“The power of the human will to compete and the drive to excel beyond the body’s normal capabilities is most beautifully demonstrated in the arena of sport.” —Aimee Mullins

This is part two of a three-part series. In part one; we explored America’s competitive nature and its love of sports, now we’ll examine two of America’s favorite sports, boxing and baseball. Part two examines boxing and its illustrious history, part three will examine baseball.


Boxing was not always called by that name. During the Greek and Roman times, it was known as “Pugilism.” That’s why today you’ll hear many boxing analysts refer to fighters as pugilists. A pugilist was simply a person who would use his fists to fight. These pugilists had extraordinary strength and dynamic power that they used to either conquer or be conquered. Usually they would wrap strips of leather around their fists and fingers, or even have gloves with spikes to deliver lethal blows to their opponents. Since the ancient pugilists did not have access to protective headgear as the modern boxers of today wear, the head, eyes and ears were exposed to their opponent’s killing blows. Between the 12th and 17th centuries, there were documented fist-fighting sports throughout the cities and provinces of Italy. During the early 18th century the sport of “Pugilism” became known in England as bare-knuckle boxing, sometimes referred to as “prizefighting.” In bare-knuckle boxing, the expert pugilist did not wear gloves. Focusing his attention on his inexperienced opponent’s eyes, he would pack all of his weight behind a powerful punch to undermine his vision. Another vulnerable area, which he targeted, was the mouth, because there wasn’t anything to keep the lips or tongue from being damaged. So even if both opponents were experienced pugilists, their bare knuckles would eventually begin to hurt more and more as the match progressed. This minimized the force behind their punches, which in the end determined the winner. Some time in order to inflict injury pugilists would use “dirty tricks” such as grabbing the hair, biting, striking or grabbing below the waist or eye gouging. They simply considered these tactics as a part of the sport.

The first bare-knuckle match in England took place on January 6, 1681. James Figg was the first bare knuckle boxing champion of Great Britain until he retired in 1730 and was known to have never lost a fight. Pugilism, better known as boxing, had its origins in England, and English and Irish colonists brought it to the New World.

However, “Pugilism” eventually gained recognition and respect with the inclusion of the Marquis of Queensbury rules. These rules first published in 1867 superseded the Revised London Prize Ring rules of 1853. It was established under the sponsorship of John Sholto Douglas, ninth Marquess of Queensberry and was named after him. It was a set of rules which became the basis of modern boxing, calling for the use of gloves, the ten-second count for a knockout, the cutting of matches into rounds, and if a man should be hanging on the ropes in a helpless position with his toes off the ground, he was to be considered down.

There is no sporting event in America which creates so much attention as a “prize fight.” During the antebellum period, boxing matches became popular among the slaves of the South. One such slave by the name of Tom Molineaux was able to gain his freedom for $500 which he had earned in a boxing match.

The Irish passion for boxing and athletics had their greatest embodiment in John L. Sullivan, an American prizefighter who was the last bare-knuckles heavyweight champion. He fought under the London Prize Ring rules, defending his title countless times. In 1882, Sullivan challenged the national champion, Paddy Ryan, in Mississippi. He knocked him out in 9 rounds, thus earning the title of World Heavyweight Champion. This powerful pugilist would unleash his fury against one challenger after another throughout Europe and America. Then in 1889 he competed against Jake Kilrain who lasted seventy-five rounds, making it the end of his bare-knuckles pugilist fights. In 1892, he competed against Jim Corbett, this time using gloves under the Queensberry rules for boxing, and was knocked out by him after 21 rounds. The “Great John L.”, also known as the “Boston Strong Boy” retired from the ring in 1896. It was in New Orleans that Sullivan met his defeat at the hands of Jim Corbett, a scientific prize fighter who trained at the gymnasium of San Francisco’s Olympic Club.

The first “sanctioning body” to rule over the sport was the National Boxing Association (NBA) in 1927. These sanctioning bodies rated fighters and arranged bouts between Champions and the most praiseworthy challengers, all for a robust commission fee without a doubt. Currently there are three “recognized” sanctioning bodies that rule the world of boxing such as; the WBC, IBF and the WBA. These are the only bodies whose titlists are acknowledged worldwide as “champions.”

The most profitable era of boxing began in the 1920’s when promoters like Tex Rickard made the sport respectable for spectators of all classes and both sexes. Tex pushed the famous lightweight championship bout between Joe Gans and Oscar “Battling” Nelson in 1906. In January of 1909 he also promoted a featherweight fight in Goldfield between Abe Attell, and Freddie Weeks. Then there was the historic “Fight of the Century” between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in Reno Nevada on July 4, 1910, the victory of a Negro Worlds Champion.

Theodore Roosevelt was a boxing enthusiast. Professional boxing gradually lost its stigma as an underworld sport mainly after the Marquis of Queensberry rules were introduced. It became a mainstream part of the sporting landscape by the early twentieth century. By the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, a plethora of American Boxing Champions caught the imagination and attention of most Americans. Legendary Champions like Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney became celebrities for their phenomenal feats. Dempsey held the Heavyweight Title for 7 years and had the first million dollar gate in history. Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber”, held the Title for 12 astonishing years. Rocky Marciano only held the title for about 4 years, but he won an astonishing 49 fights and was the only Heavyweight Champion to ever retire undefeated. Then there was a man named Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, who transformed the sport of boxing and captured the heart of the nation as he was the first ever 3 time Heavyweight Champion. Ali boasted an impressive 56 and 5 record, utilizing innovative tactics like the Rope-A-Dope. Most notably, Ali gave the sport personality with his clever lines and funny interviews and quotes.

The Heavyweight division has been and still is the most popular division in boxing, but there were plenty of other significant Champions Benny Leonard, Mickey Walker, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong, and Sugar Ray Robinson. Champions like Louis, Marciano and Ali benefited in popularity and financially as a result of the promotion of televised fights. By the 70’s and 80’s, boxing was a multi-billion dollar industry. Champions like Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and even the ageless George Foreman became household names and millionaires, as well.

With 12 years of research experience, History in all its manifestations is Miriam Medina’s passion, and she loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone especially when it relates to sports. So be sure to check it out at

By yanam49

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