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Boxing History: 20 Important Historical Facts (Origins, Rules,…)

Boxing has had a long and colorful history, starting in the 23rd Olympiad in 688 BCE. Modern boxing is a sport that involves using fists to knock out an opponent and uses a generally accepted code that protects both participants.

Boxing has its roots in ancient Sumeria. Romans used boxing gloves with bits of metal or spikes sewn in the leather. Religion and moral ethics, throughout history, led to a decline in popularity over the centuries, but the wealthy or royalty always brought it back into fashion. 

Are you ready to learn fascinating historical facts about boxing? Let’s jump in!

1. Boxing Has Its Origins in Sumeria

Relief carvings depicting boxers and spectators were found in Egyptian caves, dating back to around 1350 BCE. While they didn’t represent the modern sport with padded boxing gloves, there were bands around the wrists like they were in a contest of sorts. 

2. Early Boxing Gloves Were Used as Weapons

Homer’s Iliad spoke of the ancient Greeks using thick strips of leather over the knuckles to inflict more damage. The Romans sewed metal lumps or spikes into the leather coverings. These old boxing gloves did more harm than they prevented.

Roman boxing matches would end when one person died.

3. Padded Boxing Gloves Were Used for Practice

The Greeks, during the early days of boxing, used padded gloves, much like those in use today for practice sessions. But they were never used during the matches. 

4. Religion Played a Role in Declines in Popularity

Boxing would be put on hold for several centuries because it became less popular a sport with the rise of Christianity. It was not until the 1600s that boxing again became popular. Then in the 1800s, it declined due to changing values, and it was seen as a sin to participate.

The Puritan values did not allow drinking and gambling, of which boxing had a reputation of encouraging both activities. Eventually, boxing would come back in favor for good.

5. Modern Idioms Came From Boxing

There are several sayings today that came from how boxing used to be conducted. 

  • Up to scratch (to meet qualifications) came from the rule that boxers needed to put their toes on the line scratched in the dirt (in the ring) to qualify for the match.
  • The term draw, meaning to tie, came from when the match was over, the stakes holding ropes were drawn from the ground.
  • Not up to the mark, or to not be at the right level, refers to boxers needing to come to the line in the ring. If they were unable to do so, they were disqualified from the match.

6. Jack Broughton Brought Civility to an Unruly Sport

Until 1743, boxing was unruly and extremely violent. Jack Broughton came up with a loose code that would ultimately be the forerunner of modern boxing rules.

7. US Boxing Was Illegal Until Profits Were Realized

Puritan values led many authorities to ban boxing because of its violent nature and how it attracted the criminal element. During the early boxing days in the United States, matches were held in private locations, or on barges where US jurisdiction could not reach them. 

Later, after they learned how successful boxing was in training soldiers during World War I, state authorities realized how profitable it could be and decided to legalize boxing in their respective states. 

8. Many Immigrants Took Up Boxing to Make Money

Boxing was a great way for early US immigrants to make money in a short amount of time. Immigrants from Ireland and Italy were especially taken with this sport and became famous fighters. 

9. Black Fighters Were Often Forced to Throw Matches

African-American fighters had a tough go in the boxing world in the early 20th century, as they often had to throw fights against less-talented white fighters (if they were able to fight). White boxers often refused to have a match against black opponents in a wave of racism and prejudice against black boxers. 

10. Germany and the U.S. Fought for Democracy Before WWII

Before World War II began, in 1936, African-American fighter Joe Louis fought several times against the German opponent, Max Schmeling. The fights symbolized the growing racial and political tension between America and Germany. In the end, Joe Louis won the final match, making him a celebrated figure of democracy.

11. British Aristocrats Prized Boxing for Gentlemen

Amateur boxing became a skill that was prized by well-rounded British gentlemen. If a young man took up boxing in college, he was set for life in career and other life aspirations.

12. Basic Training Once Included Boxing

Armed forces believed boxing training created better soldiers, so it was included in basic training until shortly after World War II.

13. Televised Matches Led to Poorly Trained Boxers

With the advent of television in the 1950s, boxing matches were broadcast on TV. But this led to a preference for showy boxers who were not adequately trained in the old boxing clubs, which led to an overall decline in its popularity. But in 1976, five American fighters won gold medals in the Olympics, giving boxing a new revival.

14. Crime Syndicates Told Boxers to “Throw” a Fight

With professional boxing came gambling. Crime syndicate leaders often told boxers to throw the fight if a bet was made on the opponent. Because they were so powerful, boxers often complied.

15. Women’s Boxing Was Sanctioned in 1993

Women did not enter the boxing sport until the 1900s. Still, it was not taken seriously until March 1993, when the ACLU brought a lawsuit against USA Boxing, allowing women to box competitively. USA Boxing lifted the ban.

16. Boxing Brings Forth Negative Ideals

Racism, prejudice, and misogyny are all brought to light with boxing. When white boxers refused to fight black fighters, racism came out in the open. When people refused to see a man vs. a woman box, misogyny came to light. 

17. Art and Boxing Go Hand in Hand

Writers, artists, and filmmakers are attracted to boxing. Writers like Homer, Plato, and Virgil all created poetry and other works depicting boxing, while Greek and Roman artists displayed boxing through their pieces. Many movies, such as Rocky, have graced the screen over the years.

18. A Bear Won a Match in 1949

In 1949, boxer Gus Waldorf fought against a muzzled bear wearing boxing gloves. The bear won.

19. The Top Prize in the First Women’s Match Was a Silver Butter Dish

The match between Nell Saunders and Rose Harland was held in New York in 1876. The winner received a silver butter dish.

20. The First Ring Was a Circle of Spectators

The boxing ring was not quite square in the early days of boxing. Instead, it was a circle drawn in the dirt, with spectators around the ring to keep the opponents locked in the match until an opponent couldn’t fight anymore.


Boxing is, and always has been, an activity and sport that attracts many spectators. Its unique history cements it in the hearts of fans in a way that not many games do. But the rules evolved differently than other sports because of how violent it was. 

The rules evolved from “anything goes” to loose codes about behavior to today’s modern boxing rules. Most sets of rules were set up by the aristocracy or the wealthy to make the sport more enjoyable and to keep the civility they enjoyed. Jack Broughton was the exception, as he created his code to stop future boxers from getting killed as his competitor did.