Why Is Boxing Called The Sweet Science?

FightCamp - Sweet Science, the Science of Boxing

Why is boxing called “The Sweet Science”? Dive into the history behind boxing’s nickname and how it came to be.

Published: July 19, 2022

Topics: Culture, Fight News

Author: Jeff Turbett

When Did Boxing Start?

For as long as humans have been on Earth, there has been fighting--fighting mother nature and the elements, fighting for survival, and of course, fighting one another. An article published in 2014 has an interesting take on this: mankind fighting one another may have indeed been an important factor in the human evolution process. Fast-forward to today, and it is easy to see that fighting is in our nature, and the sport of boxing, at its roots. When was boxing invented? Let's dive further and see why this combat sport was given the nickname "The Sweet Science".

Why is Boxing Called Boxing?

The term “boxing” is derived from the term “pugilism” from the ancient Latin word, “pugil” meaning “a boxer”. The pugilism meaning is related to the Latin “pugnus” meaning “fist” and derived from the Greek word “pyx” meaning “with clenched fist”. From its history first depicted in 1350 BCE in ancient Egypt, to its first appearance as an event in the 23rd Olympiad, to becoming a monetized sport in 17th century England, boxing has come a long way.

But if we have evolved to fight one another, it begs to ask the question, is it truly nature or nurture? To hit someone is to hate someone, but advocates and practitioners of boxing argue that the “science” behind the sport is more than just the inherent, primitive acts of violence.

What Is the Science of Boxing?

The so-called “science” of boxing was first explored in 1747 by boxer John Godfrey whose published work, A Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Self Defense, observed that fighting (and pugilism) was indeed a nature-inherited trait that is evident even in infancy. He notes that the science of boxing and the engagement in pugilism are not only natural emotional reactions, but could even be described as “humane”; it takes courage and character to engage in the act, as well as mental fortitude. This concept is far from the “violent” and “savage” acts we usually associate with the term today. So then, when was boxing invented?

Why is boxing called The Sweet Science?

It wasn't until a half century later, in 1813, that the great boxing author and journalist, Pierce Egan, gave true meaning to the term, the “sweet science” when he referred to the sport of boxing as the “sweet science of bruising.” Egan also came to the same conclusion as Godfrey had years earlier: that fighting (and thus boxing) is indeed an inherited, natural-born instinct and in our DNA.

In his series of boxing-related articles titled, Boxiana, Egan observed the resentment that some individuals felt growing up. They felt they had been slighted by society, and as a result, this resentment would manifest into a necessary means of physical retribution. However, through evolution, it was modern Man who was able to check his “coolness, checking the fiery passion and rage” which differed from his ancestors before him, free from primitive actions, thus forming boxing into this “sweet science.”

Finally, in 1949, the boxer/author A.J. Liebling introduced the term into modern times and gave credit to Egan. In his novel, The Sweet Science, Liebling writes about the golden era of boxing and the science of boxing as a way of life.

While Godfrey and Egan may have made a great argument for the actual scientific evidence of boxing and how it may have been directly related to our inherited nature, Liebling took a more modern-day approach to the “sweet science” and how it is perceived today.

One of the best examples of the “sweet science of boxing” that Liebling depicts in his novel is the 1955 fight between Archie Moore vs. Rocky Marciano for the heavyweight belt. Liebling describes the styles of the fighters leading up to the fight. He discusses Marciano and his fighting style as this “nature”-inherited style, and remarks that he should not worry about using defense, as it may “spoil his natural prehistoric style.” When speaking of Moore, Liebling describes his fighting style as “nurturing,” explaining that he was a more cerebral fighter who relied on his craft as a boxer and his intelligence, compared to the more savage style of Marciano. However, Marciano would ultimately be the victor. It was this more in-depth look into the “science” behind the fighters as a modern concept that the term “sweet science” came to be as it’s used today. Now when people hear the term, most associate it as relating to the art form of boxing, the fighting styles, and the boxer’s preparation for a fight.

What are examples of “The Sweet Science” of boxing?

These days, the modern boxer is required to not only be savage by nature, but also be methodical, tactical, cunning, and scientific in their approach. Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer to ever live, may have also been one of the best when it comes down to the science of boxing. Even before he would step inside the ring to fight an opponent, he would get inside their heads, trash-talking in the lead-up to the fight. As a result, a lot of his opponents would begin to doubt their abilities pre-fight, and the outcome usually favored Ali. Another classic “sweet science” Ali moment came when he knocked out heavy-favorite George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle using the “rope-a-dope” technique. Foreman wore himself out, throwing damageless punches against a defensive Ali who utilized the ring’s ropes as a backrest. A gassed Foreman was ultimately knocked out in the eighth round.

Many other boxers have been able to utilize the “sweet science” to benefit their careers as well. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., perhaps the best defensive fighter of all time with a perfect 50-0 record, is extremely calculating and utilizes the first few rounds of each fight to gauge and understand his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. He scientifically dissects each opponent mid-fight and the result has always favored him. Lennox Lewis is even quoted as saying that “In boxing, you create a strategy to beat each new opponent, it's just like chess.” And that truly is art in and of itself. The “chess match” between boxing opponents is much more than just two individuals swinging wildly at each other in a square. The finesse, the slickness, the swagger, and the art form, all incorporate the essence that is boxing. It is a science, and it truly is sweet.

To learn more about the sweet science of boxing and everything it takes to become a skilled fighter, from drills to technique to workouts, be sure to check out FightCamp, for at-home connected fitness training.

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Jeff Turbett

Jeff Turbett has trained in boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA. He is a personal trainer and knows the importance of cross-training for combat sports. He’s also a contributor at BellaVita Fitness and Wellness online.

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