Boxing Basics Tutorial









Just a casual fan, or new to following the sport? If so, are you confused about the difference between a jab and a straight right, or about what a split decision is? Here's our primer on some of boxing's fundamentals, the terms commonly used on this site and answers to the questions we get most often from those who don't follow the sport religiously. (For a more comprehensive lesson, there are plenty of educational sites available via a basic web search of the phrase "boxing terminology.")

Kinds of Punches: A jab is a quick, straight punch that a boxer usually throws with his off-hand and is commonly used to set up other, more powerful blows. The other three basic punches — the cross/straight, the hook and the uppercut — are all categorized as "power punches." The cross or straight, as in "right cross" or "straight right," is a straight blow delivered by the boxer's stronger hand. Hooks and uppercuts can come from either fist. Hooks arc in from the side. Uppercuts arc up from below. Any variety of punches thrown in sequence are called "combinations."

Boxing Scoring: Fights are scored by what is called the "10-point must system," where rounds are evaluated by a panel of three judges who make their determination of which boxer got the better of each round. They make their determination based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, which fighter was in control and, sometimes, defense, although some judges favor some of those criteria more than others. The subjectivity of judging sometimes leads to controversial results. Judges give the winner of each round 10 points, while the loser is given nine points. The three scorecards are tallied at the end of the fight to determine a victor, unless there is a knockout (when a boxer hits the ground from a punch and cannot rise before the count of 10) or a technical knockout (when the fight is stopped either by a referee who has determined one boxer has taken too much punishment, or it is stopped by a fighter or his corner for whatever reason). A fighter who is knocked down by a punch in any round is docked one point for each knockdown. Fouls, such as headbutts or punches below the belt, can lead a referee to dock points from a fighter as well, and such fouls can sometimes lead to one fighter being disqualified, whereupon the other fighter is awarded the victory. If, at the end of the fight, all the judges' scorecards agree on the victor, it is a "unanimous decision" win. When one judge disagrees with the other two on who is the victor, it is called a "split decision" win. When all three judges score the fight a tie, it is a draw; when two judges disagree on the winner and the third considers it a tie, it is also a draw. A "majority draw" results when two judges consider the bout a tie and the third judge picked a victor. Other results are extremely rare.

Weight Classes: There are 17 different weight classes, or divisions, in professional boxing. Weight classes are necessary because it is a rare 112-pound boxer who can defeat a 175-pound boxer, although there is criticism about the sheer number of pro boxing divisions. To fight in a specific division, a boxer must weigh no more than the limit for that division the day before the fight; in order for a fight to be considered a junior welterweight fight, for instance, both boxers must weigh 140 lbs. or less one day prior to the event. The only exception is heavyweight, for which there is no upper limit to how much a fighter can weigh. Each division and its weight limit is listed in the left hand column of the homepage and the individual blog entries. Complicating matters is "catchweight" — a term used for fights between two boxers who agree to battle at a maximum weight that is different from the limits of any of the traditional divisional limits. This is done sometimes when one fighter is comfortable at one weight class and the other is comfortable at another.

Champions vs. Belt-holders: Once upon a time, there was only one champion who held one title belt per weight class. Now there are multiple belts per weight class dealt out by a variety of organizations and little common agreement on what constitutes the championship. It is extremely confusing to the casual fan. On this site, we tend to ignore the various title belts, since what matters most is good fights, but we make occasional reference to them. The emphasis used to be on the Ring magazine belt, since the magazine attempts to mimic the days of one champion per weight class. The magazine has since changed its policy for the worse. The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board has stepped into the void to track true, lineal boxing champions. The only way to become champion is to beat the previous champion, or in the event of a vacancy, for the #1 and #2 fighters to meet in a box-off. The other organizations that hand out belts — called sanctioning organizations, the four most prominent of which are the WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF — have considerably more haphazard policies. We refer to the owners of the sanctioning organization belts as titlists, title-holders or belt-holders, but not as champions. All of the organizations have a means whereby a boxer can become the mandatory challenger to the belt-holder, and the belt-holder can be stripped of his belt for not fighting a mandatory challenger.

Pound-For-Pound: "Pound-for-pound" is a term used to describe the best active fighters, regardless of their weight. Many boxing observers maintain lists of their pound-for-pound best boxers, from the writers for this site to Ring magazine to fans who keep their own. It has no official value, but being considered a "pound-for-pound" great by a majority of boxing fans offers considerable reputational burnish. That said, it is purely a subjective measurement, and different observers use different standards to determine the pound-for-pound best, with common factors including career achievements, recent wins, overall skill and talent, potential and even an estimate of which fighter would beat every other fighter if all boxers weighed the same. Some consider the exercise silly and pointless, however.

How Fights Get Made: Unlike in a lot of sports, there is no set schedule of events in boxing, nor one governing body that absolutely decides who fights whom. Fighters, then, largely fight when they want to, against whom they want to, although their managers, promoters and television networks often will push fighters in a certain direction. When boxers take risks and fight the best possible opponents, the sport is very healthy. When boxers decide to play it safe and avoid dangerous opponents, the sport is at its worst. The most important incentive to making a fight is money, so fighters who are difficult to beat but don't have big fan bases are frequently avoided opponents, although most boxers also thrive on confronting new challenges. (Young boxing prospects often pick opponents for a different reason — learning experience against different styles and abilities.) Televised fights bring the most money, since networks like HBO pay a licensing fee for each fight that goes toward enriching boxers' purses. When two boxers want to fight one another, they enter contract negotiations, usually represented by their promoters — whose job it is to gin up interest in fights — and managers — whose job it is to steer boxers' careers. The boxer who is the bigger proven ticket-seller, who generates the highest television ratings or who has demonstrated the ability to produce more pay-per-view buys generally has the upper hand in contract negotiations and ends up getting the bigger split of revenues. Sometimes there are provisions in the contract tied to pay-per-view sales revenues, but rarely other factors, such as an after-the-fact award of purse splits based on who wins or loses the fight. Fights are made one other major way: Sanctioning organizations like the WBO frequently order their title-holders to fight the sanctioning organization-designated "mandatory" challenger or risk having their belts stripped. Ideally, mandatory challengers climb the rankings and win their designation on merit, but many of the sanctioning organizations have a history of corruption, and although incidents of such corruption have rarely surfaced in recent years, it is often the case that mandatory challengers do not deserve their title shots and appear to benefit from some kind of political connection to the sanctioning organization that has awarded them their status, such as hailing from the same country where the sanctioning organization is headquartered. When a title-holder and mandatory challenger agree to fight, revenue splits are agreed to in advance or otherwise promoters issue "purse bids" in an attempt to gain control of the rights to promote the bout and pay the fighters and share in any profits the fight makes.