old-time boxing question

When was it that boxing didnt have rounds? Back in the day the fights used to go on knockdown after knockdown as long as you could return to your mark. When was this and who were the big name fighters in this period? Thanks

History of Boxing

The sport of boxing has always been a test of physical fitness and physical prowess. It started as a method of settling disputes, displaying a fighter's bravery, strength, courage, and brawn. Winning a fight held the victor in high esteem in the community. All these characteristics still remain in the sport to this day, but boxing has developed into more of a contest of skill, ability, talent, and commitment. Boxing had a primal beginning, with few to no rules and has matured into an intricate physical science of fighting.

During the Roman and Greek period of history, boxing was a gruesome sport, that combined wrestling and boxing together, and permitted all sorts of dubious behavior such as biting, kicking and the use of iron studs placed on thongs worn on the hands. The matches were brutal and often ended with one of the fighters seriously injured or dead. When boxing was introduced into the Olympics 668 BC, the Greeks brought attention to the skill of the sport and promoted the use of protective gear. They wore leather straps on their hands and head-gear during their warm-up and practice sessions. Later, during the Roman Era, however, the use of studs on the hand strapping and fighting until death was acceptable in boxing matches.

Boxing continued to be a means of resolving disagreements both in England and Ireland. The matches in the early 1600's were held outdoors, wherever an audience would gather. There were few rules and matches would continue until one of the opponents could not get up, or even worse, was pronounced dead. It was not until the later part of the 1600's, that the practice of using only the fists became the acceptable method of boxing. The punches, though, could still be thrown anywhere on the body and matches were not stopped.

Gambling provided part of the entertainment of the boxing matches. Town champions would be supported by financial bets and even though gambling was illegal during the 1700's, the aristocracy would sponsor fighters allowing prize fighting. Boxing matches started to move indoors and might even be held in the parlors of the wealthy homeowners. Boxing was becoming an elitist spectator event creating a far different atmosphere from the old prize ring. King George I, commissioned the first boxing ring in England to be built in Hyde Park, London, in 1723. It was becoming a very popular pastime and fencing clubs encouraged members to learn the skill of boxing. The fencing movements of the foot movement, the offensive and defensive moves worked successfully in a boxing match. Guidelines for boxing matches were unfolding and wrestling, biting and eye gauging were not allowed.

A British fighter, James Broughton saw his opponent die at the end of their fight and he was determined that death and/or brutal injury should not occur in the sport of boxing. He developed the first set of official rules for boxing. These rules, known as the Broughton Rules of 1743 were accepted by the fighters and the establishments and remained in tact for nearly 100 years. The rules protected the fighters from being continually knocked down and gave a time limit of 30 seconds for him to get up off the ground and make it back to his side of the square for assistance from his second or cornerman. At this point if he were badly injured the fight would be discontinued. Previously, if the fighter made it to his feet he could be knocked down again immediately, without any time for recovery or receiving any medical attention. The new rules also stated that the fighters could not hit or grab below the waist, pull on hair or breeches, or hit a person on the ground. Kneeling was considered to be down and fighting was stopped. Umpires, usually gentlemen from the spectators, were used to help make decisions on fair play. Broughton also promoted the use of boxing gloves, (a lightweight muffler), during the sparring practice and introduced the use of the counter punch and blocking moves into the sport. Boxing gloves or hand coverings were still not used in the matches and even as late as the 1800's bare fists were allowed in North America. Rounds could still go any length and it was not unusual for bouts to go as long as four hours or more. The longest fight recorded lasted six hours and fifteen minutes, between James Kelly and Jack Smith, in Australia in 1856. These fights were brutal and would not be allowed today.

It was not until 1867, and The Queensbury Rules that a three-minute time limit was implemented for a round and a one-minute break between rounds. A bout could go to 45 rounds and last up to two hours and fifteen minutes. Eventually they were cut down to 20 rounds in North America, then 15 rounds. In the late 1980's all championship matches had a maximum of 12 rounds, and this is where it stands today. A bout in Europe is 12 rounds.

The first state to legalize boxing was New York, (1896), and then Nevada, (1897). Previous to this, boxing was illegal, but was tolerated at most establishments. In 1882, Madison Square Gardens held its first boxing match even though it was not legal. It was not until the 20th century that boxing became well established and legalized in a number of cities in North America and England. European countries did not accept legalized boxing until the 1920's and the 1930's, so most fighters traveled to the United States and Canada in the 19th century.

