Hitting a target using one or more of our extremities is one of the first ways that humans have expressed aggression. Before the invention of tools, our punches and kicks were our only weapons. Of course, with the invention of weaponry, like daggers, spears, bows, etc., hunting became easier. However, the need for hand-to-hand combat remained. And thus, the first combat sports were born. 

Wrestling or grappling is often considered to be the first combat sport. Records dating to the earliest human civilizations make a mention of wrestling. And many historians and archeologists believe that the sport may date even further back, to the prehistoric era. In that same vein, striking sports, like boxing, are also mentioned as early as the oldest human societies. 

The fact that boxing and wrestling are the oldest combat sport makes sense. After all, grappling and striking are the two basics of martial arts, and these two sports are the epitome of grappling (wrestling), and striking (boxing). 

Throughout history, the popularity of boxing has vastly overtaken wrestling. Today, the sport dominates the martial arts scene as the most popular combat sport. Not only is it the most watched, but also the most practiced, and most bet on. Thanks to the advent of online bookmakers, betting on boxing has never been easier. Enthusiasts can now simply click a few links, and deposit any sum of cash they want on any upcoming match, and all they need is an electronic device with internet access. 

The best part, is that many of these sportsbooks also double as online casinos. The world of iGaming (online gambling) is a vast one, with websites like bigwins.com offering all of the familiar games that you know and love. 

But, we are here to discuss the history of the sport, and how it became so popular on these websites. So, without further ado, let us briefly go over the history of boxing. 

Ancient History

As we said, historians believe that boxing as a sport dates back to the prehistoric world. However, due to the lack of any written records from the period, definitive proof of boxing as a sport in this time does not exist. In fact, the earliest record of boxing as a sport comes to us from 3000+ BC. A relief was discovered, dated to the 3rd millennium BC, in Iraq. The piece of art portrays a number of things, among which is a boxing competition between two men. 

The next known record comes to us from a thousand-or-so years later. Another relief, this one from Ancient Egypt, portrays both the athletes and the spectators and clearly depicts a boxing match. In both of these reliefs, the depicted fighters are bare-handed. From this depiction comes the misconception that gloved boxing is relatively new. However, an Ancient Minoan painting depicts two young boys participating in a boxing match. Both of them are gloved. The painting has been dated to the 1600s BC, meaning that gloved boxing has existed for more than 3500 years.

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We also have a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that boxing was a big part of Ancient Indian society. Musti-yuddha is the striking equivalent of the Indian national wrestling style, mala-yuddha. Literally translating to “fist fighting”, musti-yuddha today refers to a specific type of boxing practiced in India. However, throughout the country’s history the phrase has been used to refer to any form of boxing. 

Finally, our exploration of the Ancient Era leads us to the pinnacle of athleticism, the Olympic Games. In Ancient Greece, a sport called pygmachia bore heavy resemblance to the boxing we know today. The sport enjoyed huge popularity, and became an official part of the Ancient Olympics. Later, the Romans would revive the sport, and boxing quickly became one of the favorite spectator sports of the Republic and the Empire. 

Later Iterations 

The division of the Roman Empire led to political and economic turmoil in Europe. A turmoil exasperated by the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Technologies and advancements were lost and the western world plunged in what has come to be known as “the Dark Ages”. And while modern historians criticize this particular nomenclature, the fact remains that Rome’s fall led to a decline of the West European lifestyle. Mentions of boxing sports from this era either don’t exist or are lost.

However, while western Europe recoiled, eastern Europe was thriving. So, it is no surprise that the next mention of boxing comes to us from the Rus. Records of kulachniy boy (translated as fist battle or fist fighting) can be dated back to the 13th century. Although, many historians believe that the practice dates back much further back. Sadly, there are no written records to confirm this fact. At this time, Russian feudal lords would organize competitions, draw in the best fighters, and even place wagers on their sponsored combatant. In many ways, these were the first “modern” boxing matches. 

During the 17th century, boxing resurfaced in England. London was the hub of bare-knuckle boxing competitions. During this time, the word “boxing” first came into prominence. This was also the time when boxing championships appeared. Tournaments were held, wherein multiple people would compete for the number one spot, and be known as “champion”.  The first ever English boxing champion that we have a record of is a man named James Figg, who earned the title in 1719. 

The First Rules

When it comes to bare-knuckle boxing, or pugilism as it is called today, no written rules existed to govern the sport. Meaning, boxing matches often times had no rules, or very simple rules established by the venue. This fact often led to bloody, brutal matches, which very often would result in the death of one of the fighters. In that sense, the history of boxing is quite similar to the history of MMA, the official rules for which were established in the 20th century. 

