Boxing/pugilism/prize fighting, has been called the sweet science. It is a combat sport in which two people engage in a contest of strength, reflexes, and endurance by throwing punches at each other usually with gloved hands.
A boxing match is divided into rounds and is supervised by a referee. The winner is decided when an opponent is deemed incapable to continue by a referee, is disqualified for breaking a rule, resigns by throwing in a towel, or is pronounced the winner based upon the judges' scorecards at the end of the match.
Boxing became a sport when pygmachia Greek boxing) became an Olympic event as early as 688 BC. Modern boxing evolved in the 19th century from 16th and 18th century prizefights. In 2004, ESPN ranked boxing as the most difficult sport in the world.
Why is boxing so popular?
There have been hundreds, if not thousands of fighting systems, both armed and unarmed, that have been created and used throughout the centuries. Some gain popularity for a while and then fade away, only to become popular again decades later. Some have been fads, popular for a while due to their uniqueness, that later were abandoned in favor of the next fad. Some have evolved, changing so much that they are nothing like the systems as originally conceived, but still never gaining widespread popularity.
However, one fighting system has endured for thousands of years in all counties and all cultures, the system that involves punching the opponent in the face with the fist—what we now call boxing. Why has boxing endured for so long and been continuously popular all over the world for so long?
Although widely popular in various forms, martial arts that evolve kicking, grappling, or weapons have never gained the popularity of boxing. Nowadays, mixed martial art fighting is popular. However, I doubt that its popularity will last. It does not have the universal appeal of boxing, and brutal fighting has had a fad status at various other times in history, but it has always faded away after a few decades.
Why has boxing endured for so long?
Boxing appeals to our basic instinct to punch an opponent in the face. Get too close to an angry baby and it will clinch its fist and swing it at your face. For whatever reason, punching the face of a person you are angry at appears to be a basic human instinct. We enjoy punching the face of opponents. When we see someone we do not like punched in the face, it makes us happy and we wish it was us doing the punching.
- Boxing rules are simple. Boxing rules are relatively simple. Basically, all you can do is punch each other in the face or abdomen. This makes it easy for anyone from any country or any culture to understand the rules. Even someone who knows nothing about boxing is and has never seen a boxing match will quickly be able to figure out the rules and learn what it takes to win a bout.
- Boxing has changed very little over the centuries. Other than better equipment, better training methods, and name changes due to the country in which it is practiced, boxing has changed very little since the first caveman punched the second caveman. Since there have been few changes, it is easy to understand.
- Anyone can do it. Anyone can punch; it takes no special training. While it takes lot of training to be an amateur or professional boxer, every child, woman, or man knows how to punch.
- There are no boxing gurus or masters. Boxing has no gurus, founders, or masters that claim to have superhuman powers or secret techniques that only they know, and that the only way to learn the secrets is from the masters. The only heroes in boxing are the boxers. There have been great boxing trainers and coaches, but they are behind the scenes and are basically unknown to the general public. Who the public remembers has been the great fighters, not the promoters, trainers, or managers. Since anyone can punch, there is no need for a “master” to show you any secret methods.
- Faces. Faces are what make us who we are. If another person has wronged you, you want to rearrange that person’s face. Fighting systems that use kicks, throws, pins, or submissions have never gained mainstream popularity. People do not get satisfaction from watching a submission win. People want the loser's face to look like he lost. Professional wresting gained more fans after it starting having less wrestling and having more face pounding and bloodletting. In MMA fighting, the current fighting fad, fighters mostly punch each other in the face, either from standing or on the ground; this has helped it gain popularity. Nobody, except for practitioners and their families, ever go to karate or judo tournaments, because they are boring, and there is no face pounding. People like to see faces pounded. When there is too much grappling or submissions, spectators lose interest. Boxing has always had face pounding; nothing fancy or complicated, just basic face pounding that anyone understands.
Problems with boxing
- Deaths and permanent injuries in the ring. Although this is still a relatively rare event, deaths in the ring do occur and when they do it make headlines. People like to the see blood and pain, but death is always frowned upon. The use of boxing gloves has meant that boxers now have longer careers, and thus they get hit many more times over their careers than they did in the past. Gloves have also meant that boxers may be hit many more times in a fight without showing visible injuries or being knocked out. More blows mean more opportunities for long-term serious injuries. In MMA fighting, the gloves have little padding, there are no standing 8-counts, and the fight is stopped when an opponent cannot defend him or herself. Although this means there are more minor injuries and blood, which satisfies spectators, it also helps reduce the number of blows a fighter receives over his or her career. Once more MMA fighters die in the ring or as a result of fighting in the ring, MMA fights will also lose some popularity.
- Questionable decisions by fight judges. Since boxing has been around for so long that it has now controlled by a select few groups and individuals who have corrupted the system. In international competition, politics plays a bigger part in who will win a bout than does who was the better fighter. In recent decades, highly questionable decisions have driven even seasoned fans away. In MMA fighting, decisions are rare so this is not much of a problem.
- Promoters and/or networks controlling who fights. Instead of the champion fighting the number one contender, then the number two contender, etc., now the champion fights the one that promoters and/or networks think will draw the most viewers and thus the most money. This may draw more spectators for an individual event, but overall it alienates fans who turn to sports with more true competition.
- Too many champions in each weight division. There are so many boxing organizations now that there are too many champions in each weight division. The public is confused and has no one champion to rally around. As boxing’s popularity wanes, smaller organization will disappear and, at some point, there will again be one champion in each weight class, and boxing’s popularity will rise again. MMA fighting is still sorting out its organizations. If it also ends up with too many champions, it will suffer the same problem as boxing has suffered.
- Proliferation of pay-per-view. Boxing used be free to watch on television, even championship matches. Now, greedy promoters make the general public pay to watch the events on television. Now, only diehard fans see the bouts. In addition, many pay-per-view events fail to meet expectations, and thus, fans turn to other sports. If football or baseball was pay-per-view, they would suffer the same decline. When bouts are free, non-fans may watch and become fans as a result.
- No current great heavyweight champion. Although there have been great fighters in the lower weight classes, the public still likes to have one champion to adore and the best of the biggest is what they like the most. For casual fans, it is easy to remember and follow one champion. It has been years since there has been a heavyweight champion who the people can follow. During his glory days, everyone knew who Mohammed Ali was, even if they cared nothing about boxing. Now, the general public cannot name any current boxer.
Boxing is neither the best combat fighting system nor the best self-defense fighting system, but it is the best sport system to allow people to release their primal urge to punch an opponent in the face or see someone else punch an opponent in the face. Because of this, it will always be a popular fighting system and it will always be popular with spectators. Although its popularity is low now, it will come back; people like to see other people punched in the face.