Beginning in Britain, going from bare-knuckle fighting under London Prize Ring Rules to ‘boxing’ under Marquess of Queensberry Rules with gloves, the sport gradually found its way to North America and Australia by the 1880s. While hard and skin-tight gloves were more often than not used in America prior to the 1890s, in Britain it was far more acceptable, especially in clubs, to use gloves weighing no less than two ounces up to eight ounces right from the beginning. Bare-knuckle fights are not covered within these pages.
At the start of gloved fighting although certain named weight classes were already recognised, such as bantam, feather, light, middle and heavy, men in Britain generally claimed what was then known as the English title at every two pounds within those loosely defined weight bands. The welters (1887) were the next to arrive followed by light heavies (1899) and flys (1909), prior to junior light (1921), junior welter (1923), junior middle (1962), junior fly (1975), junior feather (1976), cruiser (1979), junior bantam (1980), super middle (1984) and minimum fly (1987) becoming established at later dates.
Because there were many variations in the weight limits between Britain and America in the early days, I have gone with what was generally perceived by those running the sport in Britain at the start of boxing - bantam (116lbs), Feather (126lbs), Light (140lbs), middle (166lbs) and heavy (166lbs+). The middleweight limit of 166lbs includes those fighting at catchweights who were too small for heavyweights. With the advent of new weight classes and in certain cases where great fighters moved up in weight and were seen by the press to have taken their named title with them, as in the case of Young Corbett at featherweight, I have massaged the weight divisions accordingly until we enter the modern era.
In hastening the demise of the every two-pounds English championships, on 11 February 1909 the National Sporting Club (NSC) in London stipulated that there should be eight named weight classes governing British boxing - fly (112lbs), Bantam (118lbs), feather (126lbs), Light 135lbs), welter (147lbs), middle (160lbs), light heavy (175lbs) and heavy (175lbs+). With fights held in Britain, the British Empire and Europe, I have gone with those weights from that date. For the same period, and falling in line with those running boxing in America, I have taken the American weight classes to be 116lbs for bantams, 122lbs for feathers, 133lbs for lights, 142/145lbs for welters and 158lbs for middles. By 1920 all the weight class limits had been standardized and are reflected as such within the listings.
Other than the heavyweight line of descent, the great majority of fighters in the days before proper regulation should be viewed as claimants as they were not officially recognised and many gained their reputation purely through newspaper support. You only have to view the number of men claiming a title at the same weight at the same time to see the chaos. Even in America it was difficult to decide on a champion, and much of what has been printed in the following years has been selective to make things look black and white. On top of that the main men in Britain rarely met their American counterparts and had as much right to claim titles if the fights could not be made.
I have taken the start of boxing as we now know it to be when championship weights became standardized worldwide and/or boxers receiving general recognition from established bodies with the sport, such as the New York State Athletic Commission (1920) and the National Boxing Association (1921) in America. In Europe the International Boxing Union (IBU) had been formed in 1911 to bond European nations together, while after the Great War those involved in boxing in Britain had a working agreement that would eventually see all parties concerned signing up to form the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) in 1929. Although there was an on-off relationship between the IBU and the BBBoC during the early days, in 1946 all countries in Europe, including Britain, became members of the newly formed European Boxing Union (EBU).
Despite there being several attempts to create a workable World Boxing Commission it never properly came to fruition due to the stance taken by the NYSAC, who deemed that they were only empowered to deal with boxing in New York. Eventually, after many attempts to set up one body the NBA reorganised themselves in August 1962 and were renamed as the World Boxing Association, while in February 1963 the World Boxing Council was formed, with the NYSAC still isolating themselves. In 1983 a breakaway group from the WBA set themselves up as the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and in 1989 the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) was formed by another group of disaffected former WBA members.
Although there are several other organisations purporting to be world bodies, at present the above mentioned groups are the only ones given credit within these pages other than The Ring magazine champions since December 2001. Men holding The Ring Championship Belt should be considered as the most worthy of champions.
