Many of the world's greatest fighters have competed in an Olympic Boxing tournament, showcasing the ‘noble art’.
Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"
We will show you the rules and highlights of boxing in one minute. Whether you are familiar with boxing or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.
Two athletes square up to each other in a ring, and victory is gained by the athlete who more successfully lands blows to their opponent's head and torso. This is a simple summary of a sport that featured at the ancient Olympic Games in the 7th century BC, when opponents fought with strips of leather wrapped around their fists.
At that time, boxing matches would continue ‘until the opponent concedes or loses consciousness’ and at various times the sport was banned for being excessively brutal. In Great Britain during the 19th century, boxing was formalised with rules that included the wearing of gloves. Since then, boxers have become renowned for their sporting demeanour, with opponents showing immense respect for each other's courage and physical commitment.
Boxing has featured at all modern Olympic Games since St. Louis 1904, with the exception of Stockholm 1912. Women's events were a popular addition to the programme at London 2012. At Tokyo 2020, women will compete for gold in five weight divisions, from fly (51kg) to middle (75kg), and men in eight divisions, from fly (51kg) to super heavy (91+ kg).
The sport is hugely popular worldwide and many boxers who competed at the Olympic Games have gone on to gain global fame — none more so than the late Muhammad Ali (United States). Ali won gold in the light-heavyweight division at the Rome 1960 Games under the name Cassius Clay and became one of the most recognised and respected men on the planet.
Until Rio 2016, only amateurs were permitted to participate in the Olympic Games. This restriction is now no longer the case.
- Fly (48-52kg)
- Feather (52-57kg)
- Light (57-63kg)
- Welter (63-69kg)
- Middle (69-75kg)
- Light Heavy (75-81kg)
- Heavy (81-91kg)
- Super Heavy (+91kg)
- Fly (48-51kg)
- Feather (54-57kg)
- Light (57-60kg)
- Welter (64-69kg)
- Middle (69-75kg)
Essence of the Sport
Hit and avoid being hit
An Olympic Boxing match for both men and women lasts three rounds, each of three minutes. Five judges sit at the side of the ring. They watch the bout and individually award points for what they deem to be successful hits.
In addition, the referee can end a match if the difference between the fighters is such that the match should not continue or if a doctor indicates the match should be stopped.
A match can also end if a competitor receives three warnings (penalties) and is disqualified or if a competitor is unable to resume a fight within ten seconds, in which case they are considered knocked out (‘KO’).
Although the aim and rules of boxing are simple, the fighting styles of its competitors are wide-ranging and distinctive. This is what makes boxing such a fascinating and exciting sport to watch.
A heavy-hitting boxer seeking to pile on heavy punches may be matched against an opponent with a sound defence who will wait for their rival to tire before striking decisively. Some will want to fight at close-quarters, others from distance. All athletes must take care to pace themselves, and some will demonstrate superb footwork to move around the ring and hit hard if their opponent's defences fall.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
Fighting for gold
The Rio 2016 Boxing programme comprised ten men's and three women's weight divisions. At Tokyo 2020, greater gender equality will be achieved with a programme of eight men's and five women's divisions.
The most consistently successful countries in boxing have been the United States and Cuba. Between them they have won approximately one-third of all gold medals and many of their fighters have gone on to great achievements in the professional arena.
For a comparatively small nation, Cuba's record at the Games is remarkable. At Moscow 1980, Teofilo Stevenson made Olympic history by becoming the first boxer to earn the gold medal in the same division three times. Cuban boxers then went on to win no fewer than 19 gold medals at the four Games between Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004.
Medallists in women's boxing have so far all come from Europe and the United States. However, women's boxing is still developing around the world and other nations which reached the podium at London 2012 and Rio 2016, including the People's Republic of China, India and Kazakhstan, will be seeking gold in Tokyo.
An additional element of uncertainty is the possibility of wider participation by professional boxers in the Tokyo programme. This could be a further significant development in a sport that is constantly evolving.
Even if you're not knocked to the floor, if the fighter is taking too much punishment, focus starts to blur and is too battered to continue, the referee can declare a knockdown.