The sport of boxing has always been a test of physical fitness and physical prowess. It started as a method of settling disputes, displaying a fighter's bravery, strength, courage, and brawn. Winning a fight held the victor in high esteem in the community. All these characteristics still remain in the sport to this day, but boxing has developed into more of a contest of skill, ability, talent, and commitment. Boxing had a primal beginning, with few to no rules and has matured into an intricate physical science of fighting.
During the Roman and Greek period of history, boxing was a gruesome sport, that combined wrestling and boxing together, and permitted all sorts of dubious behavior such as biting, kicking and the use of iron studs placed on thongs worn on the hands. The matches were brutal and often ended with one of the fighters seriously injured or dead. When boxing was introduced into the Olympics 668 BC, the Greeks brought attention to the skill of the sport and promoted the use of protective gear. They wore leather straps on their hands and head-gear during their warm-up and practice sessions. Later, during the Roman Era, however, the use of studs on the hand strapping and fighting until death was acceptable in boxing matches.
Boxing continued to be a means of resolving disagreements both in England and Ireland. The matches in the early 1600's were held outdoors, wherever an audience would gather. There were few rules and matches would continue until one of the opponents could not get up, or even worse, was pronounced dead. It was not until the later part of the 1600's, that the practice of using only the fists became the acceptable method of boxing. The punches, though, could still be thrown anywhere on the body and matches were not stopped.
Gambling provided part of the entertainment of the boxing matches. Town champions would be supported by financial bets and even though gambling was illegal during the 1700's, the aristocracy would sponsor fighters allowing prize fighting. Boxing matches started to move indoors and might even be held in the parlors of the wealthy homeowners. Boxing was becoming an elitist spectator event creating a far different atmosphere from the old prize ring. King George I, commissioned the first boxing ring in England to be built in Hyde Park, London, in 1723. It was becoming a very popular pastime and fencing clubs encouraged members to learn the skill of boxing. The fencing movements of the foot movement, the offensive and defensive moves worked successfully in a boxing match. Guidelines for boxing matches were unfolding and wrestling, biting and eye gauging were not allowed.
A British fighter, James Broughton saw his opponent die at the end of their fight and he was determined that death and/or brutal injury should not occur in the sport of boxing. He developed the first set of official rules for boxing. These rules, known as the Broughton Rules of 1743 were accepted by the fighters and the establishments and remained in tact for nearly 100 years. The rules protected the fighters from being continually knocked down and gave a time limit of 30 seconds for him to get up off the ground and make it back to his side of the square for assistance from his second or cornerman. At this point if he were badly injured the fight would be discontinued. Previously, if the fighter made it to his feet he could be knocked down again immediately, without any time for recovery or receiving any medical attention. The new rules also stated that the fighters could not hit or grab below the waist, pull on hair or breeches, or hit a person on the ground. Kneeling was considered to be down and fighting was stopped. Umpires, usually gentlemen from the spectators, were used to help make decisions on fair play. Broughton also promoted the use of boxing gloves, (a lightweight muffler), during the sparring practice and introduced the use of the counter punch and blocking moves into the sport. Boxing gloves or hand coverings were still not used in the matches and even as late as the 1800's bare fists were allowed in North America. Rounds could still go any length and it was not unusual for bouts to go as long as four hours or more. The longest fight recorded lasted six hours and fifteen minutes, between James Kelly and Jack Smith, in Australia in 1856. These fights were brutal and would not be allowed today.
It was not until 1867, and The Queensbury Rules that a three-minute time limit was implemented for a round and a one-minute break between rounds. A bout could go to 45 rounds and last up to two hours and fifteen minutes. Eventually they were cut down to 20 rounds in North America, then 15 rounds. In the late 1980's all championship matches had a maximum of 12 rounds, and this is where it stands today. A bout in Europe is 12 rounds.
The first state to legalize boxing was New York, (1896), and then Nevada, (1897). Previous to this, boxing was illegal, but was tolerated at most establishments. In 1882, Madison Square Gardens held its first boxing match even though it was not legal. It was not until the 20th century that boxing became well established and legalized in a number of cities in North America and England. European countries did not accept legalized boxing until the 1920's and the 1930's, so most fighters traveled to the United States and Canada in the 19th century.
Weight classes were established in the 1850's, starting with the three divisions, lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight classes. The actual poundage fluctuated within each class and this often caused disputes in championship bouts. In 1909, the National Sporting Club determined fixed poundage for eight classes and in 1910, nine divisions were set. Today in Professional Boxing there are 17 recognized weight divisions and 12 weight divisions in Amateur Boxing.