Boxing is defined as the martial art or combat technique that involves attacking and defending using both fists. It is an act of human aggression where opponents or athletes utilise the different extremities of their bodies in order to defeat their rival athlete in the ring or a makeshift arena.
This combat sport is one of the oldest known martial arts that emerged right around the time when wrestling was also developed. Not much is known about boxing’s history in the ancient times, because there was a lack of writing back in those days and a lack of references also.
In fact, historical records about this sport only appeared at a later time in our civilisation between the 12th and 17th centuries in London, so we may never know how it evolved over time. But we do know that there have been different types of boxing that had existed as far back as 1500 BCE, according to the Rig Veda – an ancient Hindu historical-fantasy epic poem.
Other sources say that the true origins of boxing was in a place we now call, Ethiopia. When the Egyptians invaded Nubia (modern-day Ethiopia), they encountered locals who were performing this sport there. The invasion of Nubia dates to around the 6th millennium BCE, thereby making this account about boxing the oldest in history.
They later learned from the locals and brought the sport back home. From there, boxing as a combat sport spread eastward to countries such as Greece, Mesopotamia and later on in the Roman Empire, where it is believed that the gladiators also engaged in unarmed combat, which involved boxing.
Early Forms of Boxing
Early forms of boxing date back to ancient civilisations, with various cultures having their own versions of the sport. It is amusing to discover that ancient people enjoyed this physical sport as much as we do today. It is quite fun to watch two people fight in the ring, as the crowd roots for each of their heroes, until the victor is declared.
Here are some examples of early forms of boxing from different regions:
Ancient Egyptian depictions and hieroglyphics suggest that boxing-like contests were held as early as 3000 BCE. The sport involved bare-knuckle fights, and boxers would wrap their hands with strips of leather for protection.
In ancient Greece, boxing was one of the oldest Olympic sports, dating back to the 7th century BCE. It was known as “pygmachia” or “pygmachion,” and boxers fought without gloves, often using leather straps called “himantes” to protect their hands and wrists.
The ancient Romans also had a form of boxing known as “pugilatus.” It was a brutal sport where fighters used leather-wrapped fists, and the matches often went on until one of the participants could no longer continue.
In ancient India, the sport of “musti-yuddha” or “muki boxing” was practised. It involved fighters using their fists and other parts of the body to strike their opponents in a contest of strength and skill.
In ancient China, a martial art known as “zhou boxing” or “zhouyi” was practised. This form of boxing emphasised both striking and grappling techniques.
The Minoans, an ancient civilisation that existed on the island of Crete, engaged in boxing-like contests. Archaeological evidence, such as frescoes and pottery, suggests the presence of such activities.
Broughton’s Rules (18th Century England)
In the 18th century, a boxer named Jack Broughton introduced “Broughton’s Rules,” a set of regulations that helped shape modern boxing. These rules included the use of gloves, a 30-second count for knocked-down fighters, and the prohibition of hitting a downed opponent.
It is important to note that early forms of boxing were often brutal and lacked the safety measures and regulations seen in modern boxing today. As the sport evolved over time, various rules and protective measures were introduced to make it safer for participants. Modern boxing, as we know it today, has become a widely regulated sport with weight classes, rounds, and strict safety guidelines.
Modern Professional Boxing Sport
Modern professional boxing today is heavily regularised compared to how ancient people conducted this sport. This is because our modern civilisation is built upon the democratic ideals that the Greco-Roman Empires had developed in their societies, and any act of violence – even in sports – is seen as a negative thing with respect to democracy.
As a result, boxing organisations around the world enforce rules and safety standards to keep boxing athletes safe. Yet despite this strict adherence to the rules and regulations, there have been tragic deaths that occurred in the ring during the fight. Among them include Jimmy Doyle (accidentally killed by Sugar Ray Robinson), Kim Duk-koo (accidentally killed by Ray Mancini) and Roman Simakov (accidentally killed by Sergey Kovalev).
Professional boxing is a combat sport where trained fighters, known as boxers or pugilists, compete against each other using their fists in a regulated ring. The main objective of professional boxing is to outscore or knockout the opponent within a set number of rounds or achieve victory through technical decisions or disqualifications. Professional boxing also ranks as the 11th most popular sport in the world, with an estimated 493 million global audience.
Key aspects of professional boxing include:
- Weight Classes – Boxers are divided into weight classes to ensure fair competition. This means fighters of similar size and weight compete against each other. Common weight classes include heavyweight, cruiserweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, featherweight, and more.
