Boxing throughout the ages | Sunday Observer

Boxing throughout the ages

8 May, 2022

Boxing is a combat sport in which two fighters compete by striking one another with their fists, usually while wearing protective gear like gloves, in a designated arena.

It is one of the most popular combat sports in the world, with over 450 million fans around the world. It is also one of the oldest and most enduring sports in history, with the depictions of Boxing dating back thousands of years.

But with such universal appeal over the course of such a long and robust background, it is no surprise that Boxing would have strong communities in many countries, with their own rules so different from each other they are considered to be completely different sports, but is still very much Boxing at its core.

The concept of hand to hand combat is natural to humans and would be as old as humanity itself, but the earliest known record of hand to hand fighting as a sport can be dated back to ancient Sumerian relief carvings, 3rd millennium BC.

Other mentions of such combat can be noted in ancient Egypt. The Minoan civilisation of Crete, a Greek civilisation centuries older than ancient Greece, even had the first depictions of gloves used in hand to hand combat.

Fist fighting

A more clearer and thoroughly recorded version of boxing existed in ancient Greece, with the sport called Pygmachia, literally translated as Fist Fighting. Much like modern Boxing, two fighters would compete with their fists, even using protective equipment for their fists. It was also a popular spectator sport in ancient Greece, even being a part of the ancient Olympics.

However, that’s where the similarities end, as Greek Pygmachia was a much bloodier sport, with fights sometimes even resulting in fatalities. The protective equipment used, leather straps with a metal sheet over the knuckles, were meant for the protection of the user’s fist while maximizing damage to the opponent.

It was allowed for downed opponents to be attacked, and matches only ended when one competitor was unable or unwilling to continue. There were only just one round and no weight classes, so matches ended quickly and the biggest competitors usually won.

Test of skill

Exact rules are difficult to determine due to the records being largely fragmented, so it is even unknown if kicking was allowed. Matches were more about achieving victory over a test of skill and strength than about being a bloody spectacle.

Ancient Rome had less interest in fist fighting, as the era of gladiatorial combat meant that the people were uninterested in fights that did not result in bloody deaths. They would instead go on to invent the Cestus, an offensive and defensive fist wrapping like glove with metal studs or spikes to inflict lethal damage in gladiatorial combat.

Other relatively popular variations of boxing also existed during that era, in other parts of the world as well. Such as the traditional Indian sport of Musti-Yuddha, variants of which are still practiced today.

Russian Kulachniy Boy

However, with time, unarmed combat became largely unpopular and historical records of hand to hand combat all but disappeared, though in one instance, the traditional Russian Kulachniy Boy would not only surface around the 13th century, but would last for centuries despite the government’s attempts to shut it down, until the 19th century when it was completely forbidden.

Though fist fighting became unpopular in favour of armed combat, when weapons stopped being commonplace, hand to hand combat again rose to prominence.

Sometime around the 16th century, Bare-knuckle boxing rose to prominence in England, and though it would be around the first time the word ‘boxing’ came into use, the sport was a far cry from what modern boxing is today.

As the name would suggest, Bare-knuckle boxing did not allow for any protective equipment and had very little in the way of written rules and regulations, only gentlemen’s agreements to not hit below the belt or to strike downed opponents. Besides that, eye gouging, head butting, choking and even kicking were all allowed.

Weight classes and rounds did not exist and referees were not involved to help regulate the fights. As such, during this chaotic period, fatalities were commonplace, and fights were very much not legal.

Though the modern equivalent of the boxing glove was invented in the 18th century, it would only be used for sparring and real matches persisted in using bare fists, though eventually, in the late 19th century, modern boxing rules were mandated for tournaments, including the use of boxing gloves, setting up boxing into becoming what it is today.