The Development of Boxing Strategies, Styles and Techniques During the Gloved Era to Present--Part 2: The Era 1900-1915

By: Michael Hunnicut


Previously I had written, “The Development of Boxing Strategies, Styles and Techniques During the Gloved Era Part 1.” This brief article is an addendum to the earlier article and it is suggested by the author to be used in conjunction with the previous article.

In the lighter weight classes, from Circa 1900 to Circa 1915, some of the most readily apparent techniques that were involved were the all around ability to box exceedingly well at middle range, but especially so at short range without reliance on lateral movement; rather extreme focus was placed on balance, pivoting, body positioning, head movement, pacing and proper delivery of punches.

Boxers were expected to be as proficient as they could be at both evading and delivering punishment without unnecessary movement. These skills were especially prevalent in the scheduled 25-45 round bouts. Jab rates in these bouts tended to be much lower than in the scheduled 20 round bouts of that time period whereas combination punching was actually higher. The combinations tended to be in the 2 and 3 punch series and very frequent. For example in the 1910 Bat Nelson-Ad Wolgast lightweight championship bout, the punch rate was approximately 85 per round for 39 rounds with upwards to 25 combinations of the 2,3 occasional 4 or more per opponent per round.

Of noteworthiness is the level of activity the men of this period were able to sustain. It is equal to that of any modern fighter and over a greater period of rounds. The 2003 Fight-of-the-Year candidate between Vassily Jirov and James Toney, for example, averaged 86 punches a round for 12 rounds by Jirov. While the 2003 Arturo Gatti-James Ward fight (3rd in series) averaged 71 punches a round according to Compubox.

In 1913, the scheduled 20 round lightweight championship bout between Willie Ritchie and Joe Rivers averaged a whopping 95 punches per opponent per round, with 15 combinations per round with an increase of jabs and 3-6 punch combinations.

The higher rate of 2 to 3 punch combinations with high total punch rates is apparent in almost all of the 25-45 round bouts filmed. The 20 round bouts filmed also display an increase in jabs as well as 3-6 punch combinations as demonstrated in the bouts of Jim Driscoll, Freddie Welsh, Willie Ritchie, Jimmy Wilde, Joe Symonds, Ted “Kid” Lewis and others.

Slip and duck rates in the 25-45 round bouts were also slightly higher as opposed to 20 round bouts and many 15 round bouts in later years. The reason for this is that both opponents tended to be in hitting range more frequently and had more opportunities to slip and duck punches. Indeed this skill was necessary for the success and longevity of the boxer.

What can be perhaps inferred from the general observation of these and other bouts of the same era is that as soon as it was tactically and strategically feasible, more foot movement and longer range boxing were employed more frequently in order to “free up” and help relieve the intense mental and physical pressure of being in range almost constantly for 25 or more rounds. Still the skills most highly prized, whether for 10 rounds or 40, were the techniques needed to “stand on a handkerchief” and box successfully along those lines. A boxer who can make an opponent miss at close range can adjust to any length of rounds.

Boxers needed to adapt to 10 round main events as well as the longer distance 25-45 round championship bouts as efficiently as possible. From a purely technical standpoint, once the 25 or more rounds were no longer scheduled, some of the short and short-middle range skills needed to be successful in these bouts began to become less important.

After the period Circa 1900-1915 boxers became less proficient in the execution of continuous and instantaneous short, hard fast counters to the body and head and the evasion of them, as well as overall infighting competence. Conversely, once the 10, 12, and 15 round distances fully settled in, middle to long range skills had added importance and such techniques as jabbing, lateral movement, and 3-6 punch combinations began to be further sharpened while preserving very good countering and maintaining satisfactory infighting techniques.

Much of what could be done in boxing had already been developed in the lighter weight classes in the period 1900-1915. Jabs, combination punching, lateral movement, head and elbow placement were to be further polished, but in many ways had already been mastered. What was needed most was to “bring up” the advanced techniques of the lighter weight divisions into the middle, light heavy and heavyweight divisions. This was starting to occur with some fighters at this time period, and very quickly rose to the heavyweight division by the late 1910’s.

Because of proper teaching techniques, the large number of professional fighters, busier fighter schedules (hence more experience), boxing’s technical and competitive era was perhaps from circa 1900-1960. The largest pool of professional fighters reached its peak in the 1920’s. Since that time there has been a slightly continuous lessening in the number of fighters. This reached a drop off point by around 1960 as there became a perceptible decrease in the number of boxing shows and the amount of professional fights boxers were likely to have. While they were certainly more than enough boxers and teachers to produce great boxers and effective techniques, there was a general lack of depth in some of the divisions. The lessening of excellent teachers, fights, fighters, experience, and a rise of less effective amateur techniques transferable into the professional ranks by the 1980’s has continued to present. Nevertheless, great boxers with great techniques and strategy will always exist but at a probable lesser rate than at times previously.

Further articles delineating defensive and offensive techniques by successful fighters will be forthcoming.

I would like to thank Dan Cuoco for his critique of this article.