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The distance (boxing)

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The distance (boxing)

The distance, in boxing, refers to the full number of rounds in boxing matches. It is frequently used in the expression "going the distance," which means fighting a full bout without being knocked out.[1] If a match goes the distance without a knockout or other decision, then it is either a draw or a decision on points.

In title fights, this is called "the championship distance," which today usually means 12 rounds (See history section),[2] though there were some ten-round championship matches. Non-title fights can be of any length under 12 rounds but are typically 10 rounds or fewer. Women's championship boxing is ten rounds or fewer, each round lasting 2 minutes instead of 3 for men.


In the early days of bare-knuckle boxing, there was no limit on the number of rounds and so matches would be fought to a conclusion (i.e. with a knockout or tap out). For example, the match between Simon Byrne and James 'Deaf' Burke in 1833 lasted 3¼ hours.[3] Subsequently, laws and rules were passed to prevent such protracted bouts. When John L. Sullivan made boxing under Queensbury rules with gloved hands popular, his matches were of a pre-determined length and the referee would decide the winner if they went the distance.[4] If a match reached the prescribed limit without a formal result then the result would be "no-decision", though one boxer might be considered the winner by popular acclaim—a "newspaper win." To regulate such results better, official judges were appointed to award points so that technical winner could be determined.[5] For a period, titles in many US states could not be lost if the match went the distance.[6]

For amateur boxing, the Amateur Boxing Association of England set rules for the length of a match when it was formed in 1880. Initially there were three rounds of 3 minutes with a break of 1 minute between them. Changes were made in 1926 and 1997 and most recently, in 2000, the International Boxing Association made it four rounds of two minutes each.[3]

Championships shortened

In professional boxing, until the 1980s, the "championship distance" generally referred to the title rounds that numbered between 13 and 15.[7][8] For decades, the last heavyweight title match scheduled for less than 15 rounds had been the September 22, 1927 10-rounder between [7] Almost immediately, the World Boxing Council (WBC) issued a statement saying that WBC world title bouts would be set for 12 rounds.[9]

The following year on March 27, 1983, the first ever heavyweight title fight scheduled for 12 rounds under that rule was held by the WBC between [10] by voting to reduce their championship distances to 12 rounds on October 19, 1987.[11] While the International Boxing Federation, which had recently broken away from the WBA, continued to hold onto the position there was no documented medical evidence to show a 15-round fight is more dangerous than a 12-round fight, they eventually voted to shorten their championship distance to 12 rounds as well on June 3, 1988.[12]

The last heavyweight 15-rounder title fight was a on October 16, 1987 between Mike Tyson and Tyrell Biggs.[2][13] The last middleweight 15-rounder title fight was a World Boxing Board title match on June 7, 1997 in which Jose Alfredo Flores won a split decision over Eric Holland in Ruidoso, New Mexico.[14]

In recent years, there have been calls to return the championship distance to 15 rounds.[2][8][9] For example, the debate following the Bernard Hopkins-Jermain Taylor fight on July 16, 2005 questioned whether Taylor, who was "losing steam" in the later rounds, would have won the title match were it a 15-round bout.[9]

Distance change criticisms

The shift from a 15-round to a 12-round distance for title fights has been controversial. There have been studies which show that the brain becomes more susceptible to damage after the 12th round.[10] Moreover, it has been argued that the 15-round distance greatly increased the risk of dehydration and exhaustion.[15]

However, "purists" of the sport have contended that the shift from 15 rounds to 12 rounds has impacted viewership of the sport.[15] Moreover, Frank Lotierzo, a critic of the 12-round limit, pointed out that fatalities are rare in heavyweight matches, instead attributing deaths to dehydration from the pressure of "making weight" for lower weight classes:[2]

"In my opinion, the reason that you hardly ever see fatalities in the heavyweight division is because the big guys don't have to make weight. In many cases, fighters under 150 pounds dehydrate themselves shedding those last few pounds too [sic] make weight. This leaves them vulnerable to brain injuries with a lack a fluid around their skull protecting the brain from crashing against it when they are hit. I believe this is more of a danger than fighters fighting 15 rounds. If I'm wrong, someone please explain why we rarely see heavyweights being killed in the ring? You would think most boxing fatalities would occur in the heavyweight division since they are clearly the most powerful punchers."

Lotierzo also argues that part of the motivation for a 12-round limit was not so much for safety, but to allow the matches to appear on network television.[2] Previously, the timing of boxing involved 15 three-minute rounds with 14 one-minute intervals between each round, the preamble, and post-fight interviews—requiring around 70–75 minutes; in contrast, a 12-round bout lasts 47 minutes, which fits neatly into a one-hour time slot when pre- and post-fight programming and commercials are added in.[16] However, by the 1990s, championship boxing had been almost exclusively become a premium pay-television (HBO, Showtime, pay-per-view) sport, meaning no commercials were necessary, and making that irrelevant.

Nonetheless, it has been noted that these rule changes have made certain kinds of boxing deaths far rarer, though boxing remains the 8th most deadly sport with 1.3 deaths per 100,000 participants.[10]

Speculation regarding change

It has been argued that "some of the greatest moments in sports would never have occurred" were the 12-round limit imposed in earlier matches.[8] Nonetheless, entirely different strategies might have been used were the fights scheduled for only 12 rather than 15 rounds, so it is possible that some or all matches could have ended the same way regardless of whether the scheduled distance were 12 or 15 rounds.

