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Was Boxing Ever Banned?

Last Updated: 05.07.22


Was Boxing Ever Banned?

Boxing is more than a simple full-contact sport that teaches you how to punch right and how to protect yourself from wounds by wearing protective boxing headgear. It teaches you discipline, patience, and how to anticipate your opponent’s next moves. If you have decided to pick up this sport or simply learn more about its history, here is everything you need to know.


Short history

With a tumultuous history of over 5,000 years, boxing is considered one of the oldest sports in the world. Unlike other sports, boxing most likely developed from the need of people to defend themselves, and this is why we cannot credit a single person or an exact moment in the ancient history when it appeared.

However, the first written proof of boxing as a prize competition can be found in Ancient Greece, in Homer’s work, “Iliad”. This sport increased in popularity in the Roman Empire, peaking with the famous gladiator fights in the arenas. It continued to remain well-known and a source of revenues for the poor ones until the Middle Ages.

From the beginning of the 11th century until the 13-14th century, the majority of the European countries were influenced by the powerful Catholic Church, that imposed many rules and forced people to act a certain way. Boxing was no longer seen as an interesting sport and was abjured, alongside other customs and beliefs dating from ancient times.

It regained some of its former glory during the Renaissance in Europe, with England remaining the main territory where it was taught and performed. Boxing continued to increase in popularity in the following centuries and was even considered the quintessence of an Englishman.

The first boxing rules were created at the end of the 18th century which also coincides with the birth of the professional boxing schools throughout England and Ireland.  

Boxing in the United States

The sport was imported in the United States from England at the end of the 1700s when more and more athletes tried to find new battle opportunities away from the saturated European markets of boxers. A century later, the United States became the worldwide center of professional boxing, maintaining this position until present times.

Back to the 1800s, the sport increased in popularity in the largest cities of the United States, including Boston, New Orleans, and New York City.


Was boxing ever banned?

As we previously mentioned, the history of boxing throughout the world is filled with controversies. It was initially illegal in the United States but many fights were held in secret to prevent arrests and jail time.

At the end of the 19th century, American society meets the muscular Christianity movement, a religious sect that soon becomes the advocate of boxing. The sect considered that such sports increased the physical and moral characters of people, and this is why they were encouraged.

The former boxing rules were tougher and the main concern regarding boxing until the beginning of the 20th century was related to the safety of the players. Many of them ended up severely injured and even died after boxing matches, and this is why the sport was considered illegal.

Bare-knuckle boxing was the only form of the sport practiced at that time, and John Sullivan became the first American champion of the heavyweight category, back in 1882. Ten years later, after the former rules were ditched in the favor of hand gloves, Sullivan became champion again.

Soon after, at the beginning of the 1900s, Jack Johnson became the first black person to win the heavyweight boxing championship. The title brought Johnson great exposure, especially due to his race, which helped boxing increase in popularity amongst the working class.

However, segregation and racism remained some of the biggest concerns of American society well until the 1960s.


Boxing and the Prohibition

Right after the end of World War I, the United States faced another big concern – alcohol consumption was getting out of hand and was beginning to affect the economy. Together with family violence and political corruption, often covered by saloons, alcohol consumption became a true problem of modern society that needed to be eradicated.

Therefore, the US Government issued a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale and production of alcoholic beverages starting from 1920 and lasting until 1933. Fights, including boxing, were often associated with saloon-like behavior, political corruption, and alcohol abuse, so it faced numerous critiques from society in the following years.

Obviously, the sport fell once more in the eyes of supporters and fans, being replaced with other leisure activities that were considered nobler by the upper classes.

Muhammad Ali and the beginning of a new era in boxing

Professional boxing didn’t start rising again until the 1940s, although the National Boxing Association had been founded two decades earlier, in 1921, with the goal of creating more rules in the field and sanctioning title fights.

After the long years of the Great Prohibition were over, the national economy started growing, boosted by the constant technological breakthroughs and inventions. After the end of World War II, in the 1950s, television became popular throughout the country and helped boxing regain its spotlight amongst the most popular American sports.

Professional boxing matches were relatively cheap to produce and were 100% real, which helped people connect more with the sport and feel the intense vibrations as if they were in the ring themselves.

The face of boxing was finally changed in the 1960s and the 1970s, where Muhammad Ali transformed America’s perception of professional boxers once and for all. Although he wasn’t the first Afro-American boxing champion, Muhammad Ali managed to knock out most of the racist comments and the general distrust on the Afro-American community in the US.

His tremendous contribution to the boxing industry remained his legacy and inspired thousands of success stories coming from all racial groups, all over the world. Muhammad Ali managed to turn professional boxing into a multi-billion industry, giving fighters around the world a clean chance of changing their lives for good. As a result, boxing continues to be a highly popular sport in the United States, fifty years later.



The history of boxing is full of ups and downs throughout the centuries and it finally seemed to reach a balance in the past few decades. The original forms of boxing were both acclaimed and condemned because they were considered too violent.

Until the 1960s, boxing was a very popular sport in the American schools but, even though the rules changed for the better for players, it seems to have lost its original shine. Although it wasn’t actually banned from schools, boxing was replaced by other sports and activities, including swimming or soccer.

Looking at a national level, boxing became more popular in the past few decades and attracted many viewers and fans from all age categories and social backgrounds, meaning it is no longer considered a sport that mainly pleases the working class or, on the contrary, the elites.





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