Lucky for boxers, official rules for fighting were written a lot earlier. The first ever rules were introduced in 1743, written by retired boxer and champion, Jack Broughton. The so-called Broughton rules were the first to introduce mainstay boxing concepts like “no hitting below the belt” or “no hitting a downed opponent.” They also introduced the concept of a knock out. According to Broughton, fighters were not allowed to hit downed opponents. Rather, if the downed fighter did not get up in 30 seconds, the fight was over, and the winner was the last man standing. 

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The Broughton rules served as a major inspiration for the Marquess of Queensberry rules. Penciled by John Chambers, a renowned athlete and sportsman of the time, the Marquess of Queensberry rules applied to lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight boxers There were twelve rules in all, and they described what constitutes a “fair fight”, the size and shape of the ring, and the duration of a round. The publication of the rules was sponsored by the Marquess of Queensberry, and her title remains associated with the sport to this day. 

The Marquess of Queensberry rules were an integral turning point in the sport. Their publication made boxing a lot safer than it had previously been, and served as a major inspiration for new rules that would come years later.

The popularity of pugilism in the 19th century seemed to be at an upward trajectory. Prizefights were gaining a lot of attention from all walks of society. However, it all came to a halt when an English legal battle resulted in bare-knuckle fighting being labeled “assault”, even if both participants were consenting adults. 

The decision led to bare-knuckle boxing being banned in the United Kingdom and later in the United States. Prizefights were no longer organized as a legitimate sport, but rather held underground. In the United States, the only state that hadn’t banned the sport was Nevada. In fact, one of the earliest recorded cases of film censorship happened at the tail end of the 19th century, when a number of states banned showings of prizefight footage, taken in Nevada.

On the other hand, boxing under the Queensberry Rules was just beginning to thrive. In 1892, John L. Sullivan was named the first ever champion, in accordance to the rules. With his help, as well as the passion and charisma of numerous promoters, the sport acquired incredible popularity, especially during the first decades of the 20th century.

Boxing in the 20th Century 

The 20th century was sort of a turning point for boxing. Prior to the 1900s, boxers had trouble breaking through to the mainstream, or achieving any sort of legitimacy. However, the 20th century brought with it a newfound love and passion for the sport. The early years saw many talented boxers rise to the cream of the crop. The famous names from this era are James J. Braddock, Max Baer, Jack Kid Berg, Christopher Battalino, and many other names worth remembering.

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The popularity of these boxers led to a huge boom in interest for the sport. After the Second World War, boxing was more popular than ever. It was during these decades that some of the greatest boxers of all time hit the scene. These are the athletes that everyone has certainly heard of, even those with absolutely no interest in boxing.

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The standout star of this era is of course, Cassius Clay, better known to the world at large as Muhammad Ali. Regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time, Ali’s moniker was simply “The Greatest”. Muhammad Ali participated in quite a few of the most notorious and most popular fights of all time. Among them are the Rumble in The Jungle against George Foreman, the trilogy of fights against Joe Frazier, including the Fight of the Century, and the Thrilla in Manila. 

Other names from the era, whose influence cannot be understated are “Sugar” Ray Robinson, often regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time, Joe Frazier, whose pressure fighting, strength, and durability led to him being the first to defeat Muhammad Ali, and George Foreman, who held the heavyweight champion title twice, and earned an Olympic gold medal. 

The popularity of boxing in the 60s and 70s led to the creation of one of the most famous films in cinematic history. In 1976, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky hit the theaters to incredibly success. The importance of Rocky cannot be understated. Not only did it have a huge impact on cinema, but it also led to the further popularization of the sport, and inspired people around the world to give it a try for themselves. 

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Boxing Today

Today, boxing remains the most popular combat sport. During the tail end of the 20th century, the sport began gaining international acclaim. In large part thanks to the rise of superstar boxers like Ali, Tyson, Frazier, Hollyfield, etc., but also thanks to the popularity of the Rocky film franchise. Nowadays, boxing gyms are brimming with young talent, especially in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Mexico, and a whole host of Eastern European, African and South American countries. The sport has even caught on in East Asian countries like China and Japan. 

The 21st century also gave us some great boxers, whose legacy will likely place them on the same level as the 20th century greats. People like Manny Pacquiao, Tyson Fury, Floyd Mayweather, Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez keep the passion for boxing alive with their impressive talent and strength. 

Final Thoughts 

The history of boxing is a long and fascinating one. Striking is one of the oldest and simplest forms of combat. And from this simplicity arose a sport that truly captured the hearts and minds of the human race for most of its history. Boxing has endured through the fall of civilizations, legal issues, rule changes, and controversies, to maintain its status as the favorite martial art of many people around the world.

Though the popularity of mixed martial arts is quickly encroaching on boxing, the sport still remains the number one combat sport around the world. Young talent emerges annually from countries like the US, UK, Mexico, and many others, and pay-per-view boxing matches remain some of the most expensive PPV events on television.