Boxing is disputably the oldest sport in history as its roots go as far back as 2000 BCE when the ancient Egyptians made carvings depicting bare handed fights in front of a group of spectators. Despite the early references to North Africa, the sport of boxing is said to have originated in ancient Greece as it was here that the first rules were established and fighters started to wear gloves. In 688 B.C., boxing—known as Pugilism or sweet science at the time— became an Olympic sport. According to most historians, this year marks boxing’s official birth date as a sport.
Boxing was also popular in ancient Rome among all facets of society. Slaves and lawbreakers fought for their freedom while free men were out for the competition and enjoyment of the sport. During these times the rules were not very strict, allowing fights to turn deadly at points. With the banning of boxing in 500 A.D. by ruler Theodoric and the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire, boxing began to lose popularity. It was not until the 18th century that interest in the sport would once again return, though this time the rise took place in England.
In this period, boxing became known as a workingman’s sport, featuring bare knuckle fighting. In 1719, the sport saw its first champion in James Figg. Figg remained at the top of the heavyweight group until 1730. Shortly after in 1743, Jack Broughton, another British heavyweight champion, established a set of rules for the sport after fighting in a match that turned lethal for his opponent. His rules called for a much cleaner sport by prohibiting fighters to hit their knocked-down opponents and to land low blows below the waist. Broughton is known as the “Father of Boxing” for his early contributions that helped pave the way for the modern era.
The Broughton Rules continued to govern the sport for more than a century. Then in 1867, London drafted a new set of rules drawn up by the Marquess of Queensberry. The 12 rules were subsequently called the Marquess of Queensberry Rules and brought an end to the “bareknuckle era” and the start of the modern era. Among these rules include the practices that we know today such as a square ring, 3-minute rounds separated by 1-minute rest periods, a ten second countdown for fallen fighters, and most importantly, the use of gloves. Despite this last rule, bare knuckle fighting didn’t phase out immediately. It took the landmark case R v. Coney which declared that bare knuckle fighting was “an assault occasioning actual bodily harm” to prohibit such public contests.
In 1892, Jim Corbett captured the first “world” heavyweight crown under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules with his defeat over John L. Sullivan. Since then, boxing has grown with the creation of several professional boxing associations. Today there are even amateur matches for fighters that still need more skills and experience before they can compete at the professional level. Over the years, boxing has created some of the most internationally renowned stars in the history of sports. Such legends include Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Jack Dempsey, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya.