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The Undefeatable Hope of Fighters

  • The Iliad of Homer, Score Homer Ili (by )
  • The Game (by )
  • Boxing (by )
  • The Abysmal Brute (by )
  • Boxing (by )
  • Pugilistica: the history of British boxi... (by )
  • Pugilistica: the history of British boxi... (by )
  • Rules for Boxing (by )
  • Boxing and How to Train (by )
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While the tradition of pugilism or boxing spans millennia, over the past 100 years the sport has attracted and maintained an increasingly mainstream audience. The world recognizes world class champions, most of whom were born into society’s lower classes, including Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, Muhammad Ali, and Jack Dempsey. Recent boxing stars include, fighters like Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, and Floyd Mayweather, each fighter’s paradigm defined by the hardships they endured. As exciting and respected as these athletes are, the sport in which they excel is a manifestation of macabre interest.    

In Sumer, one of the earliest civilizations in southern Mesopotamia, reliefs depicting pugilism date back to the 3rd millennium BCE. In these early Middle Eastern artist renderings, sportsman competed bare knuckled, or, in some cases, used bands to support the wrist. However, it wasn't until the 23rd Olympiad, in ancient Greece, that boxing became recognized as a developed sport. In later centuries, boxing became a popular spectator sport in Rome; however, as ironic as it appears, around 393 AD, during the time of  the Roman gladiator, Roman society viewed as excessively violent. (Fighters, armed with hard leather gloves, sometimes equipped with metal studs, would fight to the death.)

In the early 16th century, boxing resurfaced in England. These “prize fighters” competed without weight divisions or gloves. As there were no written rules, the contest ended when an opponent was physically unable to continue. Jack Broughton, a bare-knuckle champion who saw first-hand the toll boxing took on fighters, codified rules in 1743.

Though the Marquess of Queensberry rules in the 1860s improved upon Broughton’s rules, civilized society considered the sport too brutal for refined tastes. Its spread to the United States and its continuation in London were virtually outlawed. 
John Jackson, an English champion, brought about a noted civility to boxing. He instructed nobility, including Lord Byron, in the art and science of the sport. In the early 20th century, Western society once again accepted boxing as a viable, competitive recreation, and a highly profitable one due to the popularity of previous champions and the prowesses of talented promoters. While we still boxing a brutal combat sport, it offers young fighters, most residing in marginalized areas, an opportunity for social ascension and an outlet that sets them on par with other respectable names. German born Max Schmeling’s famous bouts with the great African-American fighter Joe Louis had intense national and racial ramifications. Muhammad Ali’s three historic fights against rival Joe Frazier coincided with the Vietnam war and America’s consequential counterculture. Without the sport, as brutal as it may seem, the impact of international heroes would not have existed.

The tradition of boxing has had a place in literature as well. In Book 23 of Homer’s The Iliad, gladiators with god-like strength box between foes. Famed author Jack London highlights the glory and brutality of modern day boxing in his novels The Game and The Abysmal Brute. Additionally, World Public Library offers an array of early manuals that demonstrate the technicality of the sport. R. G. Allanson’s Boxing provides specific methodology for young fighters. Additionally James Edwards Sullivan’s Boxing: A Manual Devoted to the Art of Self Defence, offers sets of boxing terminology and rules that serve any wishing to learn more about the sport. These works all exemplify the boundless hope of fighters, the courage to fight for acceptance in a world not their own.  

By Logan Williams

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