Olympic Boxing: History & Facts
Boxing is one of the oldest combat sports in history. It first appeared in the Olympics over 2700 years ago. In this article, we take a look at the history of Olympic Boxing, how it is different from Professional Boxing, and more.
When did boxing start in the Olympics?
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Boxing was added to the Ancient Greek Olympic Games in the 23rd Olympiad in the year 688 BC, although it was very different from the boxing of modern day. There was no ring, no time limits, no rounds, no weight classes, and the fight lasted until the surrender or inability of one party to continue. However, there are a few things that have remained the same to this day:
- There are 2 opponents (1v1)
- Fighters wear gloves
- Wrestling, eye-poking, and kicking are not allowed
Fun fact: There was even a form of MMA in the ancient Olympic games, called Pankration. When the Ancient Olympic Games were abolished by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I, Pankration ceased to exist as an Olympic sport. The games were restarted in 1896, but not Pankration. There is no clear explanation as to “Why?”, but it likely was left out due to the brutal nature of the sport (only eye gouging and biting were not allowed), and in the modern version of the games, a much more civilized and sensitive audience would be observing.
When boxing returned to the modern Olympic Games in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri, the United States was the only country that entered, so they earned all the medals.
Up until the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games, only men were allowed to compete in boxing. Nicola Adams from Great Britain, Katie Taylor from Ireland, and Claressa Shields from the United States would be the first women to win Olympic gold medals in boxing that year.
Who won the first Olympic medal in boxing?
Onomastos of Smyrna won the first gold medal in Olympic Boxing in 688 BC, at the first Olympic Games that featured Boxing as a sport.
According to Philostratus, Pausanias and Eusebius, Onomastus was not only the first Olympic boxing champion but he wrote the rules of Ancient Greek boxing as well.
The Most Decorated Olympic Boxers of All-Time:
The top 6 most decorated Olympic boxers of all-time, based on the number (and type) of medals earned are:
- [Ranked #1] László Papp (Hungary) 3G 0S 0B
- [Ranked #1] Félix Savón (Cuba) 3G 0S 0B
- [Ranked #1] Teófilo Stevenson (Cuba) 3G 0S 0B
- [Ranked #2] Boris Lagutin (Russia) 2G 0S 1B
- [Ranked #2] Oleg Saitov (Russia) 2G 0S 1B
- [Ranked #2] Zou Shiming (China) 2G 0S 1B
How is Olympic Boxing different from Professional Boxing?
Olympic Boxing and Professional Boxing differ mostly in the ruleset. In terms of rules, Olympic Boxing is actually synonymous with Amateur Boxing--the same rules apply to most of amateur boxing tournaments and events.
Here are some of the differences in rules between Olympic boxing and professional boxing:
Number of Rounds
Olympic Boxing: The match goes for 3 rounds (unless there is an earlier stoppage of the fight).
Professional Boxing: The fights are between 4 and 12 rounds, but there is rarely a sanctioned fight under 6 rounds, with 12 rounds being the standard for all high-profile and championship fights for males and 10 rounds for females.
Olympic Boxing: Competing in the Olympics or other amateur boxing tournaments, boxers’ fights are a day(s) or even hours apart.
Professional Boxing: There are almost no professional boxing tournaments. Professional fighters fight more often earlier in their pro career, but still far less often than amateurs do.
Olympic Boxing: Male fighters need to be clean shaven and only a mustache "no longer than the upper lip" is allowed.
Professional Boxing: There are no such conditions or stipulations regarding facial hair for male boxers.
Standing 8 Count
Olympic Boxing: When the referee realizes one of the competitors is hurt, they are obligated to pause the fight and give the boxer who's hurt a "standing 8 count". A standing 8 count is like the count in a knockdown, but the fighter hasn’t been knocked down. The referee sees they are hurt and gives them a count of 8 to attempt to continue fighting.
Professional Boxing: The "standing 8 count" was removed from professional boxing 1998.
Olympic Boxing: Male boxers are required to wear a shirt during the competition.
Professional Boxing: In the pro ranks, male pro boxers fight shirtless.
Olympic Boxing: Boxers are required to be between the ages of 19 and 41 to compete at the Olympics.
Professional Boxing: In professional boxing, there is no upper age limit, however in most countries, you still need to be at least 18 years old to turn pro. There are examples of fighters, like Canelo Alvarez of Mexico, who turned pro younger than that.
Are there knockouts in Olympic boxing?
Yes, although a bit less common in the Olympics, a knockout is a valid way to end a fight.
How does a boxer qualify for the Olympic Games?
Every country that is allowed to compete in the Olympics receives a quota of spots for boxers they can elect to represent their country. To earn a spot on the Olympic team, a boxer usually participates in Olympic Trials tournament(s). For the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, due to the COVID restrictions, Team USA couldn't elect fighters from the dedicated Olympic Trials because the event was postponed and ultimately canceled. Boxers were selected based on a point system using their previous participation in international boxing tournaments. The boxers who will represent Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are:
Image source: Team USA
- Keyshawn Davis
- Rashida Ellis
- Virginia Fuchs
- Naomi Graham
- Troy Isley
- Delante Johnson
- O'Shae Jones
- Duke Ragan
- Richard Torrez, Jr.
Who are some of the most famous pro boxers who were also Olympians?
Image source: The Olympians
The traditional way most fighters take when developing their boxing career is to first have an amateur career and later turn professional. (Winning an Olympic gold medal would be the pinnacle of an amateur boxer's career). This is why there are many successful pro boxers who also competed at the Olympics. Some of the most famous professional boxers who were also Olympians are:
- Muhammad Ali (Gold, 1960)
- Joe Frazier (Gold, 1964)
- George Foreman (Gold, 1968)
- "Sugar" Ray Leonard (Gold, 1976)
- Pernell Whitaker (Gold, 1984)
- Evander Holyfield (Bronze, 1984)
- Roy Jones, Jr. (Silver, 1988)
- Oscar De La Hoya (Gold, 1992)
- Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (Bronze, 1996)
- Andre Ward (Gold, 2004)
... and the list goes on and on.
Boxing has been around for thousands of years. Ever since the ancient Greeks added it to the Olympic Games, an Olympic gold medal in boxing has served as the highest proof of skill and potential. Even if you're not planning on jumping into an amateur boxing career or turning pro, and you don't have your sights set on winning an Olympic gold medal in boxing, you can still make boxing training part of your life. FightCamp gives you the chance to explore boxing and kickboxing workouts at home. And hey, who knows, maybe you'll inspire the fighter within and develop a passion for the sport!
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The Author: Nikolay Tsenkov is a dad, husband, entrepreneur, and boxing aficionado. He started training late, when he was 26 years old. One of his biggest regrets in life is that he never competed. For several years he has trained alongside national and European champions and professional boxers. He is an avid student of boxing, but enjoys all sorts of martial arts.