- Rounds – Professional boxing matches are typically divided into rounds, each lasting for a set duration (usually 3 minutes) with a short break (usually 1 minute) between rounds. The number of rounds varies depending on the level of the fight; championship bouts can have 12 rounds, while non-title fights may have 4, 6, 8, or 10 rounds.
- Knockout (KO) – A boxer wins by a knockout if they successfully knock down their opponent, and the opponent is unable to stand and continue the fight within a specific count (usually 10 seconds) by the referee.
- Technical Knockout (TKO) – A technical knockout occurs when the referee stops the fight because one boxer is significantly outmatched, injured, or unable to defend themselves effectively. The fight can also be stopped by a boxer’s corner if they believe their fighter is at risk.
- Decision – If the fight goes the full scheduled rounds and neither boxer is knocked out, a panel of judges scores the bout based on effective punches, defense, ring generalship, and other criteria. The fighter with more points wins the decision, which can be “unanimous” (all judges agree), “majority” (two of three judges agree), or “split” (two judges favor one fighter, and one judge favors the other).
- Regulations and Organizations – Professional boxing is heavily regulated by regional and international boxing organisations like the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Council (WBC), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Organization (WBO). These organisations govern the sport, recognise champions, and enforce rules and safety standards.
- Protective Gear – Professional boxers wear padded gloves to reduce the risk of serious injury, mouthguards to protect their teeth, and hand wraps to support their wrists and knuckles.
Professional boxing has a long and storied history, with many legendary fighters and iconic moments. It remains a popular sport worldwide, drawing in large audiences for major fights and contributing to the global sporting landscape. However, safety concerns and controversies, such as judging controversies and health risks associated with repeated head trauma, have led to ongoing discussions about ways to improve the sport’s safety and integrity.
Boxing Superstars and Legends
Various boxing experts and fans rank great boxers on different levels in terms of being the best in this combat sport. At times it can also be subjective and can vary depending on personal opinions and criteria. However, here is a list of 10 boxers who are widely regarded as some of the greatest in the history of the sport:
- “Sugar” Ray Robinson (USA) – Credited with 174 wins, 19 draws and 6 losses, with 109 KO, Robinson has the highest number of wins in boxing history! He defeated 14 world champions or number one contenders in his division. He is one of the three boxers who had knocked out their opponents in just over 10 seconds (Robinson knocked out LaMotta in 13 seconds), with the other two as Zolani Tete knocking out Siboniso Gonya in 11 seconds and Phil Williams, who dispatched Brandon Burke in precisely 10 seconds. Any boxer or boxing fan knows who Sugar Ray Robinson is, and even Ali, Schmeling and Louis said he was the best.
- Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis (USA) – Joe Louis can be compared to a wild predator fiercely defending its territory, and no doubt, he is a fearsome opponent in the ring. Dubbed as the “Brown Bomber,” he was the king of boxing for 12 years and defended his title 25 times against battle-hardened challengers. Louis’ stats were 66 wins, 50 KOs, and 3 losses, with 17 out of those 66 wins were against the top 10 boxers of his time. For 26 years (from 1930 to 1956), there were only 9 boxing athletes who wore the title as boxing heavyweight champion, and he knocked out 7 of them. Lous is arguably the most dominant boxing champion of all time.
- Muhammad “The Greatest: Ali (USA) – Ali may not have record wins and KOs like Robinson or Louis, but hands down, he is the most charismatic boxer of all time. This was probably the reason why he is called “The Greatest.” As reigning WBA and WBC champion, Ali defended his title eight times against The Ring’s top 10 ranked heavyweight contenders, which included Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, and Ernie Terrell. Ali’s fluid motion fighting tactics almost always catch his opponents off-guard, which is the reason why he’s able to win 56 times with 37 wins by KO against perhaps the most formidable opponents that the WBA and WBC had to offer.
- “Iron” Mike Tyson (USA) – Tyson’s punch was measured to pack as much energy as 1,600 joules (1180.1 foot-pounds). Now, compare that to the 2,363 foot-pounds of force that a 12-gauge shotgun can produce, then you’ll get a rough idea of how powerful his punches are. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to get inside the ring with this monster. He successfully defended his title for over 2 years, and his challengers were even hesitant to fight him, because of his lethal knockout punch. Tyson’s boxing record includes 50 wins, 44 knockouts, and 6 losses. The fear of Mike Tyson inside the ring is legendary and is still being talked about by sports commentators to this day.
