2 months ago. Mar 7, 2021, 1:08 AM
I'M BACK, BITCHES!
Yeah, I was gone for quite a while. Had things to meet, people to do. But I dearly, dearly missed writing dissertations on random, non-kinky shit for a BDSM site. So, here we are.
Today, we're talking about something very, very near and dear to my heart. The wholesome, family friendly tradition of two men gathering a crowd of people so that they can watch those men beat each other into unconsciousness.
Boxing is... weird. Culturally, I mean. The average person's image of boxing is American boxing. The shorts, the red gloves, the ring (called 'the ring' despite being four sided. We'll get to that). "But how did we get there? How did boxing start? Does it involve gay wrestling?" I can answer all of these questions, dear reader. And yes, it does involve gay wrestling.
Unsurprising to anyone who's met a human being, we have a penchant for violence, and the commodification of violence as a sport goes back pretty damn far. The oldest living depiction of such comes from Sumer, the earliest pillar of what would be Mesopotamia, the earliest recorded human civilization. The reliefs depicting this precedentary pugilism are, ya know, three damn thousand years old, and Father Time loves vandalizing shit, so it's not 100% clear what the circumstances are behind the images in these reliefs. But it's kinda hard to misinterpret the image of two men with hands wrapped in cloth punching each other in the face. Some historians claim that the Sumerians had a kind of duel system present in their society, where you could settle beef with your neighbor by squaring up and throwing hands. But, I can't find any literary source on this, so I'm pretty sure those guys are just trying to sound like they have the answer because if they don't, it's a threat to their ego as "smartest guy in the room". Weirdoes, just go to therapy already.
Moving on from insecure historians, our next major point in history is Ancient Greece. I'd like to point out that contests of hand-to-hand prowess pop up in almost every civilization in the world, but it's typically a minor sport with minimal patronage or investment. We'll be focusing on points of history where it was a major thing.
Oh, the Greeks had a vested interest in the sport of two big, burly men slamming into each other? Please, contain your shock, I know.
Greek boxing took the form of pankration, a boxing-wrestling mixed style of fighting, the grandfather of modern MMA. Contestants fought naked (this is the Greeks, after all), with the goal of either driving their opponent into unconsciousness, pushing them out of the ring's boundaries, or pressuring them into surrender with submission holds. So... yeah, gay MMA. I don't know what you were expecting when I said "Greek", but it should've been this.
What makes pankration notable is that it was BIG. Like, a sport in the first Olympics levels of BIG. Chariot racing was the main line event of sports in the Greek world, but pankration fought tooth and goddamned nail (hehehe, see what I did there?) to take that crown, and at certain points in Greek history, the ledgers of bookies handling bets would suggest it came close on several occasions. This is the first time in history we see boxing in any form take the center stage of a nation's sporting events, the first time we're drawing *massive* crowds to an event like this. We'll see this again soon.
Next up is 13th Century Russia.
The sport itself doesn't really change form, outside of losing the wrestling aspect from Greek pankration. Dudes, punching, wrapped hands, we get it. What it does have is Kulachniy Boy, the Russian name for their boxing sport, and what makes Kulachniy Boy special is that, while they did have 1-on-1 matches, the much more popular form took the place of straight up Team Deathmatch. Two teams of five dudes lined up in walls facing each other, and the team to push the other out of the ring won. Fuckin' sick.
We see a drop in interest for the sport of pugilism after the Fall of Rome, but as European society marched on and civilized men had to find *some* way to exercise those violent tendencies, we see a massive spike in fist-fighting as a sport in 18th century London.
Pugilism first starts to rear its head as a sport in the mid-to-late 1600's, but it really ignites after the turn of the century. Side note: where the term "boxing" actually comes from is totes unknown, but the most dominant theory is that it started here. To keep the fight from spilling all over the place, fighting pits had to be made. I don't know if you've ever tried your hand at carpentry, but with flat boards of wood, building a square is much easier than most other shapes. The early rings were boxed shape, so... "boxers". Look, I never said these guys were very creative, okay? You take that many left hooks to the dome, see if you can think of something better.
What makes English pugilism of note isn't just its popularity, but its advancement of safety. In 1743, champion pugilist Jack Broughton introduced a set of rules and regulations to help protect participants. Chief among them was the down-count. If a fighter went down and couldn't recover in 30 seconds, the round was over. Turns out, that prevents a *lot* of brain damage. In practice, this made for a wildly different sport from what we see today. The number of rounds for a match could easily hit 20+, with a scant few hitting triple digits, as no actual limit to the number of rounds or a score system was in place. Fighters in need of a quick breather could drop to a knee, and get a few seconds to recover before getting back up. Y'know those soccer players who fake injuries just to take up the clock? Yeah, this is the boxing equivalent of that. No one would do anything about it for a hundred years.
In 1838, the London Prize Ring Rules were introduced by... somebody. I'll be real, I can't find a source on who wrote this ruleset. I guess whoever wrote them wasn't cool enough to be remembered. The rules themselves are long AS FUCK, and incredibly intricate and well thought out. This is where we first see the banning of 'dirty fighting' (ie, headbutting, eye gouging, kicks to the groin), the disqualification of a fighter for certain behavior (prior to this, if you lost, but walked out before the ref could call it, the match was called as a draw. Bullshit, right?), and the establishment of rules as to what shape and size a ring needed to be (in less official matches, the starting line could be drawn in such a position that one fighter would have his back fully against a wall of the ring, which may or may not have had pointed nails driven through it. Brutal). 1838 marks where we see the arrival of what we'd identify as modern boxing. In 1867, this gets cemented by the Marquess of Queensbury ruleset. Published by a welsh sportsman named John Chambers and financed by the eponymous lady, these rules were pretty much the same as the LPRR, with the exception of reducing the down-count to ten seconds from thirty, and requiring some type of glove. No glove, no horrible long term brain damage. That's a substitute for love to boxers.
From here, Western boxing hasn't really changed much since. With the march of technology, we've developed more protective gloves, mouth guards, boots and mats that help mitigate damage to joints, but the sport itself hasn't changed much. Now, for the most part, boxing and its derivatives dominate in America. Because we're just like that. Parallel to pugilism, modern MMA arose from martial arts circles, and has come to occupy a similar slot in public perceptions (Look at that sentence, I'm a fucking master of alliteration).
This has been pretty heavily focused on American and European fighting traditions. While I'd *love* to go on about the fighting traditions of other parts of the world so that everyone can get the spotlight, this is already longer than Andre the Giant's gastro-intestinal tract, so instead of my world famous quippy humor, I'll leave everyone with links to good reading on the traditions of other parts of the world.
Dambe, a martial art originating from the Hausa people of West Africa: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dambe
Muay Thai, MMA's cousin from Thailand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muay_Thai
Silat, another southeast Asian fighting style that sees commodification at times, and has pretty deep ties to several religious practices: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silat
Jiu-Jitsu, a Japanese martial art that migrated to South America, especially Brazil, and sees continuous popularity as a spectator sport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_jiu-jitsu