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Rounds in Boxing Explained: History, Definition, How Many

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Rounds in Boxing Explained: History, Definition, How Many

Even if you are someone who isn’t familiar with the nitty-gritty of boxing rules, rounds in boxing will surely be a concept you've heard of. The iconic image of a model showing a board with the number of rounds about to start is hard to forget.

However, what's not so clear is how many rounds in boxing there are. Does it vary from fight to fight? Do weight classes and title fights have a different number of rounds?

In this article, we will look at the number of rounds in boxing across its different variants, the history of how rounds came to be a thing in boxing, and how the number of rounds affects the bout itself.

Definition of a Boxing Round

A 'round' in boxing signifies the duration during which two competing fighters actively engage each other without interruption, barring unforeseen occurrences like a boxer landing a low blow or losing a gum shield. Rounds break down the fight into manageable segments, allowing judges to score each round based on punches landed, aggression, and ring control. This scoring system determines the winner if the fight goes the full distance.

Before each round, the event's director of operations typically delivers a formal statement, followed by the ringing of the bell to signal the start of the round. Similarly, the bell rings again at the round's conclusion, marking the end of that specific period of action.

In modern boxing, the duration of a round is typically three minutes. This duration allows for sustained bursts of activity while ensuring fighters have sufficient recovery time to maintain their performance throughout the fight. The one-minute rest interval between rounds offers fighters a chance to catch their breath, receive instructions from their corner team, and potentially adjust their tactics based on how the fight is unfolding.

The History of Rounds in Boxing

There was no round count restriction in the beginning stages of bare-knuckle boxing, therefore fights would go to the wire (i.e. with a knockout or surrender). For instance, the 1833 bout between James “Deaf” Burke and Simon Byrne stretched three and a half hours.

Laws and regulations were subsequently introduced to curtail the prolonged duration of fights. John L. Sullivan played a pivotal role in popularizing boxing with gloves under Queensberry rules, which mandated predetermined fight lengths.

If a bout went the full distance, the referee would declare the winner. In cases where there was no official conclusion within the allotted time, a bout would be termed a “no-decision,” yet one fighter could still be declared the victor based on public opinion—a phenomenon known as a “newspaper decision.”

Official judges were chosen to assign points in order to establish a technical champion in order to better control such outcomes. For a while, winners in several US states were guaranteed to win if they battled to the end. The modern idea of how many rounds in boxing should there be, started from there on. The round structure allows boxers to pace themselves, throwing them to fight at their full potential during the round while conserving energy during the breaks.

How Many Rounds in Boxing at the Professional Level?

Professional boxing matches can go up to 12 rounds, which is significantly longer than amateur boxing matches. However, less significant fights can end after just four rounds. It is not authorized for boxers to wear protective headgear, and they may withstand a significant beating before the bout is stopped.

Rounds in boxing professional

During the course of the twentieth century and beyond, professional boxing has had a far larger significance than amateur boxing. When a major title, such as the world championship or a European or temporary world title, is at stake, twelve-round contests are typically utilized. This extended duration tests the fighters' physical and mental fortitude, often leading to dramatic finishes or displays of exceptional endurance.

In some situations, such as when a boxer makes their professional debut or is still in the process of rising through the levels, the managers of both boxers may decide that a smaller duration is suitable.

Less significant fights, such as those involving up-and-coming boxers, can be scheduled for four, six, eight, or ten rounds. The shorter duration allows younger fighters to gain valuable experience without the risk of excessive damage.

How Many Rounds in Boxing at the Amateur Level?

In the middle to late 1800s, amateur boxing became popular as a sport, in part because of the ethical debates involving paid prizefighting. Nowadays, boxing at colleges and universities, the Olympics, Pan American, and the Commonwealth Games, in addition to several associations, is known as amateur boxing.

Amateur boxing matches are much shorter in length than professional boxing, with three rounds lasting three minutes for men and four rounds lasting two minutes for women. On January 1, 2009, the format of men's senior fights was modified from four rounds of two minutes each to three rounds of three minutes. 

In this kind of sport, accuracy in landing clean blows—as opposed to brute force—is rewarded with points. In contrast to professional boxing, where boxers take many months off between bouts, this condensed structure enables tournaments to have multiple bouts spread over several days.

How Does a Round End?

Rounds end when either the allotted period of time (usually three minutes) comes to a close, or a fighter is knocked down and unable to continue.

Typically, referees will allow a combatant who has been knocked down ten counts to stand back up and demonstrate that they are well enough to continue.

Through this method, the round's time will keep running down. The timing only pauses in mid-round in the event of a major disruption. One instance is when competitors who take a serious blow below the belt are given up to five extra minutes to heal.

When a boxer gets knocked out, the match is declared over instantly, and the round during which the interruption or knockout occurred is noted in the score.  After all scheduled rounds are over and there is neither a knockout nor a stoppage, the outcome is determined by the judges.

Round Lengths

Typically, rounds in boxing last for three minutes. However, in female boxing, rounds currently endure for two minutes. Nevertheless, many elite female boxers are advocating for three-minute rounds in their fights, seeking parity with their male counterparts in terms of round duration

The fighters retreat to their corners at the conclusion of a round so they may refuel get tactical advice from their trainer, and get any cuts treated by their “cut man.” The following round doesn't start until after this one-minute pause.

Scoring

The decision is made if the fight “goes the distance,” which means that the allotted time has passed. Early boxing contests were determined by the referee lifting the winner's arm; this tradition is carried out in certain professional fights in England and Wales to this day.

