Boxing (sometimes known as pugilism, Anglais boxing, or English boxing) is a combat sport in which two participants (generally) of similar weight fight each other with their fists. Boxing today is conducted in a regulated way, typically in a series of one to three-minute intervals called rounds. Victory is achieved if the opponent is knocked down and unable to get up before the referee counts to ten (a Knockout, or KO) or if the opponent is deemed too injured to continue (a Technical Knockout, or TKO). If there is no stoppage of the fight before an agreed number of rounds, a winner is determined either by the referee’s decision or by judges’ scorecards.
While people have fought with fists probably since immemoral times, the ancient Greeks were the first to make a sport of it, by giving rules and staging tournaments with professionals. The birth hour of boxing as a sport may mark its allowance as an Olympic game as early as 688 BC. Modern boxing evolved in Europe, particularly Great Britain.
In some countries with their own fighting sports, the sport is referred to as “English Boxing” (e.g. in France to contrast with French Boxing). There are numerous different forms of boxing practiced across the world.
Fist fighting is depicted in Sumerian relief carvings in the 3rd millennium BC, while an ancient Egyptian relief at Thebes shows fist fighter and spectators (1350 BC). Both depictions show bare-fisted contests. The earliest evidence for fist fighting with a kind of gloves can be found on Minoan Crete (c. 1500 BC).
Ancient Greek Boxing
The ancient Greeks, and later the ancient Romans, called boxing pugilism (a term now often used for boxing). The Greeks were the first to give rules to the sport: while clinching was strictly forbidden, there were, unlike modern boxing, no weight classes. Fights were not separated into rounds and had no time limit, ending at a knockout, or at a fighter abandoning the fight, or sometimes at the death of one of the fighters. Although gloves were used in practice, in competition fighters wrapped their hands in strips of hardened leather which protected the fist and caused unpleasant injuries for the opponent.
Homer’s Iliad (ca. 675 BC) contains the first detailed account of a box fight (Book XXIII). According to the Iliad, Mycenaean warriors included boxing among their competitions honoring the fallen, though it is possible that the Homeric epics reflect later Greek culture. Another Greek legend holds that the heroic ruler Theseus, said to have lived around the 9th century BC, invented a form of boxing in which two men sat face to face and beat each other with their fists until one of them was killed. In time, the boxers began to fight while standing and wearing gloves (with spikes) and wrappings on their arms below the elbows, although otherwise they competed naked.
Boxing was first accepted as an Olympic sport in 688 BC, being called Pygme or Pygmachia. Participants trained on punching bags (called a korykos). Fighters wore leather straps (called himantes) over their hands, wrists, and sometimes breast, to protect them from injury. The straps left their fingers free. Legend had it that the Spartans were the first to box as a way to prepare for sword and shield fighting.
Ancient Roman boxing
In ancient Rome, there were two forms of boxing. The athletic form of boxing was adopted from the Greeks and remained popular throughout the Roman world. The other form of boxing was gladiatorial. Fighters were usually criminals and slaves who hoped to become champions and gain their freedom; however, free men also fought. Eventually, fist fighting became so popular that even aristocrats started fighting, but the practice was eventually banned by Caesar Augustus. A fight between the agile Dares and the towering Entellus is described at length in the Roman national epic Aeneid (1st century BC).
In 393 A.D., the Olympics were banned by the Christian emperor Theodosius, and in 500 A.D., boxing was banned altogether by Theodoric the Great as being an insult to God because it disfigures the face, the image of God. However, this edict had little effect outside the major cities of the Eastern Empire. By this time Western Europe was no longer part of the Roman Empire. Boxing remained popular in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. It should be noted that wrestling, fencing and racing (both chariot and foot) were never banned by the late Romans, as they did not cause disfigurement.
London Prize Ring rules (1743)
Records of Classical boxing activity disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, there are detailed records of various fist-fighting sports that were maintained in different cities and provinces of Italy between the 12th and 17th centuries. The sport would later resurface in England during the early 18th century in the form of bare-knuckle boxing sometimes referred to as prizefighting. The first documented account of a bare-knuckle fight in England appeared in 1681 in the London Protestant Mercury, and the first English bare-knuckle champion was James Figg in 1719. This is also the time when the word “boxing” first came to be used.
Early fighting had no written rules. There were no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee. The first boxing rules, called the London Prize Ring rules, were introduced by heavyweight champion Jack Broughton in 1743 to protect fighters in the ring where deaths sometimes occurred Under these rules, if a man went down and could not continue after a count of 30 seconds, the fight was over. Hitting a downed fighter and grasping below the waist were prohibited. Broughton also invented and encouraged the use of “mufflers”, a form of padded gloves, which were used in training and exhibitions. The first ‘boxing paper’ was published in the late 18th century by successful Birmingham boxer ‘William Futrell’ who remained undefeated until his one hour and seventeen minute fight at Smitham Bottom, Croydon, on July 9, 1788 against a much younger “Gentleman” John Jackson which was attended by the Prince of Wales.
