What sport has so monstrous of a drawing power that millions of viewers would pay excess of forty dollars to see an event that lasted less than a minute and a half. No, its not the world’s most popular sport soccer or even the great American media giant of professional football. It’s boxing. A sport whose ancient origin is only surpassed by its controversial surprises. Surely Homer, the great bard and author of the Iliad and Odyssey, could not have imagined the future of a sport he knew so well. At the funeral games for Pathodus in the Iliad, Homer relates the story of a boxing match between the Greek heroes Euryalus and Epeius as well as the other events held in the Olympics. It is hard to associate such noble warriors as Achilles and Odysseus with notorious friends as Mike Tyson and Don King. But, perhaps, its spontaneity and dynamic origin and evolution are what make boxing so popular today. Although this historic form of combat has derived a disreputable name with links to the Mafia and crooked fighters, amateur boxing within the Olympic games is still a bastion of honor for the sport. The history, rules, and appearance in the present day Olympiad are all examples of boxing’s legitimacy as a respectable sport.
Boxing’s early history may appear to be brutal and inhumane by today’s societal standards; but, in ancient Greece and Rome, it was just an extension of their cultural values which were deeply affected by war, violence, and death. In its crudest terms as that of a first fight, boxing has been practiced since the dawn of civilization for it was the earliest form of combat. Yet, boxing as a calculated art dates back around five thousand years. It was begun in ancient Mesopotamia around an area called Sumer. Contrary to popular belief, boxing was not part of the original Olympics in 776 BC; but was introduced in 688 B.C. These boxers competed in the nude except for leather raps around the knuckles and minor protective head gear. In these times, there were no rounds or time limits. The men fought continuously until one of them either quit or was knocked out. Sometimes these battles would last an entire day.
During the height of the Roman Empire, the lust for blood in boxing was raised to an unprecedented level. The weakly constructed knuckle wraps eventually evolved into hard leather gloves spotted with metal spikes. Obviously, the results of these nightmarish boxing gloves was often death. The event of boxing remained in the Olympics until the Roman Emperor Theodouius closed the games; but, boxing was still a popular sport until the fall of the Roman Empire at the hands of barbarian tribes.
The Modern Revival of Boxing
Boxing remained dead throughout the middle-ages and was then revived in England during the 17th century. This reincarnation of boxing was not as vicious as in ancient history. These English boxers fought bare fisted for prize money in various clothing. It was during this era that the main strategy of boxing switched from kicking and wrestling to the jabbing and parrying style of today. This rough sport was too brutal for the gentile English who in the mid 1800’s placed new rules upon boxing. These new rules, known as the Queensbury rules, established the use of mandatory gloves, fighting in a roped-off ring, and the creation of one-minute rest between three minute rounds. The Queensbury rules also disbanded the practice of bare knuckled boxing, wrestling, kicking, and hitting helpless opponents.
Even after Baron Pierre de Coublitin reviewed the Olympic Games in 1896, boxing was still considered too violent. However, boxing’s supporters kept pushing for its reinstatement. In the 1904 St. Lewis games, boxing was given a chance as a demonstration sport. It was promoted to a medal sport in 1908 before being outlawed once again in 1912 by Sweden. But due to boxing’s popularity, it was redeemed to medal standing to stay in 1920. Olympic boxing has remained basically the same throughout the following decades.
The Olympics have also been a pipeline to the world of professional boxing. American gold medalist such as Cassius Clay in 1960, Joe Frazier in 1964, and George Foreman in 1968 all went on to become Heavyweight Champions of the World. Besides these famous fighters of legendary status, several of today’s great boxers were also Olympians. Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, and Roy Jones Jr. all competed in recent Olympics. This professional fame is just another reward which can be obtained by the amateurs besides the honor of being and Olympian.
When people think about boxing matches and their rules and format, they have images of professional matches and its rules. Yet, the scoring, gear, and match length between Olympics and professional boxing are all different. Olympic bouts are not scored based on a 10-point most system; but, instead, matches are scored according to every punch landed. A point is scored when one boxer hits another with a clean hit of force to the head or torso. A panel of five judges determines which hits are scores and an electronic scoring system determined the points based upon a majority of judge votes. After every punch, each judge pressed a button, one for each boxer, if they believe that a point is warranted. If three of the five judges press the button, the electronic scoring system registers a point for the corresponding boxer. At the end of the bout, the boxer with the most points wins. It the case of a tie in points, the judges vote on a winner. The other way to obtain a victory is by knockout.
Olympic boxers also fight with certain gear and uniforms. Boxers must wear a blue or red singlet according to the color of their corner and may only have a national emblem resume on it. They must also wear light boots or shoes without spikes on them. The weight of the gloves has also been decided on as ten ounces. Unlike professional boxing, these amateurs must wear a cup protector, headgear, and a mouth piece all as precautionary means.
The time of day long fights no longer exist. In fact, Olympic matches do not even last the customary ten, twelve or fifteen rounds. Olympic bouts are scheduled only for three, three minute rounds.
This year’s games will be host to three hounded and twelve boxers divided into twelve weight classes varying from forty-eight to more than ninety-one hilograms. These boxers qualify through performances at regional tournaments held in Europe, Asia, the Americans, Africa, and Oceania. The favorite team to win the most medals will be Cuba after their win in Atlanta in 1996. The Cuban team is led by two, two time gold medalists: heavyweight Felix Savon and middleweight Ariel Hernadey. Despite the recent Cuban domination, the United States still holds the record with forty-six champions in the nineteen modern games.
Boxing has had a rich and colorful history dating back several millenniums. Over this time, boxing has transformed from that of savage battles into a structural art form. The sport has earned its right into the modern Olympics and acts as a reminder of the ancient Greek values of a sound mind and body.