The world of boxing has produced some of the most widely-spoken idioms and sayings. We hear famous boxing idioms spoken every day. And, without realising it, we’ve all quoted the greatest idioms and sayings from boxing. We’ve collected the ultimate list of famous boxing idioms and sayings. Here are 61 famous boxing idioms and sayings you’ve heard and used but perhaps didn’t know were in fact taken straight out of the boxing world.
In the ring, the knockout, or KO, is the final blow that takes down a boxer’s opponent. But, culturally, we also say something is a ‘knockout’ when it’s impressive.
Example: ‘Wearing that dress, she looks like an absolute knockout’.
This expression from boxing denotes weight classification. We also use it as an everyday idiom. Something that is heavyweight is someone or something that is great or renowned.
Example: ‘He’s a real heavyweight in the business’.
Just like heavyweight, lightweight refers to weight classification in boxing. But in regards to idioms, and in contrast to heavyweight, lightweight doesn’t have the positivity behind it. It means something is insignificant, or someone is not good at something. People in Britain, for example, like to use this as an idiom to joke about someone’s inability to hold their alcohol.
Example: ‘You only have two beers. What a lightweight’.
4. Heavy hitter.
In the ring, a heavy hitter is a boxer who frequently lands hard punches. As an idiom used in everyday language, a heavy hitter is someone who’s skilled or proficient at something. This is typically something physical.
Example: ‘He thinks of himself as a bit of a heavy hitter on the golf course’.
5. Sucker punch.
A sucker punch is a sudden, often illegal punch in the boxing ring. It’s a punch that catches the opponent off-guard. We use this saying, sucker punched, quite often. As an idiom, to be sucker punched is to have something surprisingly disappointing happen.
Example: ‘The terrible result was a real sucker punch to the gut for me’.
6. Below the belt.
Boxing rules dictate that it’s illegal to hit an opponent below the waistline. And being hit below the belt means exactly what it says. As an idiom or saying, we say below the belt when an act has been unfair, rude or hostile.
Example: ‘Did you hear what that man said to the waiter? That was really below the belt’.
7. Saved by the bell.
In boxing, when the bell rings, there’s a sense of relief. Boxers, especially in later rounds when they’re exhausted, do indeed feel saved by the bell when it rings. This is when they can rest and recuperate in their corner with their team. To be saved by the bell, then, means someone is saved, or helped, at the very last minute.
Example: ‘The kids were saved by the bell at half-past three. The long, exhausting school term was finally over’.
8. Throw in the towel.
Historically, boxing coaches have literally thrown a towel into the ring to immediately stop a fight. Throwing in the towel, then, is a gesture that denotes defeat.
Example: ‘After the unions stormed the grounds, they knew they had to throw in the towel’.
9. Beat someone to the punch.
This famous idiom comes from the simple yet powerful offensive boxing tactic of landing the first blow. To beat someone to the punch means to do something before they do it. This saying began circulating in the boxing world in 1913. People then began using it in everyday life years later.
Example: ‘He got there first. He beat me to the punch’.
10. Glutton for punishment.
A glutton is someone who is either greedy or very fond of something. In boxing, a glutton for punishment is a fighter who refuses to submit to a losing situation. This is one of the oldest boxing sayings. The first recordings of the use of this phrase date back to boxing from the 1800s. As an everyday idiom, it’s used by people daily.
Example: ‘He just won’t quit. He’s a real glutton for punishment’.
11. Killer instinct.
In the ring, the killer instinct is prized. The first known use for this saying was to describe famous American prizefighter Jack Dempsey back in the early 1930s. It was said of Dempsey ‘Dempsey had more fighting spirit and more of a sheer killer instinct in him than was in all four of them rolled together’.
Today, this idiom is used to describe someone who has a tremendous drive to succeed, no matter the cost.
Example: ‘I could see it in his eyes as he first walked into the building. He had that killer instinct’.
Boxing’s a dangerous sport. With danger coming from all angles in the form of flying fists, almost anything can happen. Sometimes boxers become stupefied from a hammering blow. When that blow hits just right, a fighter can be dazed and confused. It can even lead to long-term neurological damage. This term is used in boxing when a fighter succumbs to this sorry state.
