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The origins of boxing

The origin of boxing


People have been fighting in hand-to-hand combat since the dawn of time. 

Boxing, as a sport with rules and procedures, can trace its origins as far back as the 3rd millennium BC. We have documented facts and evidence in the form of incredible depictions which display men fighting with their fists in Sumerian reliefs (sculptures moulded together on a flat background). 

Another relief from Egyptian Thebes from all the way back in 1350 BC depicts a fight and a crowd of spectators. These earliest images of recorded boxing show their fighters both bare-fist and sporting hand wraps.

Suffice to say, the origins of boxing have worldwide prominence just as it does today. It wasn’t only in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt we find evidence of men fighting with their fists to roaring crowds. Boxing also existed in the most ancient of civilisations, India. 

Tales of brave fighters were handed down and then written down in the earliest texts, the Vedas. The Mahabharata depicts warriors fighting with clenched fists and fighting with punches, kicks, headbutts, knee strikes and finger strikes.


The fascinating history of the sport of boxing through the millennia

While the origins of boxing, that is, fighting with fists go back to the earliest recordings in human history, boxing as a sport with rules and regulations came to be in the time of the ancient greeks. 

In ancient Greece boxing was a well-developed sport known as pygmachia. It was very popular. Popular enough, in fact, to be introduced as part of the 23rd Olympiad, or Olympics, as an official sport in 688 BC. The fighters would wind leather thongs around their hands to protect them. 

The Greeks were hard-hitters. A fight would go on without rounds until one acknowledged total defeat or refused to go on. Weight categories were yet to be introduced so heavy fighters tended to dominate. But boxers in ancient Greece did have style.

Fighters would tend to fight in a left-leg stance. The left-arm semi-extended as a guard. They drew their right arm back steady, ready for launch. Rome followed Greece and boxing was a popular sport there, too. They even held boxing events in their amphitheatres. 

These fighters wore tight leather strips to protect their knuckles. They later used harder leather for protection and the strips as weapons. And just like the Roman gladiators, boxers were revered by men, women, and children the city over. 

As Rome fell, however, so did their records of boxing. But boxing resurfaced in the streets of London in the early 16th century. This form didn’t use protection. This was bare-knuckle fighting, or prizefighting as they called it. Later, through these tough heavy-hitters, the modern sport of boxing began to surface.

Quick facts and stats on boxing today

Call yourself a fan? Think you know your boxing? Here are some quick facts and stats to challenge yourself with.

Boxing history facts

  • Boxing goes back over 5,000 years.
  • Boxing has been an Olympic event since 1904.
  • John ‘Jack’ Broughton is known as the father of English boxing.

Injury stats and facts

  • 13 fighters die in the ring per year on average.
  • Professional boxers are far more likely to suffer concussions.
  • Jimmy Doyle is the first fighter to die in a title match since the 1800s.

Boxing sport stats

  • Around 7,750 fighters were involved in boxing in England in 2020.
  • More than 400,000 women participated in boxing between 2018-2019.
  • The youngest-ever boxing world champion was 17 years old.

The greatest boxers in history

Claims for the greatest boxers in history are a contested area. And it depends on how it’s defined. But if we go by the numbers, the answers become clear.

Mike Tyson

No one can deny the fury of Mike Tyson and his near-total domination of the sport in the late 80s. 

Mike Tyson, also known as Iron Mike, still holds the record for the youngest heavyweight champion. This was previously held by Muhammed Ali.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather’s defensive fighting style has helped earn him the cleanest record of all time. Floyd’s record sits at 50-0-0. He also holds the record for the first boxer to become a billionaire. 

Muhammed Ali

Ali captured the hearts and minds of millions around the world. Muhammed Ali was more than a fighter. He was an athlete. He was a world heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist. His dancing style and his resolute confidence drove him in everything he accomplished. His record is 56-5 (37 KOs).

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