Why are Boxing Rings Called Rings When They Are Square?

Matt H. asks: Why are boxing rings called that when they are actually square?

boxing-ringThe earliest known instances of fist fighting as a type of sport date back to around 4000 – 3000 BC, but these historical fights don’t resemble the boxing we know today. They seem to have leaned more toward the “anything goes” method of unarmed fighting. The modern form of more regimented bouts didn’t begin until the early 18th century.

At this time, boxing matches had no mandated boxing ring, no gloves, no referee, and no scantily clad women announcing the next round. Spectators tended to crowd around the fighters in a roughly circular ring, which may or may not have been drawn out on the ground before the match.   In 1713, Sir Thomas Parkyns described a typical match as including eye-gouging, choking, punching, head-butting and other such street fighting tactics.

This all changed when Jack Broughton developed the first set of formalized rules for boxing in 1743, with the goal of making boxing more of a civilized competition. The impetus for these rules came, in part, from Broughton’s defeat of George Stevenson, who suffered severe injuries and died a few days after the pair’s fight.

Saddened by the death of his competitor, Broughton wrote the “Broughton Rules” to minimize the harsher aspects of the sport, like forbidding striking below the belt, not allowing hitting a competitor when he was down and giving him 30 seconds to recover and continue the fight, lest he be declared the loser.

While it has been suggested that Broughton insisted on a squared off area to replace the ring of spectators, adoption of the official roped off square boxing ring didn’t appear until about a century later. This particular innovation was designed to protect the boxers from the fans who would often get too close to the fight and occasionally interfere in the old drawn circle rings.

Broughton Rules loosely governed most boxing matches for nearly a century before they were replaced by the London Prize Ring Rules in 1838. Notable to the topic at hand, among these new rules can be found the following:

That the ring shall be made on turf, and shall be four-and-twenty feet square, formed of eight stakes and ropes, the latter extending in double lines, the uppermost line being four feet from the ground, and the lower two feet from the ground. That in the centre of the ring a mark be formed, to be termed a scratch; and that at two opposite corners, as may be selected, spaces be enclosed by other marks sufficiently large for the reception of the seconds and bottle-holders, to be entitled ‘the corners.’

Although by these rules the boxing ring was no longer circular, the term ‘ring’ was so ingrained in boxing vernacular that it remained after the ring became square, sometimes being referred to as the “squared circle.”

The London Rules were further improved upon about three decades later by John Graham Chambers with his proposal in 1867 of the “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” (named in honor of boxing enthusiast John Douglas, the ninth Marquess of Queensberry) from which modern boxing rules are directly based. The primary changes from the London Rules revolved around requiring opponents to wear padded gloves, forbidding attacking and opponent with anything but one’s hands, requiring any competitor who was downed to get back up within 10 seconds or forfeit the match, and setting the rounds at three minutes with a one minute break in between.  As with the London Rules, the new rules continued to refer to the roped off area as a “ring” despite its actual shape.

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Bonus Facts:

  • The longest known boxing fight in history took place in New Orleans on Apr. 6, 1893, between Andy Bowen and Jack Burke. The fight was for the lightweight world title and lasted 111 rounds! After seven hours of brutal fighting, when the bell sounded for the 111th round, both fighters – dazed and exhausted- refused to come out of their corners and the referee ruled the bout as a no contest. So yes, after 111 rounds of using their bodies as punching bags, the contest ended in a tie.
  • Jack Marles, a London dentist, introduced the first mouth guard for boxers in 1902. At first, the safety measure to protect a fighter’s teeth and mouth was used only in training sessions. It wasn’t until 1913 that the first boxer wore one in an official fight. It didn’t take long for mouthpieces to catch on among boxing to reduce injuries to the teeth and mouth.
  • Until the mid-1700s, boxing was mostly of the bare-fisted variety. When Jack Broughton designed boxing gloves in the mid 1700s, he introduced them at his gym as training tools to reduce injuries to boxers’ hands and faces prior to official fights.
  • While many think that the introduction of boxing gloves made the sport safer, the opposite is true. Since the head is pretty much the hardest part of the body, punching it with a bare fist with extreme force is likely to cause damage to the fist. As such, bare-fisted fighters tended to concentrate on landing punches to softer parts of the body, thus sparing the head from being knocked around. The introduction of boxing gloves made the head a safer target to hit without causing damage to the hand. Even though a padded glove spreads the impact of the hit over a larger surface area and provides a small amount of cushion, it doesn’t spare the brain from being rattled.
  • In 1947, Hall of Fame boxer Sugar Ray Robinson was scheduled to fight Jimmy Doyle. During the eighth round of the fight, Robinson struck Doyle with a left hook, which knocked Doyle unconscious. 17 hours later, Doyle died from the head injury he sustained in the fight. According to an article published in the San Jose News on June 26, 1947, at the hospital, Robinson told their reporter, “Jeez, this is awful. For three days I’ve been afraid something like this would happen. I’ve been afraid ever since I had that dream.” The article went on to note that, “Sugar Ray explained that last Saturday night, as he slept at the home of a Cleveland friend, Rodgers Price, he dreamed that he was in the ring defending his title against Jimmy Doyle. In a heated exchange, he suddenly floored Doyle, and Doyle lay there on the canvas unable to rise.”  Robinson then stated, “I woke up in a cold sweat, yellin’ for Jimmy to get up – get up – get up! My yellin’ woke me up, I guess. And the sight of Jimmy lyin’ there on the canvas in the dream seemed so real that I had the jitters when I woke up. And I couldn’t go back to sleep. I just laid there, tossin’ around in bed. And I felt lousy the next day. And in the back of my mind I felt scared every time I thought about the coming fight.”
  • In the 1999 film “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington, the 1964 world championship bout between Rubin Carter and the former world middleweight champion, Joey Giardello, is portrayed such that Carter clearly won, but the racist judges ruled that Giardello won the match, becoming the world champion. However, the truth was that Giardello, a member of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame, dominated that fight and won fair and square. In a CNN interview shortly after the film’s release, Carter himself discussed this and confirmed that Giardello was the rightful victor of the match, despite what was shown in the movie. This creative liberty taken by the film makers resulted in Giardello suing them. They ultimately settled out-of-court with Giardello for an undisclosed sum.
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  • Ragnarredbeard

    I think the reason we use a square and not a circle is that the circle may be harder to construct. The square is pretty easy, 4 corner posts and some ropes is all you really need. A circle would require more posts and more work to setup.

  • David Clark

    “Squared” circle, I’m pretty sure.

    I know. Picky, picky.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @David Clark: You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. Fixed. 🙂