduled number of rounds and the scoring officials decide the winner. 
  • A match can end in a draw when all three judges award identical scores to both boxers or when two of three judges award identical scores to opposing boxers, regardless of the third judge’s score. 
  • If two of the three judges decide to oppose boxers and the third judge’s scorecard is evenly divided between the opponents, it is also a draw. 
  • A “no contest” is declared when a match is stopped prematurely due to a cut caused by an accidental clash of heads early in the fight. 

Standard Boxing Ring Dimensions

A standard wrestling ring is designed with safety as a top priority. It typically measures between 16 and 24 feet (4.9 and 7.3 m) to a side between the ropes, and the apron extends 33.5 inches outside the ropes. The platform of the ring is typically 3 to 4 feet (0.91 to 1.22 m) from the ground and is covered by about 1 inch (25 mm) of padding, which is topped by stretched canvas. The ropes are a crucial safety feature and are approximately 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter. The ropes are at heights of 18, 30, 42, and 54 inches (.46, .76, 1.07, and 1.37 m) above the mat, held up by posts rising around 5 feet (1.5 m) above the mat. The ropes are attached with spacers that prevent them from spreading too far apart, further ensuring the safety and integrity of the boxing ring.

Gearing Up for Glory: Equipment and Attire

Boxing gear is designed to protect the fighters, enhance their performance, and allow them to project a powerful presence. We’ve categorized essential boxing gear that you’ll need to step foot in the ring with confidence and chase boxing glory:

Protective Essentials:

Here are some essential gear items to protect you during training and fights:

Boxing Gloves

Gloves are the cornerstone of a boxer’s equipment. The basic purpose of boxing gloves is to protect your knuckle and the opponent’s jaw. They are padded with a balanced amount of multi-layered foam based on the wearer’s weight class. Whenever a punch is thrown, the padding works to absorb the impact, keeping the fighters safe. 

Hand Wraps

Essential for proper wrist support and preventing injuries. Hand wraps are worn under the boxing gloves, on the wrist area. Typically made of cotton, hand wraps keep your moving joints in place and ensure optimal protection when you deliver heavy blows.


Designed to protect your precious smile. Mouthguards are made from ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and their basic purpose is to protect your teeth, lips, and jaw during practice and fights. A proper uppercut on your jaw can result in several injuries, and mouthguards ensure that it doesn’t happen.

Supportive Gear:

Although not essential, some supportive gear items are highly recommended for both beginners and experienced boxers. Here are common supportive gear items:

Groin Protector

Not just in boxing, the groin area must be covered in any sport. Made from blends of plastic, groin protectors are designed to cover the lower area and feature gel padding on the sides to absorb shocks. 

Ankle Support

Quick footwork is essential for boxers to dodge their opponent’s punches and correctly deliver their own with supreme balance. Ankle supports work like hand wraps on the ankle area, keeping your joints warm and providing extra support. 

Competition Attire:

You need to be completely focused and comfortable during training and fights to deliver the best performance. Here are some high priority competition gear items a boxer must have in high quality:

Boxer Trunks

These are the shorts boxers wear to the ring. Unlike regular shorts, boxing trunks are made from lightweight, moisture-wicking blends of nylon, cotton, and polyester, keeping the boxer cool and comfortable during intense training sessions or in-ring competitions. The sturdy design allows for flexible movement and footwork, allowing the boxers to unleash their complete arsenal of moves.

Boxing Shoes

Designed specifically for boxing, boxing shoes offer a balance between cushioning and stability. Unlike regular shoes, boxing shoes feel like a second skin and that you’re wearing no shoes at all. Made from blends of leather, suede, and synthetic materials, boxing shoes are highly durable and breathable, allowing you to move more quickly, smoothly, and safely.

Styles and Strategies: A Boxer’s Arsenal

Professional boxing hasn’t been about throwing powerful punches lately, unlike the bare-knuckle fights in the past. Since the introduction of padded gloves, boxing has become a strategic dance between offense and defense. Every boxer has a specific style that they are inclined towards based on their personality and physique. 

Since legends like Muhammad Ali proved that even heavyweights could move quickly in the ring, the game has dramatically changed, and modern boxers are divided into four major fight-style categories.

Swarmers (In-Fighters):

Swarmers are aggressive fighters who focus on wearing down the opponent by staying in range and constantly delivering combinations. The best example of an in-fighter is ‘The Baddest Man On The Planet’ Mike Tyson, who kept on delivering quick punches, strong hooks, and uppercuts to his opponents and often succeeded in this approach. The only downside is that swarmers stay inside the opponent’s reach, allowing them to deliver counterattacks.      


These hit-and-run masters rely on agility and accuracy as their primary weapons. Outboxers use quick footwork to circle around the ring, intimidating the opponent and creating openings for punches. They stay at a distance, dodge punches with fast footwork and body movement, and counter with sharp jabs and hooks to take down the opponent. The best example of this style is the great Muhammad Ali.


Boxer-punchers are all-rounders who combine the elements of in-fighting and out-boxing. They utilize a strategic approach instead of charging at the opponent or staying at a safe distance. Boxer punchers adapt to their opponent’s style, quickly switch between in-fighting and out-boxing styles, and deliver fatal combinations at the perfect time. The best example of a boxer-puncher-style fighter is Sugar Ray Leonard.  