Although bare-knuckle fighting was in almost every aspect far more brutal than modern boxing, it did allow the fighters a single advantage not enjoyed by today’s boxers: The London Prize Rules permitted the fighter to drop to one knee to begin a 30-second count at any time. Thus a fighter realizing he was in trouble had an opportunity to recover. Intentionally going down in modern boxing will cause the recovering fighter to lose points in the scoring system.
In 1838, the London Prize Ring rules were expanded in detail. Later revised in 1853, they stipulated the following
- Fights occurred in a 24-foot-square ring surrounded by ropes.
- If a fighter was knocked down, he had to rise within 30 seconds under his own power to be allowed to continue.
- Biting, headbutting and hitting below the belt were declared fouls.
Through the late nineteenth century, boxing or prizefighting was primarily a sport of dubious legitimacy. Outlawed in England and much of the United States, prizefights were often held at gambling venues and broken up by police. Brawling and wrestling tactics continued, and riots at prizefights were common occurrences. Still, throughout this period, there arose some notable bare knuckle champions who developed fairly sophisticated fighting tactics.
Marquess of Queensberry rules (1867)
In 1867, the Marquess of Queensberry rules were drafted by John Chambers for amateur championships held at Lillie Bridge in London for Lightweights, Middleweights and Heavyweights. The rules were published under the patronage of the Marquess of Queensberry, whose name has always been associated with them.
There were twelve rules in all, and they specified that fights should be “a fair stand-up boxing match” in a 24-foot-square ring. Rounds were three minutes long with one minute rest intervals between rounds. Each fighter was given a ten-second count if he was knocked down and wrestling was banned.
The introduction of gloves of “fair-size” also changed the nature of the bouts. An average pair of boxing gloves resembles a bloated pair of mittens and are laced up around the wrists. Gloves protected fighters from both facial and hand injuries, their considerable size and weight making knock-out victories more difficult to achieve The gloves could also be used to block an opponent’s blows. As a result of their introduction, bouts became longer and more strategic with greater importance attached to defensive maneuvers such as slipping, bobbing, countering and angling. Because less defensive emphasis was placed on the use of the forearms and more on the gloves, the classical forearms outwards, torso leaning back stance of the bare knuckle boxer was modified to more modern stance in which the torso is tilted forward and the hands are held closer to the face.
The English case of R v. Coney in 1882 found that a bare-knuckle fight was an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, despite the consent of the participants. This marked the end of widespread public bare-knuckle contests in England.
The first world heavyweight champion under the Queensberry Rules was “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, who defeated John L. Sullivan in 1892 at the Pelican Athletic Club in New Orleans
Throughout the early twentieth century, boxing struggled to achieve legitimacy, through the influence of promoters like Tex Rickard and the popularity of great champions from John L. Sullivan to Jack Dempsey. Shortly after this era, boxing commissions and other sanctioning bodies were established to regulate the sport and establish universally recognized champions.
The Marquess of Queensbury rules have been the general rules governing modern boxing since their publication in 1867.
A boxing match typically consists of a predetermined number of three-minute rounds, anywhere from three for an Olympic bout to up to twelve for a professional fight. A minute is typically spent between each round with the fighters in their assigned corners receiving advice and attention from their coach and staff. The fight is controlled by a referee who works within the ring to judge and control the conduct of the fighters, rule on their ability to fight safely, count knocked-down fighters, and rule on fouls. Up to three judges are typically present at ringside to score the bout and assign points to the boxers, based on punches that connect, defense and knockdowns. Each fighter has an assigned corner of the ring, where his or her coach, as well as one or more “seconds” may administer to the fighter at the beginning of the fight and between rounds. Each boxer enters into the ring from their assigned corners at the beginning of each round and must cease fighting and return to their corner at the signaled end of each round.
A bout in which the predetermined number of rounds passes is decided by the judges. The fighter with the higher score at the end of the fight is ruled the winner. With three judges, unanimous and split decisions are possible, as are draws. A boxer may win the bout before a decision is reached through a knockout. If a fighter is knocked down during the fight, determined by whether the boxer touches the canvas floor of the ring with any part of their body other than the feet, the referee begins counting until the fighter returns to his or her feet and can continue. Should the referee count to ten, then the knocked-down boxer is ruled “knocked out” (whether he or she is unconscious or not) and the other boxer is ruled the winner by knockout (KO). A “technical knockout” (TKO) is possible as well, and is ruled by the referee, fight doctor, or a fighter’s corner if a fighter is unable to safely continue to fight, based upon injuries or being judged unable to effectively defend themselves. Many jurisdictions and sanctioning agencies also have a “three-knockdown rule”, in which three knockdowns result in a TKO. A TKO is considered a knockout in a fighter’s record. A “standing eight” count rule may also be in effect, in which the referee counts no higher than eight to a boxer who regains his or her footing after a knockdown, allowing the referee time to assess if the boxer is able to continue.
