Muhammad Ali to Floyd Mayweather: The Evolution of Boxing

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Floyd Mayweather

Naoki Fukuda

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

Boxing origins

Back in 1681, the first-ever recorded boxing fight took place in Britain, with no written rules to regulate the sporting event. It took 60 years for the next set of regulations to happen in 1743. Then, champion Jack Broughton introduced laws 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 recognizable 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: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight.

There were initially 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 were allowed in boxing fights in the early 20th century. The only reason to end a conflict as if the fighter quit, was knocked out or the police stopped the fight.

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.

This change followed the death of boxer Duk Koo Kim in a battle against Ray Mancini. The fighter died in the 14th round, which led to the rule change. Each round lasts three minutes, meaning that the fight can be broadcast within an hour for televised boxing fights.

The referee determined the flight winner, who would hold up the arm of the deserved title winner in a fight where there was no knockout. In the early 20th century, it was common for a referee or judge to score each round. 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 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 aims to get down to the fighting weight for the official weight — that generally occurs the day before the fight.

While there were only eight weight classifications originally, in modern-day boxing, there are now 17 major professional 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

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 for a crash diet, which could affect their performance.

A boxer’s diet should contain 45-55% carbohydrates, 30-40% protein, and 15% fats. Boxers require carbohydrates because the sport is an anaerobic activity that requires 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 maximize recovery and contribute to muscle growth, whilst certain fats are required to upkeep 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 boost their workout performance and reach new goals.

A dangerous sport

What are the risks involved when you choose a career in boxing? There are many skill behind a good boxer — hours in the gym and ring training and 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.

FLOYD MAYWEATHER

Iconic boxers: speed vs. power

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

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.

Floyd Mayweather is currently undefeated in his professional boxing career, winning 15 world titles. Furthermore, he is a five-division champion.

Meanwhile, Manny Pacquiao is considered one of the world’s fastest boxers by many. He is the only eight-division world champion in the history of boxing.

Regarding 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 license denied in every state, Ali made his comeback in 1974 when he reclaimed the heavyweight title after defeating George Foreman.

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