In ancient Greece, boxing was a popular amateur competitive sport and was included in the first Olympic Games. In ancient Rome boxers often wore the cestus, a metal-studded leather hand covering with which they maimed and even killed their opponents, sometimes as part of gladiatorial spectacles. The sport declined in popularity after the fall of the Roman Empire.

In the 18th Century boxing was revived in London in the form of bare-knuckle prizefights in which the contestants fought for money and the spectators made wagers on the outcome.

The first boxer to be recognised as a Heavyweight Champion was James Figg in 1719. In 1743 a later Champion, John Broughton, formulated a set of Rules standardising some practices and eliminating others, such as hitting opponents when they are down or seizing opponents by the hair. Broughton’s Rules governed boxing until 1838 when the Original London Prize Ring Rules, based on those of Broughton, were devised.

Modifications known as the Revised London Prize Ring Rules were drawn up in 1853 and they controlled the sport until the end of the 19th Century, when the Queensberry Rules came into use. These Rules were drafted in 1857 by a boxer, John Graham Chambers, under the auspices of John Sholto Douglas, 8th Marquis of Queensberry.

Emphasising boxing skill rather than wrestling and agility over strength, the Queensberry Rules helped to undo the popular image of boxing as a savage, brutal brawl. The new Rules prohibited bare-fisted fighting, wrestling, hugging, hitting opponents while they are helpless and fighting to the finish. Under the Broughton Rules a downed man was allowed 30 seconds to square off at a distance of 1yd (90cm) from the opponent, aided by handlers if necessary. If the boxer failed to square off, the fighter was considered beaten. Under the London Prize Ring Rules the boxer had to reach scratch (a mark located in the middle of the ring) unaided within 8 seconds after the 30-second time lapse; and a round ended when a boxer went down. Under the Queensberry Rules, matches were divided into 3 minute rounds with 1 minute intervals of rest between them. A contestant who remained down, either recumbent or on one knee, after 10 seconds lost the match. The Rules also stipulated that matches be conducted in a roped-in square, called a ring, measuring 24ft (7.3m) on a side.

The last bare-knuckle Heavyweight Champion was the American John L. Sullivan, who fought and won the last sanctioned bare-knuckle fight in 1889 against Jake Kilrain. Fighting with gloves under the Queensberry Rules, the popular Sullivan lost the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship to James J. Corbett in New Orleans, Louisiana on 7th September 1892. The Queensberry Rules have remained the code governing the conduct of professional boxing.


  • To be a fair stand-up boxing match in a 24ft (7.3m) ring, or as near that size as practicable..
  • No wrestling or hugging allowed.
  • The rounds to be of 3 minutes duration and 1 minute between rounds.
  • If either man falls through weakness or otherwise, he must get up unaided, 10 seconds to be allowed him to do so, the other man meanwhile to return to his corner, and when the fallen man is on his legs the round is to be resumed and continued until the 3 minutes have expired. If one man fails to come to the scratch in the 10 seconds allowed, it shall be in the power of the referee to give his award in favour of the other man.
  • A man hanging on the ropes in a helpless state, with his toes off the ground, shall be considered down.
  • No seconds or any other person to be allowed in the ring during the rounds.
  • Should the contest be stopped by any unavoidable interference, the referee to name the time and place as soon as possible for finishing the contest; so that the match must be won and lost, unless the backers of both men agree to draw the stakes.
  • The gloves to be fair-sized boxing gloves of the best quality and new.
  • Should a glove burst, or come off, it must be replaced to the referee’s satisfaction.
  • A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes.
  • No shoes or boots with springs allowed.
  • The contest in all other respects to be governed by the Revised Rules of the London Prize Ring.