In general, boxers are prohibited from hitting below the belt, holding, tripping, pushing, biting, spitting or wrestling. The boxer’s shorts are raised so the opponent is not allowed to hit to the groin area. They also are prohibited from kicking, head-butting, or hitting with any part of the arm other than the knuckles of a closed fist (including hitting with the elbow, shoulder or forearm, as well as with open gloves, the wrist, the inside, back or side of the hand). They are prohibited as well from hitting the back, back of the neck or head (called a “rabbit-punch”) or the kidneys. They are prohibited from holding the ropes for support when punching, holding an opponent while punching, or ducking below the belt of their opponent. If a “clinch,” a defensive move in which a boxer wraps his or her opponents arms and holds on to create a pause, is broken by the referee, each fighter must take a full step back before punching again (alternatively, the referee may direct the fighters to “punch out” of the clinch). When a boxer is knocked-down, the other boxer must immediately cease fighting and move to the nearest neutral corner of the ring until the referee has either ruled a knockout or called for the fight to continue.
Violations of these rules may be ruled “fouls” by the referee, who may issue warnings, deduct points, or disqualify an offending boxer, causing an automatic loss, depending on the seriousness and intentionality of the foul. An intentional foul that causes injury that prevents a fight from continuing usually causes the boxer who committed it to be disqualified. A fighter who suffers an accidental low-blow may be given up to five minutes to recover, after which they may be ruled knocked out if they are unable to continue. Accidental fouls that cause injury ending a bout may lead to a “no decision” result, or else cause the fight to go to a decision if enough rounds (typically four or more, or at least three in a four-round fight) have passed.
Professional vs. amateur boxing
Throughout the 17th through 19th centuries, boxing bouts were motivated by money, as the fighters competed for prizes, promoters controlled the gate, and spectators bet on the result. The modern Olympic movement revived interest in amateur sports, and amateur boxing became an Olympic sport in 1908. In their current form, Olympic and other amateur bouts are typically limited to three or four rounds, scoring is computed by points based on the number of clean blows landed, regardless of impact, and fighters wear protective headgear, reducing the number of injuries, knockdowns, and knockouts. Professional boxing remains by far the most popular form of the sport globally, though amateur boxing is dominant in Cuba and some former Soviet republics. For most fighters, an amateur career, especially at the Olympics, serves to develop skills and gain experience in preparation for a professional career.
Amateur boxing may be found at the collegiate level, at the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games, and in many other venues sanctioned by amateur boxing associations. Amateur boxing has a point scoring system that measures the number of clean blows landed rather than physical damage. Bouts consist of four rounds of two minutes in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, and three rounds of two minutes in a national ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) bout, each with a one-minute interval between rounds.
Competitors wear protective headgear and gloves with a white strip across the knuckle. A punch is considered a scoring punch only when the boxers connect with the white portion of the gloves. Each punch that lands on the head or torso is awarded a point. A referee monitors the fight to ensure that competitors use only legal blows (a belt worn over the torso represents the lower limit of punches – any boxer repeatedly landing “low blows” (below the belt) is disqualified). Referees also ensure that the boxers don’t use holding tactics to prevent the opponent from swinging (if this occurs, the referee separates the opponents and orders them to continue boxing. Repeated holding can result in a boxer being penalized, or ultimately, disqualified). Referees will stop the bout if a boxer is seriously injured, if one boxer is significantly dominating the other or if the score is severely imbalanced. Amateur bouts which end this way may be noted as “RSC” (referee stopped contest) with notations for an outclassed opponent (RSCO), outscored opponent (RSCOS), injury (RSCI) or head injury (RSCH).
Professional bouts are usually much longer than amateur bouts, typically ranging from ten to twelve rounds, though four round fights are common for less experienced fighters or club fighters, there are some two and three rounds professional bouts , especially in Australia. Through the early twentieth century, it was common for fights to have unlimited rounds, ending only when one fighter quit, benefiting high-energy fighters like Jack Dempsey. Fifteen rounds remained the internationally recognized limit for championship fights for most of the twentieth century, until the late 1980s, when championship bouts were shortened to twelve rounds to improve safety.
Headgear is not permitted in professional bouts, and boxers are generally allowed to take much more punishment before a fight is halted. At any time, however, the referee may stop the contest if he believes that one participant cannot defend himself due to injury. In that case, the other participant is awarded a technical knockout win. A technical knockout would also be awarded if a fighter lands a punch that opens a cut on the opponent, and the opponent is later deemed not fit to continue by a doctor because of the cut. For this reason, fighters often employ cutmen, whose job is to treat cuts between rounds so that the boxer is able to continue despite the cut. If a boxer simply quits fighting, or if his corner stops the fight, then the winning boxer is also awarded a technical knockout victory. In contrast with amateur boxing, professional male boxers have to be bare chested.
