The word” boxing” applies to “scientific” first fighting (in which gloves are worn and other definite rules are obeyed) rather than to uncontrolled brawling.  The Greeks, who accounted for their invention of boxing by saying that it was inspires by the gods, used light gloves and wore belts to indicate the demarcation to line for foul blows.  The Romans added blood and sadism to the sport by adopting the spiked and weighted glove they called the cestus.  Fist fighting virtually disappeared as a popular spectator sport until about the 17th century, when it was revived in the form of the bare-knuckle blood bath that was called “pugilism” and that tended more to the Romans’ idea of a good fight than the Greeks’: In 18th century Britain, the fourth Duke of Queensberry is recorded as having bet 1000 guineas to 500 guineas that, if the fight he was watching continued for another 10 rounds, nobody would be able  to put a sovereign on the floor without its being smeared with blood.

Above an Egyptian copy of a Roman statue of two wrestlers.  In antiquity, wrestling had a high reputation as a sport; today, a profession match (left) is usually a rehearsed entertainment, and most bookmakers will refuse to accept bets on the outcome.

Professional boxing matches are occastionally “fixed” as awash the 1909 fight for the world heavy weight championship between America’s Jack Johnson and Steve ketchel Johnson agreed to allow ketchel to last the full 20 rounds; but in the 12th round Ketchel double crossed Johnson and began fighting in earnest, taking Johnson by surprise .  Johnson recovered, and retaliated by knocking Ketchel out.

The Queens berry rules (which helped to transform pugilism into modern boxing) were not the invention of the fourth duke, but of the eighth marquis, who drew them up in 1867. They were revised in 1890 and again in 1923.  Today the basic rules call for the use of padded gloves, a “ring” between 12 and 24 feet square, and “rounds” of from two to three minutes duration with rests of 30 seconds or one minute, and they forbid wrestling, holding, or foul blows (which include those with the open glove and with the shoulder or elbow as well as those below the belt).  There are variations in the rules in many countries: In America a slightly bigger ring than the European one is used, and in France the sport shows the influence of the old French fighting game savate, in which kicking as well as hitting is allowed.  But most of the major fights (for European or world championships) are fought under an agreed set of rules based on Queensberry’s.

A championship fight, especially in the heavyweight division, is an event that reverberates (literally, in these days of radio and television commentaries) far beyond the world of sport.  As with the Derby, people who otherwise never bet difficult to find someone to take a bet, in spite of the fact that gambling on boxing (as on most spectator sports, for that matter is illegal in a great many parts of the world.

In the 18th century a would-be bettor would simply have asked the fighters’ seconds, who acted as distributors for bookmakers’ pamphlets specifying the odds and the limit on bets.  In England today a bettor could lay his bet with a bookmaker in a betting shop; but in, say France or America he would have to search out a bookmakers’ agent –a member of a profession that in these countries is necessarily on the fringe of the underworld.  Bars, barber shops, or newsstands might be good places for the inexperienced gambler to begin his search; but the ringside itself is still the best place to find the bookies and get your money down (though, at all times, discreetly).
Illegality or no, the bookmakers must on the average do pretty well.  Gambling on boxing is big business.  For example, when Italay’s primo Carnera defeated America’s jack Sharkey in 1933 for the heavyweight title, Mussolini complained that the money bet on Carnera in America alone was worth the equivalent of a year’s export crop of Italian peaches.  And in 1946 (a year when, among other things, the great American Negro champion Joe Louis successfully defended his heavyweight crown twice, against Billy Conn and T. Mauriello) the year’s betting in American on all boxing totaled $ 500,000,000.

I quote these figures from some years ago because recently (though the book-makers have by no means been put out of business)  Gambling on Boxing has experienced something of a decline.  More up-to-date figures are less impressive:  since 1960, for instance, the yearly betting total on American boxing has been less than $ 20,000,000.  The boxing pundits believe that the influence of television has contributed to this decline.  People apparently prefer to stay home and watch the fights, and thus miss the opportunity for ringside betting.  Some commentators suggest that more fixing of fights goes on than is admitted, and that this form of cheating is one of the causes of the decreased interest in boxing as an opportunity for online gambling.  But only a few fixes come to light, as far as the general public is concerned , and then usually long after the event.

In recent times, for instance, the French champion Georges Carpentier admitted in his autobiography that his ignominious defeat by Siki in 1922 was fixed.  Carpentier was paid the equivalent of about $ 4000 to “carry” Siki (i.e., to hold back so that Siki would seem to be putting up a good fight) before taking the victory.  But Carpentier carried his opponent too far; Siki unexpectedly floored him and took the title.

Ernest Hemingway’s famous short story “Fifty Grand” describes in fictional form a case of fixing that is unlikely to be as fictional as it pretends.  It is the story of a boxer called jack Brennan, a miser by nature, who deliberately backs his opponent, Jimmy Walcott, with $ 50,000 to win.  It is not so easy, however, for Brennan to want to lose and at the same time to pretend to strive for success.  Walcott is informed of the plan by a couple of double-crossers and tries a similar plan himself.  In the fight, Walcott delivers a foul blow that would give Brennan the victory; but Brennan refuses to acknowledge the blow as foul, battles on in agony, and himself delivers a foul blow that loses him the fight.  “It’s funny how fast you can think when it means that much money ,” is his comment as he lies in his dressing room.

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