It became customary for the official or the judge to score fights based on how many rounds each boxer won during the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to the referee, two onstage judges were included to increase the scoring's dependability, and a majority decision was used to determine the winner.

rounds in boxing

Photo: Cris Esqueda, Golden Boy Boxing

The referee has the power to take away points for particular infractions, and from the late 20th century, it has been customary for the panel of judges to be three spectators seated beside the ring who provide a score to each fighter after every round.

Every one of the three judges totals the points given to each fighter at the end of the fight. If the match is scored in favor of one boxer by at least two judges, that boxer is proclaimed the winner.

Either “unanimous decision,” “majority decision” (in the event that the third judge renders a draw), or “split decision” (in the event that the third judge renders a judgment in favor of the opposing fighter) determines the outcome. 

A “unanimous draw” occurs if each of the three judges scores the fight a draw; if not, a “majority draw” takes place when two judges determine the fight a draw irrespective of the third judge's decision; and finally, a “split draw” happens if each fighter wins on a scorecard each and the third records a draw.

Rounds Points System

The World Boxing Council (WBC) initially instituted the 10-point system in 1968 as a logical method of assigning points for contests. It was seen that such because judges could now identify between tight rounds and ones in which one fighter decisively outmatched the other, as well as reward knockdowns. 

Additionally, more judging uniformity was made possible by the system's later acceptance nationally and worldwide, which was critically important at the time. The judge makes a judgment based on several variables, the most significant of which are defense, ring generalship, effective aggression, and clean striking. Regardless of how little the advantage is, judges utilize these criteria to determine which combatant is ahead in the match.

Aside from the 10-point system, many different scoring methods have been used in different venues, Including the five-point must system, which gives the winning fighter five points and the losing fighter four or fewer. The others include the one-point structure, which gives the prevailing boxer one or more points the losing fighter zero, and the rounds system, which gives the round to the winner.

The combatant who is deemed to have won most rounds wins the fight under the rounds method. When there were even rounds, this system frequently included an additional scoring system, usually the 10-point must.

Why Did 15-Round Bouts End?

During the beginning of the twentieth century and the eighties, world championship bouts were known to last up to fifteen rounds, compared to the traditional twelve. Classic bouts like Sugar Ray Robinson vs Kid Gavilan, Marvin Hagler vs Roberto Duran, and Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier all lasted 15 complete rounds.

In the well-known boxing movie Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, the character's goal was to “go the distance” versus the reigning champion Apollo Creed.

The safety and well-being of athletes engaged in 15-round bouts came under scrutiny. Tragically, on November 13, 1982, Duk Koo Kim lost his WBA lightweight title fight against Ray Mancini in the 14th round, slipping into a coma and succumbing to his injuries days later in a medical facility. 

In response to this devastating event and after continuous questions about how many rounds in boxing are most appropriate, the WBC took action, deciding to limit bouts to 12 rounds just three months after the fatal encounter. Subsequently, other major governing bodies also adopted this change, prioritizing the safety of fighters in professional boxing.

Experts found that the extra depletion and weariness fighters may experience over those three rounds contributed to significant long-term harm as well as the greater abuse they could endure.

Effect of “Going the Distance” in Boxing Rounds

To “go the distance” in boxing describes a boxer who successfully completes all of the planned rounds of a contest without being eliminated or given a technical knockout. According to the intensity of the competition, a boxing fight might be planned for a set number of rounds, often lasting three minutes each. The number of rounds can range from three to twelve. This is a mark of a fighter's toughness, however, even in fights that go the distance, the judges' scores determine the winner based on their performance throughout each round.

Going the distance denotes that a fighter has engaged in combat for the entire number of rounds, showcasing their fortitude, tenacity, and resolve to repel their opponent's blows and continue fighting to the very end of the bell. In the boxing world, it is seen as a noteworthy accomplishment that calls for superior physical conditioning, mental fortitude, and strategic planning.

Even when the bout finishes in a defeat or a draw, a fighter who perseveres is frequently commended for their tenacity and character of bravery. Going the distance additionally illustrates the fighter's ability to carry out and adhere to the battle strategy throughout. Going the distance occasionally results in a rematch or more chances for the boxer to advance in their profession.

Championship Rounds

Since these were only ever needed in significant title situations, the previously stated rounds 13 to 15 were sometimes referred to as “championship rounds.” In modern boxing, rounds nine through twelve are referred to as “championship rounds.” World championship bouts are slated for round twelve, and the majority of 10-round matches are also for British, American, European, or titles of a comparable caliber.

The expression is frequently used to describe a fighter's capacity to go above and beyond and close a battle, much to the significance of a strong showing during the “home stretch” of a race. 

In order to demonstrate their “championship quality,” seasoned defending champions have often withstood a fierce battle from a younger opponent in the initial eight rounds until ramping it up in the last four.

Boxing being a combat sport the safety and well-being of the fighters has always been a topic of debate. Determining how many rounds in boxing is optimum has raged on for a long time. However, between entertainment and safety, it is not an exact science. 

Therefore, how many number of rounds in boxing is still determined by various factors leading to the bout and its participants. Type of boxing, like amateur or professional is a factor to. However, after much research the maximum number of rounds is now twelve with three minutes each. 

Bren Gray is our resident Kiwi, and has been writing about sports since he could first string words together. He first fell in love with boxing when David Tua took on Lennox Lewis in 2000, and hasn't looked back since.