Boxing Style Terminology
In boxing, no two fighters’ styles are identical. A boxer’s style is evolved as he applies what he has been taught or picked up in practice, and performs it in such a way as to suit himself. Nonetheless, many terms are used which broadly describe a boxer’s style. Note that a boxer is not necessarily limited to being described by one of these terms. A fighter may be at both in-fighting and out-fighting, a good example of this being Bernard Hopkins.
A classic “boxer” (also known as an “out-fighter”) seeks to maintain distance between himself and his opponent, fighting with faster, longer range punches, most notably the jab. Since they rely on weaker punches such as the jab, boxers tend to win by points decisions rather than by knockout, although some out-fighters (such as Lennox Lewis) have notable knockout records. These boxers attempt to control the fight by using their jab to keep their opponent at range, and using fast footwork to evade any opponent that closes in. They are often regarded as the best boxing strategists due to their ability to control the pace of the fight and lead their opponent, wearing him down gradually, and exhibiting more skill and finesse than a brawler.
Notable boxers include Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones Jr., Gene Tunney, Lennox Lewis, Larry Holmes, Chris Eubank, Naseem Hamed, and Floyd “Pretty Boy” Mayweather Jr.
A boxer-puncher is an out-fighter who has some heavy fire power in his punches. They use similar movement tactics of an out-fighter, but instead of winning by decision, they tend to wear their opponents down by using combinations before scoring the knockout and they move to the inside instead of away like out-fighters. For a fighter who uses this style to be effective, they need to be well rounded.
Notable boxers include Joe Louis, Lennox Lewis, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Jermain Taylor, Jack Johnson, Oscar De La Hoya, and Felix Trinidad.
A brawler is a fighter who generally lacks finesse in the ring, but often makes up for it by volume of sheer punching power. Many brawlers tend to lack mobility in the ring and have difficulty pursuing fighters who are fast on their feet. They prefer a more stable stance from which they may throw the harder, slower punches (such as hooks and uppercuts) and tend to ignore combination punching. They may also have a tendency to load up on their punches more (to pull back the arm before throwing the punch so as to have a greater distance to gather momentum over before the punch’s impact). Their slowness and predictable punching patterns (single punches with obvious leads) often leaves them open for counter punching. Brawlers generally are able to take substantial amounts of punishment to make up for their vulnerabilities. The object of the brawler is to win with one punch when given the chance.
Notable brawlers include George Foreman, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Ricardo Mayorga, Rocky Marciano, Nigel Benn, Samuel Peter, Roberto Duran, Errol Christie, Kelly Pavlik, and Butterbean.
In-fighters or swarmers stay close to an opponent, throwing intense flurries and combinations of hooks and uppercuts. A successful in-fighter often needs a good “chin” because this usually involves being hit with many jabs before they can maneuver inside where they are more effective. A fighter who operates best at close range is generally shorter and has less reach than his opponents and thus is most effective at a distance where the longer arms of his opponents make punching awkward. However, several fighters tall for their division have been relatively adept at in-fighting as well as out-fighting, including Riddick Bowe and Bernard Hopkins. Fluries due to a sheer lack of skill and technique occur when a fighter allows the bout to become emotional. When a fighter is angry, he will often make mistakes and commit to wildly thrown punches in order to end the fight quickly. Many short in-fighters utilize their stature to their advantage, employing a bob-and-weave defense by bending at the waist to slip underneath or to the sides of incoming punches. Unlike blocking, causing an opponent to miss a punch disrupts his balance, permits forward movement past the opponent’s extended arm and keeps the hands free to counter. Some in-fighters have been known for being notoriously hard to hit, with examples including Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston.
Notable in-fighters include Joe Frazier, Sugar Shane Mosley, Mike Tyson, Jose Luis Castillo, Julio César Chávez, Jack Dempsey, James Toney, Manny Pacquiao, Max Baer, and Ricky Hatton.
There is a generally accepted rule of thumb about the success each of these boxing styles has against the others. In general, an in-fighter has an advantage over a boxer, a puncher has an advantage over an in-fighter, and a boxer has an advantage over a puncher. Naturally, many other factors, such as the skill level and training of the combatants, determine the outcome of a fight, but the widely held belief in this relationship among the styles is embodied in the cliché amongst boxing fans and writers that “styles make fights”.
Punchers tend to overcome swarmers or in-fighters because, in trying to get close to the slugger, the in-fighter will invariably have to walk straight into the guns of the much harder-hitting puncher, so, unless the former has a very good chin and the latter’s stamina is poor, the brawler’s superior power will carry the day. A famous example of this type of match-up advantage would be George Foreman’s knockout victory over Joe Frazier.
