How Boxing Works

Boxing History

Great Fights: Rumble in the Jungle
Muhammad Ali had been champion, but lost the belt. He was trying to regain it against Foreman, a monster in the ring who obliterated opponents with massive blows. Usually known for an agility-based style, Ali stepped into the ring in the African nation of Zaire in 1974 with a different plan. In what would become known as the "rope-a-dope" style, Ali spent most of the match casually leaning back against the ropes, allowing Foreman to rain blows on him. Because of Ali's physical condition and solid defense, the monsoon of punches had little effect. As the rounds wore on, Foreman grew tired, his punches even less effective. In the 8th round, Ali put the final part of his plan into action, turning on the exhausted Foreman and nailing him with a two-punch combo that sent the champ to the canvas.

There are historical records of boxing matches going back to the Hellenic Era (323-146 B.C.). These bare fisted matches were included in the earliest Olympic Games. Fist-fighting later evolved into a brutal gladiatorial blood sport for the Romans, including hand wraps studded with metal spikes. Fights usually went to the death.

Organized fisticuffs virtually disappeared until a revival in England in the 18th century. For several decades, there were few rules and fights more closely resembled the ultimate fighting competitions that modern fight fans may be familiar with. James Figg was the first legend of the ring (which was initially a bare wood platform surrounded by a wood fence), followed by Jack Broughton, considered the father of boxing rules. Broughton invented gloves to be used in training and established some other rudimentary rules, as well as introducing an element of technique to the fights. However, it was not until 1866 that a British boxing fan called the Marquis of Queensberry sponsored a fight under a set of rules that included a ten-second count for knockdowns, three-minute rounds, the use of padded gloves and the banning of wrestling-style moves. The rules were gradually adopted worldwide.

The popularity of boxing has waxed and waned throughout its long history. It has always been strong in England, where the modern sport was founded, and in the United States, where its popularity peaked in the 1930s. The latter half of the 20th century saw the attempted formation of a worldwide boxing organization. However, so many competing groups sprang up that no single one ever took primacy. Even as of 2007 there is still a confusing patchwork of competing boxing organizations. Also in the 20th century, the center of boxing in the United States shifted from its traditional home in New York City, where multiple fights were once held each week at Madison Square Garden, to Las Vegas, where legal sports betting added a lucrative side business. That infusion of money lead to the era of multi-million dollar fight purses and pay-per-view TV.