The following are some of the most notable longer championship distances, including the Fight of the Century, that would have had the reverse result were they abruptly ended after the 12th round:

  • June 18, 1941: Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn — In this heavyweight championship match, Conn, the light-heavyweight titleholder, challenged Louis, the defending champion. Leading on all three scorecards, Conn would have captured the title were the bout only 12 rounds long, which might have prevented Louis from retaining the title by knocking out Conn[8] with a six-punch barrage in the 13th round.[2]
  • June 17, 1954: Rocky Marciano vs. Ezzard Charles — For much of the match, it appeared that Charles would become the first former champion to regain the heavyweight crown. However, in each of the final rounds Marciano unleashed three-minute non-stop striking combinations, earning a close but unanimous victory over Charles. Had this been 12 rounds, Marciano would not have become, to this day, the only heavyweight champion to have finished his career undefeated.[8] Charles also became the only man ever to last the full 15-round distance against Marciano.[17]
  • July 13, 1966: Emile Griffith vs. Joey Archer — Had this middleweight championship not gone the 15-round distance, the title would have been captured by Archer, but the defender outlasted and wore down Archer to retain it in the end.[8]
  • March 8, 1971: Fight of the Century (Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali) — It has been argued that the apparent outcome of the match was reversed after "one of histories [sic] greatest left-hooks ever," which was thrown in the 15th round.[2]
  • September 16, 1981: Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns — In what has been called "the biggest and most anticipated fight in welterweight history,"[2] Leonard was behind Hearns after the 12th round, though rallying to win in the 14th.
  • November 12, 1982: Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Argüello - In what was ultimately named "The Fight of the 1980s", former three weight champion Alexis Argüello moved up to challenge for undefeated Aaron Pryor's Light Welterweight championship. In what would prove to be a brilliant ebb and flow fight, the slicker, smaller puncher, Arguello, was ahead after 12 rounds. However, in between the 13th and 14th rounds, Pryor's head trainer Panama Lewis was heard to ask for "another bottle...the one I mixed". Any drink but water has been strictly regulated since the Marquess of Queensbury rules were introduced in the 1800s. Rumors abound that the new bottle contained anything from Schnapps, to Alka Seltzer, PCP or an anti-asthma drug that opens the sinus cavities. Whatever the case, a suddenly revived Pryor stormed out of the corner and landed punch after punch on Arguello ultimately ending the Nicaraguan's bid to become a four weight champion. Had the fight only gone 12 rounds, it is argued that Arguello would probably be considered among the top three or four fighters of all-time.

It has also been argued that extra rounds would have changed the following fights:

  • April 6, 1987: Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard — Before the match, it was believed that Leonard's decision to challenge Hagler, the World Middleweight Champion, was a dangerous mistake that seemed destined to result in "a brutal knockout loss."[8] However, Leonard prevented Hagler from scoring by repeatedly dodging Hagler's heavy hits for the surprising upset victory by points. It was noted that Leonard was clearly more exhausted by the tactic than Hagler towards the final rounds and might not have been able to maintain his point lead for 15 rounds.[8]
  • July 16, 2005: Bernard Hopkins vs. Jermain Taylor I — The debate following the fight raised the question of whether Taylor, who was "losing steam" in the later rounds, would have won the title match were it a 15-round bout.[9]

Popular culture

The notion of "going the distance" is featured prominently in the 1976 film Rocky in which Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed fight 15 rounds for the World Heavyweight Championship.[18] Rocky says,

Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Creed (Carl Weathers) nearly go the distance again in their rematch in 1979's Rocky II, as do Rocky and Ivan Drago in their showdown in Rocky IV. Balboa's final fight against Mason "The Line" Dixon in Rocky Balboa lasts the maximum of 10 rounds.

Balboa's use of the term has also inspired its use in other works.


  1. ^ "go the distance 1. (boxing) to complete a bout without being knocked out." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved September 03, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Frank Lotierzo "15 Rounds: The True Championship Distance." The Sweet Science. Monday Nov 17, 2003.
  3. ^ a b Marcus S. Smith (2006), "Physiological profile of senior and junior England international amateur boxers", Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: 74–89 
  4. ^ Adam J. Pollack, John L. Sullivan: The Career of the First Gloved Heavyweight Champion 
  5. ^ James B. Roberts, Alexander Skutt, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book 
  6. ^ F. Daniel Somrack, Boxing in San Francisco 
  7. ^ a b Ron Borges "Twenty-five years is a long time to carry a memory: Ray Mancini's tragic bout with Duk Koo Kim changed the lives of the fighters, their families and the sport of boxing itself forever." November 13, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Don Colgan. "The championship rounds." eSports. 05/14/2004.
  9. ^ a b c d e f JE Grant. "Fifteen Rounds Reexamined." The Sweet Science. Jul 24, 2005.
  10. ^ a b c JOHN F. MOLINARO "Remembering Davey Moore." CBC Sports Online. April. 14, 2005
  11. ^ "An End to 15-rounders." New Straits Times. Oct 24, 1987
  12. ^ "I.B.F. Approves 12-Round Fights." The New York Times (AP). June 3, 1988. Published: June 4, 1988
  13. ^ Pat Putnam "[1]." Sports Illustrated. April 28, 1986
  14. ^ BoxRec
  15. ^ a b Mark Louis "The Sport of Boxing is in desperate need of an Independent Body." Boxing News 24. August 20, 2010
  16. ^ Ernest Cashmore. Making sense of sports. Psychology Press, 2005. ISBN 0-415-34854-4, ISBN 978-0-415-34854-6. Page 338.
  17. ^ Will Hammock. "The Champ: County to honor legendary boxer Charles today." Gwinnett Daily Post. Jun 5, 2010
  18. ^ Peter E. Bondanella, Hollywood Italians 
  19. ^ Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge (2001) Westwood Studios. EA Games
  20. ^ Movie connections for Rocky (1976). IMDB
  21. ^ Westlake "Game Reviews: Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge." Moby Games.
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