Although in-fighters struggle against heavy punchers, they typically enjoy more success against out-fighters or boxers. Out-fighters prefer a slower fight, with some distance between themselves and the opponent. The in-fighter tries to close that gap and unleash furious flurries. On the inside, the out-fighter loses a lot of his combat effectiveness, because he cannot throw the hard punches. The in-fighter is generally successful in this case, due to his intensity in advancing on his opponent and his good agility, which makes him difficult to evade. For example, the swarming Joe Frazier, though easily dominated by the slugger George Foreman, was able to create many more problems for the boxer Muhammad Ali in their three fights than Foreman could. Joe Louis, after retirement, admitted that he hated being crowded, and that a swarmer like Rocky Marciano would have caused him style problems even in his prime.
The boxer or out-fighter tends to be most successful against a brawler, whose slow speed (both hand and foot) and poor technique makes him an easy target to hit for the faster out-fighter. The out-fighter’s main concern is to stay alert, as the brawler only needs to land one good punch to finish the fight. If the out-fighter can avoid those power punches, he can often wear the brawler down with fast jabs, tiring him out. If he is successful enough, he may even apply extra pressure in the later rounds in an attempt to achieve a knockout. Most classic boxers, such as Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis, enjoyed their best successes against sluggers.
Since boxing involves forceful, repetitive punching, precautions must be taken to prevent damage to bones in the hand. Most trainers do not allow boxers to train and spar without hand/wrist wraps and boxing gloves. Hand wraps are used to secure the bones in the hand, and the gloves are used to protect the hands from blunt injury, allowing boxers to throw punches with more force than if they did not utilize them. Gloves have been required in competition since the late nineteenth century, though modern boxing gloves are much heavier than those worn by early twentieth-century fighters. Prior to a bout, both boxers agree upon the weight of gloves to be used in the bout, with the understanding that lighter gloves allow heavy punchers to inflict more damage. The brand of gloves can also affect the impact of punches, so this too is usually stipulated before a bout.
Boxers practice their skills on two basic types of punching bags. A small, tear-drop-shaped “speed bag” is used to hone reflexes and repetitive punching skills, while a large cylindrical “heavy bag”, filled with sand or a synthetic substitute, is used to practice power punching and body blows. In addition to these distinctive pieces of equipment, boxers also utilize more general use training equipment to build strength, speed, and agility. Common training equipment includes free weights, rowing machines, jump rope, and medicine balls.
Headgear, required in amateur boxing and used by professionals when sparring, protects against cuts, scrapes, and swelling. It does not protect very well against concussions, since it does not sufficiently protect the brain from the jarring that occurs when the head is struck with great force. Also, most boxers aim for the chin on opponents, and the chin is usually not padded. Thus, a power punch or even a well-placed jab to the chin can inflict serious damage, even when headgear is worn.
The modern boxing stance differs substantially from the typical boxing stances of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The modern stance has a more upright vertical armed guard, as opposed to more horizontally held, knuckles facing the ground guard as seen among early 20th century boxers such as Jack Johnson.
In a fully upright stance, the boxer stands with the legs shoulder-width apart with the rear foot a half-step behind the lead foot. Right-handed or orthodox boxers lead with the left foot and fist. Both feet are pointed slightly inward, and the right heel is off the ground. The lead (left) fist is held vertically about six inches in front of the face at eye level. The rear (right) fist is held beside the chin and the elbow tucked against the ribcage to protect the body. The chin is tucked into the chest to avoid punches to the jaw which commonly cause knock-outs. Some boxers fight from a crouch, leaning forward and keeping their feet closer together.
Left-handed or southpaw fighters use a mirror image of the orthodox stance, which can create problems for orthodox fighters unaccustomed to receiving jabs, hooks, or crosses from the opposite side. The southpaw stance, conversely, is vulnerable to a straight right hand.
North American fighters tend to favor a more balanced stance, facing the opponent almost squarely, while many European fighters stand with their torso turned more to the side. The positioning of the hands may also vary, as some fighters prefer to have both hands raised in front of the face, risking exposure to body shots.
Modern boxers can sometimes be seen tapping their cheeks or foreheads with their fists in order to remind themselves to keep their hands up (which becomes difficult during long bouts). Boxers are taught to push off with their feet in order to move effectively. Forward motion involves lifting the lead leg and pushing with the rear leg. Rearward motion involves lifting the rear leg and pushing with the lead leg. During lateral motion the leg in the direction of the movement moves first while the opposite leg provides the force needed to move the body.
There are four basic punches in boxing: the jab, cross, hook and uppercut. If a boxer is right-handed (orthodox), his left hand is the lead hand and his right hand is the rear hand. For a left-handed boxer or southpaw, the hand positions are reversed. For clarity, the following discussion will assume a right-handed boxer.