Weight classes were established in the 1850's, starting with the three divisions, lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight classes. The actual poundage fluctuated within each class and this often caused disputes in championship bouts. In 1909, the National Sporting Club determined fixed poundage for eight classes and in 1910, nine divisions were set. Today in Professional Boxing there are 17 recognized weight divisions and 12 weight divisions in Amateur Boxing.


"combined wrestling and boxing together"

sounds familiar eh?

"and permitted all sorts of dubious behavior such as biting, kicking and the use of iron studs placed on thongs worn on the hands. The matches were brutal and often ended with one of the fighters seriously injured or dead."

I'd say the beginnings of MMA were nothing compared to the early days of Boxing...... sheesh.

Broughten Rules 1743
"That no person is to hit his Adversary when he is down, or seize him by the ham, the breeches, or any part below the waist: a man on his knees to be reckoned down."

London Prize Ring Rules.1838
Bare fists
No butting
No hitting a downed man
No hitting below the belt
No gouging or biting
No kicking or falling on an opponent knees first
No grabbing from the waist down
Throws were usually allowed as were rabbit punches
when a fighter went down it signaled the end of the round and the downed fighter had 30 seconds to get back to the line.
The Marquis of Queensbury rules were drafted in 1867 and became official in 1892.
John L Sullivan fought and was Champion under both sets of rules as was James J. Corbett.

John L Sullivan was who I was thinking of. His quote about being able to lick any son of a bitch in the house is great stuff.

The Great John L. vs Jake Kilrain on the Plains of the Mississippi.

75 rounds of pugilistic mayhem

Here's an account of the late stages of one of the more famous fights of the 1890's, John L Sullivan vs Gentleman Jim Corbett, which took place in 1892.

THE MATCH was hardly competitive. Corbett boxed beautifully, dancing around the ring, sidestepping Sullivan's irate rushes and peppering him with counters.

In the 21st round, with Sullivan tiring badly, Corbett unleashed a series of punches that staggered the champion. Sullivan, bleeding and battered, retreated to a corner and grabbed hold of the top rope. Too tired to hold his hands up, a right hand dropped Sullivan to his knees. Sullivan managed to rise, but a crushing left-right combination pitched Sullivan forward on his face and chest. Finally he was counted out.

The fight was over and new a era had begun.

After Sullivan gathered himself, he stood on the ring apron and announced to the crowd: "Gentlemen, gentlemen, I have nothing at all to say. All I have to say is that I came into the ring once too often -- and if I had to get licked I'm glad I was licked by an American. I remain your warm and personal friend, John L. Sullivan."

You cant really say they combined wrestling with boxing...thats why the Broughten Rules came about. Although you could clinch and throw that was about it. They wanted to keep it standing. Wonder why nobody back then (west) appreciated Kicking??

If you can find it,there's an old video titled "The Golden Age of Boxing", it's an outstanding documentary starting with John J Sullivan's time period,and it contains a lot of boxing footage so old you can't believe it still exists. There is footage from the turn of the century, Jack Johnson, lots of the early legends, and a clip of a fight with 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett boxing a smaller opponent that is truly the most comical footage you've ever seen. The guy had never heard of side to side movement,or head movement, or blocking/avoiding the jab, apparently. He simply kept walking straight foreward into Corbett's jab, Corbett having a longer reach. He'd walk foreward and eat a jab or two,knocking him straight back,then he'd shuffle foreward again,eat a few more,get knocked back, etc. It was hilarious- Gentleman Jim had a huge grin on his face the whole time,standing perfectly still in his boxers' stance and just jabbed continuously with his foreward hand, you just have to see it. Great video,might be a hard one to find.

The stuff about Greek and Roman boxing is the typical sensationalist bullshit spread by people who have never bothered to read the primary sources for themselves.

IBI, what are some good web sources on boxing pre-Queensbury rules and other Bare Knuckle Boxing rules?






bare knuckles



bare knuckle champions


IBI, what are some good web sources on boxing pre-Queensbury rules and other Bare Knuckle Boxing rules?Not sure about websites. In terms of literature, the best work for information on ancient Greek and Roman boxing is Poliakoff's Combat Sports In The Ancient World. It's a great read, and contains lots of excellent pictures of ancient artworks. Being a proper scholarly work, it also provides you with all the citations if you want to check the ancient literature out for yourself (eg. if you want to read the descriptions of boxing matches in epic poetry). I'm not especially knowledgeable about modern boxing (Old English Pugilism and onwards), but I found Pierce Egan's Boxiana to be an extremely interesting read. It was originally written in 1812, but has been reprinted since.If you have access to a university library they will almost certainly have the Poliakoff book, and might have the other one as well.


Thanx guys