Professional Boxing is Born

On This Day 6 January 1681 marks the first recording of a Boxing match in Britain but the history of the sport goes back much further than that.

So-called “Thermae boxer”: athlete resting after a boxing match. Bronze, Greek artwork of the Hellenistic era, 3rd-2nd centuries BC. From the Thermae of Constantine.

AMPRO itself may have been around for over 65 years and be the oldest independent owned boxing brand in the UK but Boxing has been documented as being around as early as Egypt in around 3000 BC. It was over 4,700 years later before rules was introduced to form the basis of boxing as we know it now, with boxing gloves being invented and rules introduced. More importantly it was 4,900 years before you could get your hands on some AMPRO Gloves and people think we are old!

The sport was introduced to the ancient Olympic Games by the Greeks in the late 7th century BC, when soft leather thongs were used to bind boxers' hands forearms for protection with oil-softened ox hide leather strips called himantes.

On 6 January 1681, the first known recording of a boxing prize fight match took place in Britain when Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle (and later Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica) arranged a bout between his butler and his butcher with the butcher winning.

Early fighting (I won’t call it Boxing) had no written rules. There were generally no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee and apart from using your fists involved head-butting, eye-gouging, chokes, and throws, nothing the boxing we know today.

The first boxing rules, called the Broughton's rules, were introduced by English champion bare knuckle fighter Jack Broughton, known as the the father of english boxing in 1743. Under these rules, if a man went down and could not continue after a count of 30 seconds, the fight was over. Hitting a downed fighter and grabbing or hitting below the waist were prohibited.

The first boxing rules, called the Broughton's rules, were introduced by English champion bare knuckle fighter Jack Broughton, known as the the father of english boxing in 1743.

Jack also designed the first Boxing gloves made from a form of padded bandage or mitten in the mid 1700s. He introduced them at his gym as a training tool to reduce injuries to boxers' hands and faces prior to official bare knuckle fights. For the next decade or so, the use of “mufflers,” as the gloves were often called, was considered unmanly. But Broughton encouraged the use of 'mufflers', to be used in 'jousting' or sparring sessions in training, and in exhibition matches and they eventually caught on.

The London Prize Ring Rules were a list of boxing rules announced in 1838 and revised in 1853. These rules were based on and superseded those drafted by England's Jack Broughton in 1743 and governed the conduct of prizefighting/bare-knuckle boxing for over 100 years. Under the London rules, bouts were bare fist and held in a 24-ft (7.3-m) square “ring” enclosed by ropes. A knockdown ended the round, followed by a 30-second rest and an additional 8 seconds to regain the centre of the ring. Butting, gouging, hitting below the waist, and kicking were banned.

Although the Marquess of Queensberry rules, which called for fighters to wear gloves, appeared in 1867, professional bareknuckle fights continued. The last heavyweight championship bout held under London rules was in 1889 when John L. Sullivan beat Jake Kilrain in 75 rounds (Yes 75 rounds it is not a typo!) to defend his heavyweight championship.

The Marquess of Queensberry rules were devised by John Graham Chambers of the Amateur Athletic Club in 1867 and emphasised boxing technique and skill. Chambers sought the patronage of John Sholto Douglas, the 9th marquess of Queensberry, who lent his name to the new guidelines. The Queensberry rules differed from the London rules in four major respects: contestants wore padded gloves, a round consisted of three minutes of fighting followed by a minute of rest; wrestling was illegal; and any fighter who went down had to get up unaided within 10 seconds - if a fighter was unable to get up, he was declared knocked out, and the fight was over.

During this period the introduction of the first weight divisions also took place to introduce more of a level playing field we are used to today with less weight being conceded in fighter match-ups.

James "Jem" Mace
James (“Jem”) Mace, won the English heavyweight title under the London rules in 1861 and Mace’s enthusiasm for gloved fighting did much to popularise the Queensberry rules that were thought of poorly by professional bare knuckle fighters and the public as unmanly up until then. Although championship bouts continued to be fought under London Prize Ring rules during this time.

British domination in boxing came to an end with the rise of the Irish-born American boxer John L. Sullivan.

John Lawrence Sullivan (October 15, 1858 – February 2, 1918), also known as the Boston Strong Boy, in his prime. He was recognized as the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing from February 7, 1882 to 1892, and is generally recognized as the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing under the London Prize Ring rules

Sullivan was the first American champion to be considered world champion. For a hundred years after Sullivan’s ascendancy to the top of the division, boxing champions, especially in the heavyweight division, tended to reside in the United States. It was Sullivan who was also responsible for aligning professional fighters to the side of the Queensberry rules in USA making it more popular and seeing the demise of old school Prizefighting.