Cross (Straight right)
- Jab – A quick, straight punch thrown with the lead hand from the guard position. The jab is accompanied by a small, clockwise rotation of the torso and hips, while the fist rotates 90 degrees, becoming horizontal upon impact. As the punch reaches full extension, the lead shoulder is brought up to guard the chin. The rear hand remains next to the face to guard the jaw. After making contact with the target, the lead hand is retracted quickly to resume a guard position in front of the face. The jab is the most important punch in a boxer’s arsenal because it provides a fair amount of its own cover and it leaves the least amount of space for a counter punch from the opponent. It has the longest reach of any punch and does not require commitment or large weight transfers. Due to its relatively weak power, the jab is often used as a tool to gauge distances, probe an opponent’s defenses, harass an opponent, and set up heavier, more powerful punches. A half-step may be added, moving the entire body into the punch, for additional power.
- Cross – A powerful, straight punch thrown with the rear hand. From the guard position, the rear hand is thrown from the chin, crossing the body and traveling towards the target in a straight line. The rear shoulder is thrust forward and finishes just touching the outside of the chin. At the same time, the lead hand is retracted and tucked against the face to protect the inside of the chin. For additional power, the torso and hips are rotated counter-clockwise as the cross is thrown. Weight is also transferred from the rear foot to the lead foot, resulting in the rear heel turning outwards as it acts as a fulcrum for the transfer of weight. Body rotation and the sudden weight transfer is what gives the cross its power. Like the jab, a half-step forward may be added. After the cross is thrown, the hand is retracted quickly and the guard position resumed. It can be used to counter punch a jab, aiming for the opponent’s head (or a counter to a cross aimed at the body) or to set up a hook. The cross can also follow a jab, creating the classic “one-two” combination. The cross is also called a “straight” or “right.”
- Hook – A semi-circular punch thrown with the lead hand to the side of the opponent’s head. From the guard position, the elbow is drawn back with a horizontal fist (knuckles pointing forward) and the elbow bent. The rear hand is tucked firmly against the jaw to protect the chin. The torso and hips are rotated clockwise, propelling the fist through a tight, clockwise arc across the front of the body and connecting with the target. At the same time, the lead foot pivots clockwise, turning the left heel outwards. Upon contact, the hook’s circular path ends abruptly and the lead hand is pulled quickly back into the guard position. A hook may also target the lower body and this technique is sometimes called the “rip” to distinguish it from the conventional hook to the head. The hook may also be thrown with the rear hand.
- Uppercut – A vertical, rising punch thrown with the rear hand. From the guard position, the torso shifts slightly to the right, the rear hand drops below the level of the opponent’s chest and the knees are bent slightly. From this position, the rear hand is thrust upwards in a rising arc towards the opponent’s chin or torso. At the same time, the knees push upwards quickly and the torso and hips rotate anti-clockwise and the rear heel turns outward, mimicking the body movement of the cross. The strategic utility of the uppercut depends on its ability to “lift” the opponent’s body, setting it off-balance for successive attacks. The right uppercut followed by a left hook is a deadly combination.
These different punching types can be thrown in rapid succession to form combinations or “combos”. The most common is the jab and cross combination, nicknamed the “one-two combo”. This is usually an effective combination, because the jab blocks the opponent’s view of the cross, making it easier to land cleanly and forcefully.
A large, swinging circular punch starting from a cocked-back position with the arm at a longer extension than the hook and all of the fighter’s weight behind it is sometimes referred to as a “roundhouse” or “haymaker” punch. Relying on body weight and centrifugal force within a wide arc, the roundhouse can be a powerful blow, but it is often a wild and uncontrolled punch that leaves the fighter delivering it off balance and with an open guard. Wide, looping punches have the further disadvantage of taking more time to deliver, giving the opponent ample warning to react and counter. For this reason, the haymaker or roundhouse is not a conventional punch, and is regarded by trainers as a mark of poor technique or desperation. Sometimes it has been used, because of its immense potential power, to finish off an already staggering opponent who seems unable or unlikely to take advantage of the poor position it leaves the puncher in.
Another unconventional punch is the rarely used “bolo punch”, in which the opponent swings an arm out several times in a wide arc, usually as a distraction, before delivering with either that or the other arm.
There are several basic maneuvers a boxer can use in order to evade or block punches, depicted and discussed below.
Blocking (with the arms)
Cover-Up (with the gloves)
- Slip – Slipping rotates the body slightly so that an incoming punch passes harmlessly next to the head. As the opponent’s punch arrives, the boxer sharply rotates the hips and shoulders. This turns the chin sideways and allows the punch to “slip” past. Muhammed Ali was famous for extremely fast and close slips, as was an early Mike Tyson.
- Sway or Fade – To anticipate a punch and move the upper body or head back so that it misses or has its force appreciably lessened.
- Duck or Break – To drop down with the back straight so that a punch aimed at the head glances or misses entirely.
- Bob and Weave – Bobbing moves the head laterally and beneath an incoming punch. As the opponent’s punch arrives, the boxer bends the legs quickly and simultaneously shifts the body either slightly right or left. Once the punch has been evaded, the boxer “weaves” back to an upright position, emerging on either the outside or inside of the opponent’s still-extended arm. To move outside the opponent’s extended arm is called “bobbing to the outside”. To move inside the opponent’s extended arm is called “bobbing to the inside”. Joe Frazier, Jack Dempsey, and Rocky Marciano were masters of bobbing and weaving.