- Emile Griffith (USA) – Perhaps, the only boxing champion who didn’t get a moniker, Griffith had an impressive record of 85 wins, 24 KOs, 23 losses and 2 draws. He competed in the welterweight and middleweight divisions, and was the boxing champion 6 times during his sports career. Griffith was a very skilled fighter and had shattered the dreams of many top contenders in both divisions. Of his 111 fights, almost 50% of his opponents were on the top 10 best boxing athletes chart, further solidifying his place in this list.
- Ezzard “The Cincinnati Cobra” Charles (USA) – World War II veteran and heavyweight champion, Ezzard Charles started his boxing career as a prize fighter who never got a shot at the title bout, despite his 10-year winning streak. After serving in the army in World War II, Charles returned to the ring and continued his boxing career. He had a 39-1 record prior to his defeat to Jersey Joe Walcott in July 1951. He was the world heavyweight boxing champion for 9 times in his career and held an impressive record of 95 wins out of 121 bouts, 21 losses and 1 draw.
- Manny “The Pacman” Pacquiao (PHIL) – Enter the Philippine’s greatest boxer of all time, Manny Pacquiao. In over 40 years, he has never been removed from The Ring’s top 10 best boxers contenders, hence his inclusion on the list. The Pac Man started his boxing career at the tender age of 14, and by 19 he won his first world title by KO against Chatchai Sasakul. Pacquiao is the only boxer in history to win twelve major world titles in eight different weight divisions. His defeat against Floyd Mayweather came with tons of criticism from sports commentators, fellow boxing legends and the fans. Pacquiao has requested a rematch, but Mayweather refused, which led people to speculate that he was probably afraid he’d lose in their return bout. Pacquiao’s most notable matches had to do with Mexican fighters like Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, which earned him the respect (and sometimes ire) of the Mexican people.
- Archie “The Mongoose” Moore (USA) – The Mongoose is an American athlete who had one of the longest careers in professional boxing. His career spans 27 years and 6 months from 1935 to 1963, and had the second highest KO count in professional boxing history. Moore was able to garner 132 TKO and KOs from his 186 wins. He has defeated great boxers such as Joey Maxim and Harold Johnson.
- Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran (PAN) – With an impressive 69.7% knockout rate, it’s no wonder they dubbed him “Hands of Stone.” Durán was known as a versatile, technical brawler and pressure fighter. He is the current professional boxer, having the world record of longest boxing career – 33 years – between 1968 to 2001, and finally retiring at the age of 50 in 2002. Duran is one of the few fighters who held multiple world titles in 4 different divisions. Out of his 119 bouts, he only lost 16 times and no draws declared by the judges in his entire career.
- Max “The Black Knight of the Rhine” Schmeling (GERMANY) – Schmeling was a legendary German boxer who was the heavyweight champion of the world between 1930 and 1932. He was the only foreign athlete to defeat the toughest American boxer, Joe Louis, with a KO in the 12th round. He was dubbed “The Black Uhlan of the Rhine Der schwarze Ulan vom Rhein,” which in English translates to “The Black Knight of the Rhine (River),” because he seems to bring in the cavalry each time he steps into the ring for a fight. His career was marred by Adolf Hitler using him as a poster boy for his racist ideology about the Aryans as the super race of humanity. But Schmeling made it clear that he did not support Hitler’s or the Nazi’s ideology in any way, shape or form.
While these are 10 boxing legends who have left an indelible mark on the sport, many other fighters have also made significant contributions to the history and legacy of boxing. This top 10 list is made from our perspective. Of course, you, the reader and other boxing fans out there have your own opinion on who should be on this list, and we definitely respect that. Perhaps you can drop your thoughts in the comments section to let us know your picks.
Boxing is a timeless and captivating combat sport that has intrigued and thrilled audiences throughout history. The sport’s legends, those who have risen above their peers to achieve greatness, have left an unforgettable impact on the world of boxing. From Sugar Ray Robinson’s masterful skills to Joe Louis’ dominant reign and Muhammad Ali’s charisma, these fighters have shaped the sport’s history and captured the imaginations of fans worldwide.
Modern professional boxing stands as a testament to the evolution of the sport. With strict regulations and safety measures in place, the sport aims to balance the thrill of competition with the preservation of the athletes’ well-being. Nonetheless, tragic incidents in the ring serve as somber reminders of the inherent risks in this demanding sport.