Despite being a brutal profession, boxing has attracted a disproportionate number of artists and writers. Of course, it is more accurate to say that the semi-naked display of aggression that characterises boxing is what draws people to it in the first place. If, at the end of the day, all life is a Darwinian struggle for survival, boxing at the very least has the advantage of being honest about it. Boxing is also said to promote the “manly” virtues of discipline and fortitude, which are associated with men. A natural undaunted bravery and intrepidity that has enabled our armies to conquer in many a hard-fought battle, according to the Duke of Wellington, is fostered and maintained through boxing. Whatever its psychological hold, the sport has always inspired wonder and admiration, as well as repugnance, prompting artists to pick up a pen, a brush, a chisel, or a camera to express themselves.
Boxing is frequently depicted in ancient Greek and Roman art. Greek vases depict a variety of different types of blows and postures, and they frequently depict blood dripping from a boxer’s nose and cuts on his face, among other things. Despite his battered face, broken nose, and cauliflower ears, the life-size seated boxer (dating to the 1st century BCE) now on display at the Roman National Museum in Rome wears superbly detailed sharp thongs on his hands, demonstrating the effects of such fighting. It is not uncommon to see the brutal and sinister forms of the Roman caestus (glove) depicted in miniature bronze sculpture and Roman mosaic art.
When it came to bare-knuckle fighting, the emphasis was on the strength of the punch, because bouts were usually only ended when one of the competitors could no longer fight. Footwork was virtually non-existent, as the hands were held out in front of the body in no particular position. With the introduction of padded gloves and the introduction of point-based competitions, boxing skills and footwork became increasingly important. J.J. Corbett was the first modern heavyweight to place a strong emphasis on technique in his fights. Ten years after Corbett was defeated in the heavyweight championship fight, heavyweight champion Jack Johnson demonstrated that he, too, could box as well as punch. Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion, enjoyed tremendous popularity because he was an aggressive fighter who launched an explosive assault on his opponents. He fought from a crouch, bobbing and weaving in order to expose as little of his body as possible during the battle. Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion, perfected the “stalking” style of boxing, which involves patiently pursuing his opponent until he is within striking distance of delivering devastating blows.
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