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Olympics Primer: How to Watch Boxing

Your cheat sheet for watching boxing matches at the Olympics

By Emily Feldman
|  Friday, Jul 27, 2012  |  Updated 2:23 PM EDT
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Andre Ward (Red) is the last American boxer to win gold. He earned his at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.

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When it happens:
July 28 to Aug. 12
 
How it became a sport:
Boxing made its Olympic debut 2,700 years ago at the ancient 23rd Olympiad in Greece, where fighters would pummel each other to unconsciousness or surrender, with leather-wrapped fists. The ancient Romans, Egyptians, Ethiopians and Sumerians also sparred, to varying degrees of brutality.

 
The sort of boxing that more closely resembles today’s sport (no fighting to the death; no shredding an opponent’s face to pieces) began to take shape in the mid-1800s when the British Pugilistic Association drew up the “Prize Ring Rules.”  
 
While the rulebook prohibited hitting a downed opponent or using weapons against him, it did not prohibit a critically injured fighter from continuing to box, which did result in deaths, from time to time. 
 
The rules continued to evolve in both England and the U.S., which hosted the sport’s modern Olympic debut in St. Louis in 1904. By 1920, a five-nation international amateur boxing federation (which did not yet include the U.S.) was founded, paving the way for more international competition.
 
The United States once dominated the sport, claiming 11 medals at the 1984 Games. In recent years, however, the U.S. has faltered, failing to take home a medal since 2004. A major comeback is expected for 2012, following a strong performance at the Olympic trials that won nine fighters a spot on team.
 
It's a big year for female boxers too, who have not previously competed at the Olympics. Women in the U.S. were banned from the sport until 1993, when a teenage girl from Washington state won a lawsuit against USA Boxing, forcing the group to lift its ban. It took another 16 years before the IOC would agree to allow women to box in the Olympics. Three women from the U.S. will compete in London.

What it takes:
Amateur boxing is not the bombastic, celebrity-studded, Pay-Per-View slugfest of Mike Tyson or the fictional Rocky Balboa. Some amateur fighters boast that theirs is a sport of skill, while professional boxing, which features longer rounds, less protection and incentives for punishing blows, is a sport that puts more value on theatrics and brute force: bloody faces, the knock-out punch.

In men’s amateur Olympic boxing, athletes from the same weight class face off in three, three-minute rounds. Women fight four two-minute rounds. 

The objective is to land as many clean punches as possible and defend against the punches of an opponent. (Simply, hit the opponent, try not to get hit back.) 

A knock-out punch is not awarded any more points that any other punch. In professional boxing a fighter loses points for getting knocked out. Olympic amatuer boxers do not.

How you win:

Boxers receive a point per punch landed, as long as it’s legal (not below the belt, not blocked and with the force of the body and shoulder) and three out of five judges agree. Judges use electronic keypads to award points and computers can quickly tally consensus.

Judges can deduct points for fouls: Holding, kicking, hitting below the belt, hitting with anything other than the knuckle of the glove, using offensive language, acting aggressively or disobeying the referee.

Boxers win by earning the most points, recognized by the majority of judges, overall. They can also win if their opponent gives up, becomes too injured or ill to continue, fails to make weight before the match, or goes “down”—which could mean falling down, squatting down, putting their hands on the ground—for more than 8 seconds. 

What’s the lingo?

Bout: Same thing as a match, which consists of either three or four rounds.

Break: What the referee will yell if a boxer is holding or clinching the other fighter.

Clinch: When a boxer holds on to his or her opponent.

Combination: a series of simultaneous punches thrown by a boxer.

Counter-punch: a punch thrown in response to an opponent’s punch.

Jab: a straight, quick, snapping punch.

Stylist: A fighter who relies on skill and agility rather than powerful punches.

Weigh-in: A pre-fight requirement for all fighters to step on a scale and prove to officials that their weight falls within the same weight range as their opponent. 

More information
USA Boxing
Boxing at London 2012
NBC Olympic Boxing Coverage

 

 

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