Brawlers, relying on raw power and deadly blows, are known for their willingness to trade punches. They keep themselves vulnerable to counterattacks, making opponents open their arms and receive one powerful knockout blow. The ‘Big George’ George Foreman is the perfect example of a brawler-style fighter. His aggressive fighting style and deadly punches earned him 68 knockouts out of the 76 total wins. His remarkable achievements, including multiple inductions to the Boxing Hall of Fame and being ranked the eighth-greatest heavyweight of all time, command respect and admiration. 

The Common and Advanced Techniques

Boxing is referred to as ‘The Sweet Science,’ describing how physical prowess isn’t everything in this sport. Beyond throwing punches, boxers rely on refined techniques to trap and dominate their opponents. Here are the fundamental techniques of professional boxing:

The Stance and Footwork:

A boxer’s stance is the foundation of his entire moveset. The two major stances are Orthodox(right-handed with left foot forward) and Southpaw(left-handed with right foot forward).

Excellent footwork is as important as accurate punches for a boxer. It allows maneuvering around the ring and creating angles to ultimately create an opening for attacks. Common footwork techniques include shuffling, pivoting, and stepping.

The Types of Punches:

A boxer has an arsenal full of properly delivered punches to ensure maximum accuracy and effectiveness. Throwing straight jabs to set up the opponent and sneaking in with a surprise uppercut; that’s the fun in boxing. Some common punching techniques include:

  • Jab
  • Cross
  • Uppercut
  • Hook

Defense Techniques:

Good defense along with lethal offense makes a boxer dangerous. You can dodge the straight jabs with a slight slip to the side and block the incoming uppercut with your forearms. Defense techniques like slipping, weaving, bobbing, blocking, and parrying allow a boxer to absorb an opponent’s attacks and create an opening to deliver a knockout punch.

Combinations, Counters, and Fients

Practice and experience helps a boxer predict the opponent’s next move and utilize their strengths to counter the offense with an even lethal blow. Advanced techniques depend on a boxer’s unique strength. A knockout artist would use feints to lure the opponent, and follow up with combination punches for a perfect knockout.

Stepping into the Ring: Demographics of Boxing

Now that you have an idea of what boxing was like back in the days and how it has reached the current status, let’s discuss the demographics of modern boxing. Here are some quick stats:

  • There are 20,000 active professional boxers in the world.
  • Boxing is the most popular combat sport in the world.
  • Boxing is the 3rd most popular sport in the US, as 33% of Americans say they like it.
  • The global Boxing Gloves market at $902.80 million in 2021 is expected to reach $1.4 Billion by 2031.
  • Floyd Mayweather vs Conor Mcregor capped $275 million, becoming the highest ever purse for a professional boxing fight.
  • As of 2022, the United States has the most Olympic medals for boxing, 117.
  • China holds the most Olympic medals for women’s boxing, 7.

Breakdown of Boxers by Gender

Womens boxing was formally recognized internationally in 1994 and became an Olympic sport in 2012. Female fighters have actively participated in professional boxing over the years and as of 2010, 35.56% of the total boxers in the world were women. But the percentage has decreased over the years with 31.8% female and 68.2% male boxers in 2021.

Breakdown of Boxers by Age Groups

50% of active professional boxers are over 40 years old. 21% are between 30 to 40, and 26% are between 20 to 30 years.

Breakdown of Boxers by Ethnicity 

More than half of professional boxers in the world are white. Here’s a breakdown of percentages of boxer’s races as of 2021:

  • White: 54.6%
  • Hispanic / Latino: 20.7%
  • African American / Black: 13.1%
  • Asian: 7.3%

The numbers have changed notably over the last 10 years as 61.75% of boxers were white as of reports from 2010

Breakdown of Boxers by Country

The United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom are the hubs of boxing. They hold the most world titles and generate the highest viewerships and revenue for the sport. 

  • The USA is the modern home of boxing, with 466 world championships to their name by 2023. Current champs like Caleb Plant and Jermell Charlo further cement the legacy of greats like Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali.
  • Mexico seconds the list with 164 world titles. Boxing is so prevalent in Mexico that the viewership often surpasses soccer. A list of Mexican boxing legends like Julio Cesar Chavez and Salvador Sanchez is further emulated by the current best, Canelo Alvarez
  • The United Kingdom is the original home of boxing, where the sport finds its roots. From Lennox Lewis, one of the best boxers in history, to current champions like Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, the British have held 109 world titles.

The Highest Paid Boxer

Canelo Alvarez is the highest paid boxer as of 2023, ranking 5th in the Forbes highest paid athletes list with $110 million

But this is not the first time a boxer is featured in the list. Floyd Mayweather hit $285 million in 2018, becoming the second highest paid athlete to be featured in the 33 years history of Forbes list. On top of that, the 50-0 undefeated, 15 world titles holder has led the Forbes list four times in seven years. 

Key Takeaway: Boxing’s Incredible Journey

From its bare-knuckle origins to the highly regulated sport it is today, boxing has captivated audiences for centuries. Modern boxing is more than just throwing punches, it is a strategic dance that demands discipline, mental fortitude, and focus, hence called “The Sweet Science.” Boxing has a history of empowering people from every ethnicity and all walks of life, creating a sense of community. From the “Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson who defied racial barriers to become the first African American champion, to “The Greatest” Muhammal Ali, who was an advocate for social justice, professional boxing has provided a platform for fighters to challenge social norms and pave their own paths to success.

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