How Boxing Works

A simple description for boxing is that it is a fist fight that happens in a ring during a series of rounds.
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Ricardo Dominguez (left) rallied late to win the fight over Oregon's Rafael Ortiz.

Boxing is one of the simplest and oldest sports. Two people (usually men) fight each other with their fists until one of them is knocked unconscious. Add a history that spans centuries, a host of outrageous characters, a potent dose of controversy and corruption, and the ever-present possibility of glory or tragedy, you're left with something even more compelling than a basic test of strength and will.

In this article, we'll look at the basics of boxing, how you win or lose, the ranks, divisions and titles, the science behind it, boxing history and the danger of the sport.

Boxing Basics
A boxing match is not a brawl or a street fight. There are rules to designate a winner, keep the match interesting for fans and reduce the chance of serious injury to the boxers. The rules vary in some ways between amateur (Olympic) boxing and professional boxing, and even between pro boxing organizations. Before a major match, a rules meeting is held in which all the rules particular to the upcoming match are explained.

­The boxing ring itself is a raised, s­quare platform with a canvas surface over roughly an inch of padding. Flexible ropes enclose the ring, secured to steel posts at all four corners. The exact dimensions of the ring depend on the organization sanctioning the fight. Rings in smaller venues may only be 16 feet to a side, while Olympic boxing allows rings up to 20 feet in diameter. A few professional organizations allow rings up to 25 feet.

There are a number of things a boxer is not allowed to do inside the ring -- this helps prevent injury and keeps matches from degenerating into an uncontrolled brawl. Boxers may not do any of the following:

  • Strike below the belt
  • Strike when an opponent is down on the canvas
  • Kick
  • Strike with elbows, forearms or the inside of the hand (slap)
  • Head butt
  • Bite ears (you wouldn't think this rule needed to be spelled out, but Mike Tyson proved that wrong)
  • Grab onto the ropes
  • Poke the eye with a thumb (in the post-fight interview after defeating George Foreman in 1974’s "Rumble in the Jungle," Muhammad Ali's right eye was red and swollen from a Foreman eye poke)
  • Wrestle, grapple or hold him excessively
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Committing any of these acts may result in a foul, which can cause the deduction of points by the judges. Committing a foul repeatedly or very flagrantly will result in a disqualification by the referee.

A boxing match is divided into rounds of two or three minutes, with a one-minute rest period in between. Professional matches are 12 rounds at the championship level (they used to go for 15). Ten rounds or less may be scheduled at lower rankings. Amateur matches have only three, four or five rounds, with rounds lasting two minutes. Junior divisions can have even shorter rounds.

Boxing gloves are made from padded leather, designed to protect the hands as well as reduce the damage done to an opponent. Under the gloves, the hands are carefully wrapped in athletic bandages -- this wrapping is closely regulated. Amateur boxers also wear headgear that primarily protects against cuts and scrapes.