The Evolution of the Boxer

RINGSIDE 15/02/2018

How has boxing changed over the years?

Boxing has become one of the world’s most watched sporting events. Producing legends like Muhammad Ali, Chris Eubank, Anthony Joshua, Mike Tyson, and Lennox Lewis; boxing has become an international sport with three world-acclaimed boxing organisations. 

Boxing origins

Back in 1681, the first ever recorded boxing fight took place in Britain, with no written rules to regulate the sporting event. In fact, the first set of rules wasn’t introduced for another 60 years in 1743. Then, champion Jack Broughton introduced rules to protect fighters in the ring. This is because deaths sometimes occurred where rules were not provided. The rules stated that if a fighter went down and could not continue following a 30-second count, the fight would be over and the other fighter crowned the winner.

In 1866, the Marquee of Queensberry introduced more recognisable developments and rules, such as the limited three-minute rounds and compulsory boxing gloves.

The mouthguard was invented in 1902, however, it wasn’t used in the boxing ring until 1913. First used by Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, it soon gained acclaim in boxing as a protective accessory to the sport.

In boxing events throughout the early 19th century, there were no weight classes to distinguish which fighters were suitable to fight each other. The first weight classes were introduced in 1910 and were: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. There were originally eight, however, there are now technically 17 weight classes within boxing. Some of these have been changed over time, with the most recent weight class introduction in 2007 — the light minimumweight (102lb).

An unlimited number of rounds was allowed in boxing fights in the early 20th century. The only reason to end a fight was if the fighter quit, was knocked out, or the fight was stopped by the police. In the 1910s and 1920s, a 15-round limit was introduced and became the norm amongst most boxing matches. The now current, 12-round limit on championship fights was introduced in 1983 following the death of boxer Duk Koo Kim in a fight against Ray Mancini. The boxer died in the 14th round, which led to the rule change. Each round lasts three minutes, meaning for televised boxing fights, the fight can be broadcast within an hour.

The winner of the fight was determined by the referee, who would hold up the arm of the deserved title winner in a fight where there was no knock out. In the early 20th century, it was common for a referee or judge to score each round and the winner could be determined based on their score or ‘points’. This was then changed to two ringside judges to improve reliability, and by the late 20th century and still up until the present day, three judges were to be sat at ringside and score round by round. The referee still holds the power to stop the fight or deduct points, though.

Weight classification

Opponents are chosen determined on their weight classification. When in training for an upcoming fight, the boxer’s aim is to get down to the fighting weight for the official weight — that generally takes place the day before the fight.

Whilst there were only eight weight classifications originally, in modern day boxing, there are now 17 professional major weight classes, which are:

  • Heavyweight (over 200lb)
  • Cruiserweight (200lb)
  • Light heavyweight (175lb)
  • Super middleweight (168lb)
  • Middleweight (160lb)
  • Light middleweight (154lb)
  • Welterweight (147lb)
  • Light welterweight (140lb)
  • Lightweight (135lb)
  • Super featherweight (130lb)
  • Featherweight (126lb)
  • Super bantamweight (122lb)
  • Bantamweight (188lb)
  • Super flyweight (115lb)
  • Flyweight (112lb)
  • Light flyweight (108lb)
  • Strawweight (105lb)


Nutrition is just as important as training when boxers are preparing for an upcoming fight. A diet is a crucial part of staying in shape and keeping up with the demands of training. A diet comprising of the three main macronutrients, carbohydrates, lean protein and good fats, puts you in the best position for optimum workout performance and helps you reach your target weight. Pure protein is key, as is plenty of liquids. Most boxers aim to stay within 3-5% of their target weigh-in weight whilst training to avoid the need of a crash diet, which could affect their performance.

According to TalkBoxing, a boxer’s diet should contain 45-55% carbohydrates, 30-40% protein and 15% of fats. Boxers require carbohydrates because the sport is an anaerobic activity which requires the maintenance of high energy levels for 12 intensive, three-minute rounds. Carbohydrates slowly release energy, replacing used up glycogen stores. Meanwhile, protein is needed in a boxer’s diet to help maximise recovery and contribute to muscle growth, whilst certain fats are required for the upkeep of internal bodily functions. These are generally called ‘good fats’ or ‘essential fats’ — think omega-3 and omega-6. 

Some boxers choose to take additional protein powder supplements as workout aids, to try and boost their workout performance and reach new goals.

A dangerous sport

What are the risks involved when you choose a career in boxing? There is a lot of skill behind a good boxer — hours in the gym and ring training, as well as the dedication to a strict diet to keep to a specific weight. Boxing is also known for the risk of serious injuries. At the end of the day, the point of the sport is to fight with an opponent. Serious injuries associated with boxing are concussion, fractured skulls, eye injuries, brain injuries, shoulder dislocations, and sprains (not only in the hands and wrists).

The concussion rate for National Boxers was found to be 61%, according to a study over a two year period between 2013 and 2015. Only active competitors were recruited to take part. On average, the results showed that boxers suffered 7.59 injuries per year during both training and competitive fights — with head and facial injuries the most frequent. Lip laceration was the most common injury, with 81.48% of boxers suffering this injury. 61% of participants suffered a concussive injury across the two-year period.

Iconic boxers: speed vs. power

Which technique has proven to be the most successful? Generally speaking, most boxers are better at one technique than the other but strive to combine the two to beat their opponent.

Sometimes referred to as the preferred technique, boxers with speed have been seen to land more punches on their opponent — accuracy, of course, is still key but faster punches often increase the chances of a knockout. However, boxers with power sometimes only need that one accurate punch and the knockout soon follows. Floyd Mayweather, for instance, is known for his speed. Mayweather is currently undefeated in his professional boxing career, winning 15 world titles, and is a five-division champion. Meanwhile, Manny Pacquiao is considered as one of the world’s fastest boxers by many. Out of a total of 68 fights, Pacquiao has won 59 of them, and he is the only eight-division world champion in the history of boxing.

Regarded as the most significant sportsman of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali began his professional career at a young age, winning gold as a light heavyweight at the age of just 18 at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. In 1964, he won the heavyweight title. Following several years out of the boxing spotlight having had his boxing licence denied in every state, Ali made his comeback in 1974 when he reclaimed the heavyweight title after defeating George Foreman.