His decade long dominance was ended by way of a 21st round KO in September of 1892 when he was defeated by James Corbett, often referred to as the father of modern boxing due to his innovative scientific technique.

Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion

Jack Johnson became the first African American heavyweight champion holding the Title from 1908-1915. Johnson's dominance spawned a search for a "Great White Hope" to challenge him, and resulted in what was called the "Fight of the Century" in 1910, when former undefeated heavyweight champ James Jeffries came out of retirement after having not fought in six years. Johnson dominated the fight and was declared the winner when Jeffries' corner threw in the towel in the 15th round. Jack Johnson fought professionally until he was 60, finishing with a career record of 73 wins, 13 losses and 10 draws.

The fact that the heavyweight champion of boxing came to symbolise American might and resolve, even dominance, had a significant impact on the sport’s acceptance. Likewise, its role as a training tool in World War I started to change peoples perceptions that boxing, if conducted under the right conditions, lent itself to the development of skill, courage, discipline and character.

In the USA the very same authorities who had been fining and jailing pugilists fighters for engaging in an illegal event came to sanction and regulate the sport through state boxing and athletic commissions. State regulation became the middle ground between outright prohibition and legalisation.

The Walker Law passed in 1920 was an early New York state law regulating boxing. The law reestablished legal boxing in the state following the three-year ban created by the repeal of the Frawley Law. The law instituted rules that better ensured the safety of combatants and reduced the roughness of the sport. The law limited matches to fifteen rounds, required a physician in attendance, restricted certain aggressive acts such as head-butting, and created a regulatory commission, the New York State Athletic Commission.

In response, representatives from 13 states established the National Boxing Association and also began to sanction title fights. The NYSAC and NBA (Now the WBA one of the 4 major world belt organisations) sometimes crowned different "world champions" in the same division, leading to confusion about who was the real champion (Sound familiar?). Today professional boxing is licensed by each state with the New York and the Nevada Athletic Commission being two of the most prominent in the development of the professional sport (Much like our BBBoC).

In the UK, The National Sporting Club was a club founded in London on 5 March 1891, which became a pioneer in establishing the sport of boxing in Great Britain. It started as a private club by the founders John Fleming and A.F. "Peggy" Bettinson, with Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale as its first president. The club was run under very strict rules regarding both the boxers and the members. Bouts would take place after dinner, before about 1,300 members and guests. The bouts would be fought in silence as no talking was permitted during the rounds. The club built up a great tradition of sportsmanship and fair play within a gentleman style club doing much to change the image of the sport.

Spirited boxing contest conducted strictly according to the rules of the ring. Lord Woodstock knocks out his professional antagonist. At the National Sporting Club, London. Created and "copyright 1898 by The Strobridge Lith. Co., Cin'ti &  New York."

In 1909, Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale introduced the prize of the Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt, commonly known as the Lonsdale Belt as a belt to be awarded to the British champion at each weight on behalf of the National Sporting Club (NSC). The belts were made from porcelain and twenty-two carat gold. Arthur Frederick Bettinson, manager of the NSC, introduced terms and conditions regarding the ownership of the belt, which ensured its lasting prestige. The Lonsdale Belt, today is the oldest and most prestigious championship belt in British professional boxing.

Jimmy Wilde - Gold Lonsdale Belt Taken 3518 at Cardiff

In 1929, a new organisation, the British Boxing Board of Control, was formed to control the sport as a national federation. Most of the board of the new organisation were senior members of the N.S.C. The N.S.C. was given a permanent seat on the new Board of Control and retained this privilege until 1937. After this time it became regarded as a promoter of boxing contests.

The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) is now the governing body of professional boxing in the United Kingdom recognised by the major belt organisations such as the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO and the European Boxing Union (EBU) as the national federation in Britain for the sport.

The Board still sanctions bouts for British boxing's most prestigious title now, the Lonsdale Belt. The Lonsdale Belt is awarded to the champion of the United Kingdom in each respective weight class and to own the belt outright it must be defended against a British challenger on at least three occasions. 

Muhammad Ali using AMPRO

AMPRO boxing equipment has been used by some true boxing greats down the ages including Muhammad Ali, Terry Spinks, Terry Downes, Henry Cooper, Chris Finnegan, Johnny Caldwell and Sammy McCarthy. 

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