- Parry/Block – Parrying or blocking uses the boxer’s shoulder, hands or arms as defensive tools to protect against incoming attacks. A block generally receives a punch while a parry tends to deflect it. A “palm” or “cuff” is a block which intentionally takes the incoming punch on that portion of the defender’s glove.
- The Cover-Up – Covering up is the last opportunity to avoid an incoming strike to an unprotected face or body. Generally speaking, the hands are held high to protect the head and chin and the forearms are tucked against the torso to impede body shots. When protecting the body, the boxer rotates the hips and lets incoming punches “roll” off the guard. To protect the head, the boxer presses both fists against the front of the face with the forearms parallel and facing outwards. This type of guard is weak against attacks from below.
- The Clinch – Clinching is a rough form of grappling and occurs when the distance between both fighters has closed and straight punches cannot be employed. In this situation, the boxer attempts to hold or “tie up” the opponent’s hands so he is unable to throw hooks or uppercuts. To perform a clinch, the boxer loops both hands around the outside of the opponent’s shoulders, scooping back under the forearms to grasp the opponent’s arms tightly against his own body. In this position, the opponent’s arms are pinned and cannot be used to attack. Clinching is a temporary match state and is quickly dissipated by the referee.
There are several defensive positions (guards or styles) used in boxing. Within each style, there is considerable variation among fighters, as some fighters may have their guard higher for more head protection while others have their guard lower to provide better protection against body punches. Many fighters vary their defensive style throughout a bout in order to adapt to the situation of the moment, choosing the position best suited to protect them.
Boxers who use an upright stance protect their chin with the rear hand in either the low or mixed guard styles depicted below. Crouch fighters tend to use the “peek-a-boo” style, discussed below.
- Peek-a-boo – Sometimes known as the “earmuffs,” the hands are placed next to each other in front of the face (like mentioned before fighters tend to vary the exact positioning in which they use it) and elbows are brought in tight to the body(this position can be achieved by bringing the elbows as close together while not straining yourself to do so). This defensive style is what a boxer is taught to do when he begins to box, after they gain experience he can decide to change or vary their guard. This style is middle-of-the-road style in terms of counterpunching and damage reduction. A boxer can counter punch from this stance, but it is difficult. However, there have been boxers who can do this very well. This defense covers up a fighter well, but there are holes. Hooks do damage by going around the hands and by hitting just behind the elbows. Winky Wright uses this style very well from a damage reduction stand point. Another famous example being Mike Tyson in his earlier career who used the Peek-a-Boo with great success. Rocky Marciano was also used the Peek-a-Boo style greatly.
- Cross-armed – The forearms are placed on top of each other horizontally in front of the face with the glove of one arm being on the top of the elbow of the other arm. This style is greatly varied when the back hand rises vertically. This style is the most effective for reducing head damage. The only head punch that a fighter is susceptible to is a jab to the top of the head. The body is open, but most fighters who use this style bend and lean to protect the body, but while upright and unaltered the body is there to be hit. This position is very difficult to counterpunch from, but virtually eliminates all head damage.
- Philly Shell or Crab – The lead arm is placed across the torso usually somewhere in between the belly button and chest and the lead hand rests on the opposite side of the fighter’s torso. The back hand is placed on the side of the face. The lead shoulder is brought in tight against the side of the face. This style is used by fighters who like to counterpunch. To execute this guard a fighter must be very athletic and experienced. This style is so effective for counterpunching because it allows fighters to slip punches by rotating and dipping their upper body and causing blows to glance off the fighter. After the punch glances off, the fighter’s back hand is in perfect position to hit his out-of-positioned opponent. The shoulder lean is used in this stance. To execute the shoulder lean a fighter rotates and ducks when his opponent’s punch is coming towards him and then rotates back towards his opponent while his opponent is bringing his hand back. The fighter will throw a punch with his back hand as he is rotating towards his undefended opponent. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. executes the shoulder lean perfectly according to technique. The weakness to this style is that when a fighter is stationary and not rotating he is open to be hit, so a fighter must be athletic and well conditioned to effectively execute this style. To beat this style fighters like to jab their opponent’s shoulder causing the shoulder and arm to be in pain and to demobilize that arm.
Boxers generally attempt to land short, fast combinations and then quickly shift position to avoid a possible response by their opponent. Strategically, the ring’s centre is generally the desired position since a boxer is able to conserve movement by forcing the opponent to circle around them. When in the centre, the boxer is also less likely to be knocked backwards against the ropes surrounding the ring and cornered. Depending on the boxer’s style, the centre is the desired location as cornering opponents is always a good strategy. Most fighters, though, will not move around the boxer in the center because doing so makes them vulnerable to shots thrown at good angles. Movement is the most important tool in the ring and allows the fighter to avoid punches that were not telegraphed. If a boxer is standing still, his opponent has a better chance of hitting him. A fighter anticipating a shot while stationary is less likely to be able to evade the shot than a fighter already in motion.