It’s said that someone is punch-drunk when they’ve sustained many blows to the head that result in these issues. This could be from anything, not just boxing or sports.
Example: ‘I’m afraid he’s punch-drunk after his mighty fall. He hit his head very hard’.
13. Roll with the punches.
Rolling with the punches comes from a great fighter’s ability to move his or her head and body away from a punch. A boxer or anyone who rolls with the punches has great manoeuvrability. As an idiom, it’s used when someone is able to move with grace to any difficult circumstance or obstacle.
Example: ‘No matter what comes your way, learn to roll with the punches’.
In boxing, it was said the men who’d trained the hardest and ate the cleanest and had rippling abdominal muscles had a washboard. The origins of this term’s use derive from the hard-hitting gyms of the 1950s. Since then, it has become a widely used term in all sports to denote an individual who has visible abdominal muscles.
Example: ‘He walked into the ring cut, chiselled and possessing washboard abs’.
15. Punch above one’s weight.
To punch above one’s weight means to achieve something seen as beyond an individual’s abilities. In boxing, we’d say a challenger who takes on the heavyweight champion for the first time and knocks him to the canvas punches above his weight.
Example: ‘Johnny’s surprisingly good. Better than anyone expected. He really punches above his weight’.
16. Pound for pound.
When we say pound for pound in boxing, we’re talking about weight and ranking. It’s a way to compare to fighters. We also use this term to compare people and things. Often, we compare things pound for pound.
Example: ‘Pound for pound, this crop produces higher quality grain that sells for more money’.
17. On the ropes.
A boxer that’s on the ropes is a boxer who’s in trouble. Therefore this saying means that when one’s against the ropes one is in a place of difficulty or in danger.
Example: ‘Have you heard about the trouble Billy got into? They have him on the ropes’.
This is one of those sayings with a long history. It was first used in the early 1920s to describe prize-fighting broadcasts. Years later, blow-by-blow was being used outside of boxing. It means to describe an event piece by piece.
Example: ‘You’d better start talking. Blow-by-blow description’.
19. Throw one’s hat in the ring.
This saying’s related to ‘throw in the towel’. However, conversely, throwing one’s hat in the ring has a more positive connotation. First used in the early 1800s, a period when most men wore hats, throwing in one’s hat through the noisy crowd signified the man was ready for a fight.
Example: ‘I’m ready. I’m throwing my hat in the ring’.
People use the word groggy to describe a sleepy or disorientated state. It originally meant ‘intoxicated’ and came from ‘grog’, an old alcoholic beverage. This term came from the ring. It’s comparable to being dazed — being weak or unstable in the ring.
Example: ‘I feel so groggy today’.
This curious word comes straight out of the boxing world. It refers to a fighter who’s stupid, oafish or clumsy. We also use it outside of boxing to describe someone in the same way.
Example: He’s a real palooka’.
22. Bare knuckle.
In the old days, men boxed with bare knuckles. In Britain, underground boxing was always bare-knuckled. Therefore, someone who goes out swinging bare knuckles is someone who’s prepared to do damage and take damage.
Example: ‘He’s going in bare knuckle-like’.
23. Bob and weave.
A boxer who’s able to bob and weave is showing great skill in avoiding blows. To bob and weave essentially means to avoid punishment.
Example: ‘You’re doing a great job. Keep bobbing and weaving and you’ll be all right’.
24. Down and out.
A boxer who’s down and out is a boxer that’s destitute. This is the fighter who hasn’t got the means to get back up and fight. This idiom is frequently used outside of the ring, too, and means the same thing.
Example: ‘George Orwell’s book, Down and Out in Paris in London, paints a clear picture of how harsh living dirt poor in the major cities was in the past’.
25. Come out fighting, or swinging.
On the contrary to down and out, to come out fighting, or swinging, means to bravely and hungrily go on the aggressive.
Example: ‘Johnny has certainly come out fighting tonight’.
26. Deliver, or land, a knockout punch.
This is straight from the boxing ring. We use this saying, to deliver, or land, a knockout punch to describe when we’ve successfully landed the fatal blow. This is usually used positively.
Example: ‘He got the job done. He landed the knockout punch. Now the deal’s done. Congratulations’.
