Know your sport: Olympic boxing rules, punches and gear
Long before he was famous for such bouts as 'The Rumble in the Jungle' and 'The Thrilla in Manila', Muhammad Ali made his name in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as a teenager.
Like Ali, amateur boxing has nurtured and unleashed some of the greatest names in the sport, including Wladimir Klitschko, Floyd Mayweather and Katie Taylor – all walking on to greatness via the Olympic boxing pathway.
Floyd Mayweather bagged a featherweight bronze at the 1996 Games in Atlanta by becoming the first American boxer to beat a Cuban in two decades. In that edition of the Olympics, it was Wladimir Klitschko who went on to clinch gold in the super-heavyweight category.
Amateur boxing has been a launchpad before their successful transition towards professional stardom.
The popularity of amateur boxing has been on the rise in India as well. Ever since Vijender Singh won India's first Olympic boxing medal in 2008, and MC Mary Kom followed that up with another bronze in 2012, the sport has been one of India's areas of optimism when it comes time for the Games.
With the Asia/Oceania Olympic boxing qualifiers getting underway on March 3, we take you through a rundown of the basics — rules, punches and a little bit more.
Rules and basics
Amateur boxing has been an Olympic sport since 1920 and features a knockout format, where the winner of each bout moves on to the next round. The overall winner and runner-up are presented with the gold and silver medals respectively, while the semi-finalist losers are awarded bronze medals.
One of the first things to note is that Olympic boxing, which comes under the jurisdiction of the International Olympic Committee, is different from professional boxing, including rules, equipment and set-up.
No hitting below the belt
Punches have to land above a belt worn around the torso for them to count, and too many punches below the belt can result in disqualification.
The boxer must hit the head or body of his opponent, with the knuckles of his gloves.
Unlike professional boxing, the winner in amateur boxing is the pugilist with the most points. Points are awarded for landing clean punches during each round.
Bouts consist of three rounds of three minutes each.
Based on the votes adjudged by the five-judges panel, a decision can either be unanimous (5-0), a majority (4-1), split (3-2), or draw (2-2-1, 2-1-2, or 1-1-3).
Uniform and gear
Based on ranking in amateur boxing, the boxers wear red (higher rank) or blue (lower rank) uniforms — including trunks as well as an athletic shirt.
The gloves feature a white strip on the main contact area, around the knuckles. This is for the ease of the judges.
While women boxers have to don protective headwear in the ring, it’s not compulsory in the men’s category.
A potpourri of punches
The four core punches in amateur boxing include jab, cross, hook and uppercut. The explanations below are for an 'orthodox' boxer, which is someone who leads with their left hand and left foot.
For someone, who has their right hand and right foot in front, that stance is known as a 'southpaw' stance. It is not uncommon for some boxers to switch between the two during a bout.
Left jab: The left jab is a straight punch from the lead hand in the guard position, with the fist and the forearm rotating to turn horizontal on impact.
It targets the opponent’s nose area and is one of the key punches in boxing. Apart from having the long reach requiring minimal weight transfer from the boxers, it also leaves little room for the opponent to counter-punch and provides a good deal of its own cover.
That’s because as the punches reach out fully, the left shoulder can be brought up to protect the chin while the rear hand can shield the jaw.
While a crucial weapon in the boxer’s arsenal, it is by no means a finisher but more of a probe, useful in judging distance, assessing the opponent’s defences in order to set up the more heftier punches.
Right cross: As the name suggests, the right cross can be used to cancel, or cross out, a jab from the opponent if timed correctly.
The right cross targets the front of the opponent’s face and is a hefty punch that originates from the dominant right hand and travels in a straight line, crossing the body.
The right cross is often used as a follow-up to the jab, in a one-two sequence. While the left jabbing hand is retracted, the right-rear shoulder is thrust forward in an effort to shield the face as well as the chin.
Some boxers try to infuse additional power into the punch by rotating the torso and hips counter-clockwise just as the cross is thrown. This transfers weight on to the front foot, imparting more momentum to the punch.
Hook: The hook is a round-about punch thrown by either hand in a semi-circular arc with the lead or rear hand, primarily targeting the jawline of the opponent.
Keeping his fist upright, the boxer rolls it from a vertical to a horizontal position, in sync with a simultaneous step and rotation of the rest of the body.
While the elbow is kept in line behind the fist, the other hand guards the jaw.
Once the hook makes contact with the opponent’s jaw, the boxer has to quickly pull back his hand into the guard position.
Apart from the jaw, the hook can also target the lower body region.
Uppercut: Just like the hook, the uppercut is a roundabout punch that travels towards the opponent’s chin, but vertically (and upward) instead of horizontally.
From the guard position, the boxer shifts his torso right and bends his knees slightly before launching his rear hand in an arc towards the opponent’s jaw. As the punch is released, the knees push up gently and the torso follows along with the trajectory of the cross.
A right uppercut, followed by a left hook, is a pretty brutal combination which, if timed and executed properly, can set an opponent off-balance and is difficult to defend against.
Where to watch the boxing Olympic qualifiers?
The Asia/Oceania Olympic boxing qualifiers are set to get underway in Amman, Jordan, from March 3-11.
Live coverage in both English and Hindi can be enjoyed on the Olympic Channel website.