In the early part of the 20th Century, when no-decision and short distance bouts kept boxing alive in much of America due to those of endurance being banned, because it was impossible to know whether a title claimant was contractually protected I have gone with the weights shown in the press. In those days contractual conditions would barely have mattered if a claimant was beaten inside the distance. An extreme example of this came when George Chip claimed the American version of the world middleweight title in 1913 after twice stopping Frank Klaus in six-round no-decision contests despite neither man weighing inside the generally accepted American middleweight limit.
Fights of less than eight rounds duration are not included as championship contests, other than when a title claim changed hands. They are, however, shown within the text where a risk involved, which would have come about when a claimant allowed his opponent to make the weight that he was claiming a title at regardless of whether he did or did not.
If published, names of referees are listed, scorecards are shown and individual weights for both fighters are given. Regarding the weights that are shown (in pounds) alongside the fighter’s name, where the figure is the same as the limit it could be that the men in question came in exactly on the weight or that the officials declared that both men were within the weight but failed to announce the exact individual weights. Also, on occasion the weights were reported in the press to the nearest pound and that is what we have gone with.
With regard to weights in the days before tighter regulation, without contractual knowledge I have gone with what was reported in newspapers. In many cases I discovered that fighters weighed-in according to contract and that the weights announced were those at ringside, which would, in most cases, have been heavier. This has made it extremely difficult to ascertain whether title claims were on the line or not. However, when in doubt I have built those fights into the text.
Actual venues, where known, are spelt out in English. This has been done because a high percentage of foreign venues are more often than not reported in English.
Weights shown are those that the fights were contracted at. In America at the early part of the 20th century, especially in New York, weights reported were nearly always those taken at ringside immediately prior to the fight. I have ignored those weights if contracts called for a stipulated weigh-in time.
Scheduled rounds, shown in brackets, are listed right up to the time of standardization.
Reports on all selected fights are given, using at least two different newspapers in order to eradicate inaccuracies. Unfortunately, this does not work well if the reports come from the same source.
Fights for the champion not mentioned within the text must be seen as lacking title involvement or not yet proved.
I have built into the text all the top-five rated fighters according to The Ring magazine rankings between May 1928 and March 1989. I have not gone beyond that date due to there being four world organisations in operation from that time onwards, thus giving more opportunities to fighters.
CO – Count Out (Often given as a knockout, it involves a fighter being counted over up to ten seconds before getting into a standing position. Over the years many record books have listed stoppages, retirements and knockouts under the heading of KO. All results within these pages are broken down separately)
DISQ - Disqualification
DREW (In the early days of boxing, especially in America, it was agreed in some fights that if both men were still standing at the end of the contest a draw should be given, regardless. Draws were also given on occasion after the police stopped a contest. In more recent times draws have given either by a sole arbitor or by three judges, which is the current situation)
NC – No Contest (Includes contests that were stopped due to neither man giving of his best, a police stoppage, when both men were fouling and were deemed to be fighting outside the rules, or a change of decision at a later stage, etc)
ND – No Decision (For the first 30 odd years of the 1900s many States in America allowed No Decision contests to take place, enabling boxing to carry on by bending the rules after government officials had decided that only exhibition bouts were legal. Although a referee was in place to make sure that the rules were not broken, he could not give a decision apart from counting out, disqualifying or stopping a fighter from carrying on. One of the ways of getting around the situation when it went the full distance was by allowing the majority of pressmen in attendance to give a decision that would be reported in the newspapers the next day. For example, nd-w pts 10 would determine a press majority in favour of one of the fighters or nd-w co/rsc 3 would show that the referee either counted out or stopped one of the men in the third round.
PTS – Points
RSC – Referee Stopped Contest (Sometimes recorded elsewhere as Referee Stopped Fight, the term also includes a situation where one of the fighters is obviously knocked out but the referee discards or discontinues the count as to allow treatment to be given)
RTD – Retired (When a fighter is retired by his corner during the interval between rounds. Retirements also used to take place if the corner threw the towel or sponge into the ring while the contest was ongoing, but in recent times these kind of stoppages can only be made by the referee)
TDEC – Technical Decision (Where a contest goes beyond four rounds - previously three and six, dependent on the body - and is stopped due to an accidental injury)
TDRAW - Technical Draw (The term denotes that a contest has been stopped due to an accidental injury in a round deemed to be too early in the contest to go to the scorecards. At present all the main bodies agree on it being prior to the fifth round)