27. Down and out for the count.
If a boxer is down and out for the count, he’s finished. The count means the fighter is down on the canvas as the referee counts to 10. This poignant saying is used in everyday life to describe the same thing. It can be used for people or things.
Example: ‘What a spectacular failure. He’s definitely down and out for the count’.
This late 18th-century slang word was used to describe a brave fighter. Therefore, a brave fighter was said to have ‘pluck’. Pluck was a word originally used to refer to the heart and entrails ‘plucked’ from the carcass of an animal. Consequently, the term was taken as a sign of courage, as courage resides in the heart.
Example: ‘That guy’s got pluck’.
29. Glass jaw.
If a boxer has a glass jaw, he’s got a jaw that’s easily shattered. This is, then, a negative. We use this saying to refer to someone who’s easily hurt.
Example: ‘He’s weak. He’s got a glass jaw’.
30. Duke it out.
Boxers, or anyone, duke it out when they wish to settle a fight. To duke it out gets the bottom of the matter.
Example: ‘He’s willing to duke it out and settle the score with you’.
31. No holds barred.
Frequently used in both boxing and wrestling, no holds barred is a saying used when there are no restraints. When there are no holds barred, there are no restrictions or limits to the rules.
Example: ‘They fought with no holds barred’.
Fistic means something along the lines of relating to boxing or fighting with fists. It derives from boxing’s earliest days when it was known as pugilism.
Example: ‘It was a fistic fight’.
This popular term derives from fistic. Most used outside the ring, it ultimately comes down to us in everyday language from boxing. Fisticuffs means to fight with one’s fists.
Example: ‘We’re doing this fisticuffs style’.
34. Fighting chance.
When boxers or commentators use the saying ‘fighting chance’, they’re talking about their odds of success after a trial or difficulty. This is a common saying used frequently in the boxing world.
Example: ‘After everything he’s been through, I believe he has a fighting chance of winning’.
35. Draw first blood.
You might hear those on the ringside, or boxers after a fight, refer to the fighter who drew first blood. To draw first blood means a fighter or someone outside the ring made the first move and did damage.
Example: ‘He stormed into the office, looked him dead in the eye, then hauled himself over the desk and punched him. He drew first blood’.
36. Hang up one’s gloves.
This well-used idiom is used when a boxer, or anyone, gives up or retires. To hang up one’s gloves denotes a physical action, but it isn’t always. One can hang up one’s gloves if one retires from boxing, quit a lengthy assignment or changes careers.
Example: ‘He’s quit. He decided to hang up his gloves’.
37. Upper hand.
Having the upper hand is a good thing. Whether it’s in the ring or in life, one has the upper hand when they’re in the better position. Having the upper hand is an advantage.
Example: ‘Right now, I’ve got the upper hand’.
38. Have someone in your corner.
Be it in boxing or in life, we say we have someone in our corner when we have support.
Example: ‘I’m with you. I’m in your corner’.
39. Keep your guard up.
Boxers must know how to defend themselves at all times. The saying ‘to keep your guard up’ means to stay vigilant and to defend oneself.
Example: ‘Remember to keep your guard up’.
A kisser is a quality punch that lands in just the right spot. While kisser refers to the lips, a kisser of a punch can be one that lands anywhere painful on the face. Typically this would be anywhere around the nose or the chin area.
Example: ‘Did you see that? That was a kisser if ever I saw one’.
41. Lead with one’s chin.
This idiom speaks of a fighter or a person who’s ready to go out and take risks. To lead with one’s chin is to take on a challenge even when there’s the possibility of danger.
Example: ‘He was brave. He lead with the chin and went out there and did it’.
A common term used in all areas of life. If there’s in-fighting, there’s inner-group conflict. In boxing, this could be when a boxer’s team are fighting amongst themselves.
Example: ‘There was so much in-fighting I didn’t know if they’d ever pull it together’.
43. Low blow.
A low blow is an unfair punch or hurt of any kind.
If something’s a low blow, it hurts, was unexpected and unruly.
Example: ‘What you did was a real low blow to his self-esteem’.
A ringman is a male boxer or prizefighter. He’s a confident man who owns the ring. The boxing ring is his home.
Example: ‘Johnny’s a ringman. He belongs in the ring knocking out other men. He calls it home’.