Less common strategies
The “rope-a-dope” strategy
- Used by Muhammad Ali in his 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” bout against George Foreman, the rope-a-dope method involves laying back on the ropes, covering up defensively as much as possible and allowing the opponent to land punches. Weathering the blows, the boxer lures the opponent into expending energy whilst conserving his/her own. If successful, the attacking opponent will eventually tire, creating defensive flaws which the boxer can exploit. In modern boxing, the rope-a-dope is generally discouraged since most opponents are not fooled by it and few boxers possess the physical toughness to withstand a prolonged, unanswered assault.
- Occasionally seen in Olympic boxing, the bolo is an arm punch which owes its power to the shortening of a circular arc rather than to transference of body weight; it tends to have more of an effect due to the surprise of the odd angle it lands at rather than the actual power of the punch. This is more of a gimmick than a technical maneuver; this punch is not taught, being on the same plane in boxing technicality as is the Ali shuffle. Nevertheless, a few professional boxers have used the bolo-punch to great effect, including former welterweight champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Kid Gavilan.
- The overhand right is punch not found in every boxer’s arsenal. Unlike the right cross, which has a trajectory parallel to the ground, the overhand right has a looping circular arc as it is thrown over-the-shoulder with the palm facing away from the boxer. It is especially popular with smaller stature boxers trying to reach taller opponents. Boxers who have used this punch consistently and effectively include former Heavyweight champions Rocky Marciano and Tim Witherspoon. The overhand right has become a popular weapon in other tournaments that involve fist striking. Might Mo employed it to score a dramatic 2nd Round KO over 7 ft 2 in tall Hong-Man Choi in the K-1 Yokohama Grand Prix Tournament and the overhand right has become a signature move for former UFC Light Heavy Weight champion Chuck Liddell.
- A check hook is employed to prevent aggressive boxers from lunging in. There are two parts to the check hook. The first part consists of a regular hook. The second, trickier part involves the footwork. As the opponent lunges in, the boxer should throw the hook and pivot on his left foot and swing his right foot 180 degrees around. If executed correctly, the aggressive boxer will lunge in and and sail harmlessly past his opponent like a bull missing a matador. This is rarely seen in professional boxing as it requires a great disparity in skill level to execute. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. demonstrated a picture perfect example of this punch against Ricky Hatton in their 2007 encounter. Hatton was caught with the check hook as he was lunging in, Hatton continued foward as he was knocked off balanced and proceeded to ram his head into the ring post as Mayweather stepped out of harms way. When interviewed, Mayweather stated that he was taught the Check Hook in the Michigan amateurs.
It should be noted that knocking a person unconscious or even causing concussion may cause permanent brain damage. Furthermore, there is no clear division between the force required to knock a person out and the force likely to kill a person. In addition, since 1980, more than 200 amateur and professional boxers and Toughman fighters have died as the result of ring or training injuries. Thus, in 1983, the Journal of the American Medical Association called for a ban on boxing. The editor, Dr. George Lundberg, called boxing an “obscenity” that “should not be sanctioned by any civilized society.” Since then, the British, Canadian, and Australian Medical Associations also have called for bans on boxing.
Supporters of the ban state that boxing is the only sport where hurting the other athlete is the goal. Dr. Bill O’Neill, boxing spokesman for the British Medical Association, has supported the BMA’s proposed ban on boxing: “It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing.” In 2007, one study of amateur boxers showed that protective headgear did not prevent brain damage., and another found that amateur boxers faced a high risk of brain damage.
In 1997, the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians was established to create medical protocols through research and education to prevent injuries in boxing.
Professional boxing is forbidden in Norway, Iceland, Cuba, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It was banned in Sweden until recently when the ban was lifted but strict restrictions, including four three-minute rounds for fights, were imposed.
Fatalities versus brain injury
From the 1950s to the 1980s, anti-boxing activist Manuel Velazquez compiled extensive data on deaths in boxing.
In 1984, R.J. McCunney and P.K. Russo published a study entitled Brain Injuries in Boxing. The study argued that boxing is relatively safe compared to other sports by citing the following figures on U.S. sports fatalities:
Fatality rates per 100,000 participants
- Horse racing: 128
- Sky diving: 123
- Hang gliding: 56
- Mountaineering: 51
- Scuba diving: 11
- Motorcycle racing: 7
- College football: 3
- Professional boxing: 1.3
Dr. Lundberg replied: “It’s not the deaths but the chronic brain damage that is so frequent.” The AMA reports brain deterioration in three out of four boxers who have twenty or more professional fights.
To date, there has been little research regarding the long-term effects of amateur boxing.