Pugilism the Godfather to Combative Sports


 Dictionary.com defines Pugilism as "the art or practice of fighting with the fists; boxing.", yet it has sundried synonyms. The Sweet Science, prizefighting, the Manly Art of Self-Defense, bare-knuckle fighting, fisticuffs and throwing hands, just to name a few. Literally, Pugilism is everywhere, permeating every walk of life.  What's your favorite Boxing movie; One of the "Rocky" flicks?  "The Champ" or "Raging Bull"?  "Cinderella Man" or "Million Dollar Baby"?  Pugilism. 

How many Boxing references have you heard in other sports, or used in everyday life?  Without possessing a lick of fist-fighting acumen, an athlete, team or everyday Joe can come out swinging, have their adversary on the ropes, hit 'em in the mouth or find themselves down for the count. Pugilism.
In life, sometimes you take one on the chin or roll with the punches, and who doesn't need someone in their corner, eventually, right?  Pugilism.

This craft will likely be with us forever and dates as far back as 4000 B.C., where pictographic scripts, a.k.a., hieroglyphics, were discovered in Egypt, the Middle East and Ethiopia.  Tangible, visual evidence of men not only fist-fighting, but wearing protective coverings over their hands was illustrated. 

By 1500 B.C., Pugilism migrated to the Crete Island and from there, somewhere between 686-688 B.C., ancient Greeks accepted Boxing as an Olympic sport. Such was the cultural stronghold in Greece that the famous epic poem, "The Iliad", made mention of Boxing.  At that point in time (and to this very day), masculinity and heroism were directly linked to fighters, who engaged one another almost exclusively with their hands.

Leather straps, or thongs, as they were called, were wrapped around the fists, wrists and forearms of the fighters. Before long, metal shards (the cestus) were added to the mix and combatants often battled to the death. By AD 393, boxing was considered too barbaric, particularly by aristocrats, so Medieval activities such as archery, jousting and hunting became more accepted pursuits.

In the realm of Fashion, clothing styles recycle themselves and eventually resurface: ditto with Pugilism.  In 16th century England, traditions and practices from bygone years were revisited, spawning a rebirth of sorts; bare-knuckle prize fighting. The first recorded prizefight took place in 1681, between the butler and butcher of Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albermarle.  By 1698, bare-knuckle bouts were regularly held at the Royal Theater in London, where fans of affluence bet on the outcome. As the sums of wagered money increased, so too did the need for a set of established rules. 

The inaugural rules of Pugilism were drafted in 1743 by reigning bare-knuckle champion (the 2nd ever), Jack Broughton, who appreciated the art and nobility of self-defense.  Instead of the customary circular ring of spectators, Broughton suggested a squared off area, which became the boxing ring as we know it.  Striking a downed fighter was abolished, as was punching/grabbing below the waist.  Broughton’s rules regulated the involvement of umpires and chief seconds as well, and if a second was unable to bring his fighter to center ring within 30 seconds, the bout was deemed over.

In 1838, Broughton’s model was built upon in what would become known as the London Prize Ring Rules.  Among the inclusions was the outlawing of butting, kicking, scratching, gouging, biting, holding the ropes and the usage of resin or hard objects in the hands.  The London Prize Ring Rules did allow for holding/throwing of an opponent, and when a man was downed by punch or throw, the round was ended, he was given 30 seconds to recover and an additional 8 seconds to make his way to center ring.  Bouts themselves customarily lasted an inordinate number of rounds, but the length of these rounds varied, as some fighters would pretend to go down from meaningless shots, just for the 30 second respite.

Concocted by John Chambers and rubber stamped by John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensbury, in 1867, the Queensbury Rules are at ground zero of modern day Pugilism as we know it. This decree mandated the use of gloves, introduced different weight classes, 3 minute rounds with a 1 minute rest period, a ban on wrestling and a 10-count on a downed fighter. As a byproduct of this edict, bouts lasted longer and strategy, defensive principles and knockouts became more prevalent.

Every pay-per-view fight you’ve ever watched owes a debt of gratitude to Pugilism, each incarnation of fist-fighting and the proverbial rungs on the ladder that brought the art form to where it is today. There’s no Mayweather-McGregor or Canelo-Triple G, without the progressive steps taken and ways the sport has reinvented itself.


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