45. Knock yourself out.
To knock oneself out, or as we say, knock yourself out, means to go ahead, enjoy yourself. This is a saying using boxing language that’s commonly used in everyday life.
Example: ‘Go ahead. Knock yourself out. The food is great’.
46. Come to blows.
You might hear commentators use this saying every now and then. When something’s come to blows, an argument or fight has or is about to occur. Although it originated in boxing, it’s used both inside and outside the ring.
47. Put up your dukes.
Similar to duke it out, to put up your dukes is an invitation to fight. In essence, if one is asked to put up their dukes, it means they should put up their fists, ready to fight.
Example: ‘He told him to put up his dukes. He raised his fists and then launched at him. It was a brutal fight’.
48. Ringside seat.
To have a ringside seat means to have a close-up look. If one has a ringside seat in boxing, they have a clear view of the fight. This can also mean having a great view of any incident, event or chain of events.
Example: ‘I was given a ringside seat at the greatest fight ever broadcast’.
We knock what a round in boxing is. But we also use this term to denote a round in anything. A round of drinks. A round of sparring. A round of sprints.
Example: ‘It’s your round, friend’.
Similar to punch drunk, a boxer, or anyone for that matter, who’s slap-happy has been dazed or stupefied by a blow or series of blows to the head. It can also refer to someone who’s uncaring and goes into a fight or a potentially dangerous event without thinking.
Example: He’s dazed beyond belief. It’s because he went in slap-happy and didn’t cover up’.
This interesting boxing saying is used a lot both in and out of the ring. A slugfest is an event that’s a real raucous. It’s something that involves a lot of people. It’s loud and often messy and violent.
Example: ‘Did you see those guys charge in there? It was a real slugfest’.
In boxing and otherwise, to spar is a fight or dispute. We also use the phrases ‘sparring match’ and ‘sparring partner’ in the same way.
Example: ‘We had a spar late last night. He touched me up pretty good’.
52. Square off.
To square off means to prepare for conflict. This fanciful way of saying a fight is about to occur came from the tradition of boxers standing face each other at the beginning of a match.
Example: ‘Their gaze was piercing. Each man paced towards the middle of the ring. Then the square off began’.
53. Toe to toe.
This famous boxing saying means two fighters are standing in front of each other. Often, this saying is used as the phrase ‘standing toe to toe’. This is usually used when two fighters are centred, close and throwing punches barely inches apart.
Example: ‘They were standing toe to toe. Punches were hailing to and fro’.
54. Straight from the shoulder.
Straight from the shoulder means direct and forthright. It’s an analogy to a blow delivered using one’s full strength. It’s a power punch.
Example: ‘He threw one directly, hitting him right in the chin’.
55. Take a dive.
This is a very common saying taken from boxing. In boxing or any sport, to take a dive is to fall to the ground. It’s a slang phrase referring to a boxer falling after being hit. However, it can also be used to denote a cheat. Fighters have been known to take a dive. That is, to get out of the match. We also use this outside the ring to say one’s taken a dive to escape a bad situation.
Example: ‘He took a dive straight to the campus’.
56. Take it on the chin.
We use this common idiom to say one’s standing up to criticism or indeed life. To take it on the chin means to suck it up. It means to receive the necessary blows and carry on.
Example: ‘He took it on the chin like a champ’.
57. The gloves are off.
When the gloves are off, one acts mercilessly. This is a reference to boxing without gloves. It denotes a person who means to do serious damage. In this way, this saying is similar to no-holds-barred.
Example: ‘The gloves are off, pal’.
An undercard is a subordinate activity or event in a series. This is taken from the meaning of one or more boxing matches preceding the featured fight.
Example: ‘Playing the undercard, we’ll see him in the next series’.
59. Go down swinging.
A fighter that goes down swinging is one who won’t give up. He’ll keep fighting to the very end.
Example: ‘He would not falter. He would not give up. In the end he went down swinging’.
60. Drop or take off one’s gloves.
To drop or take off one’s gloves means to cease the activity — to abandon the fight. This comes from the practice of relinquishing the gloves for a bare-knuckle fight.
Example: ‘He dropped the gloves for a real fight’.
61. One-two punch.
A one-two punch is a beautiful combination of two impactful punches or things.
Example: ‘He gave him the old one-two punch. That showed him’.