Amateur Boxing – 3 BIG Rule Changes!

by Fran on April 25, 2015


In recent years, amateur boxing has been subject to a raft of rules changes.  The changes were as extensive as they were radical, certainly the most fundamental upheaval that I have experienced in my 35 years or so in the game.

Convention has been that the amateur boxing establishment has been cautious when it comes to changing the rules.  The changes have often been subtle and have been implemented gradually over time.  Never though has a salvo of fundamental rule changes been introduced all at once.

In this article I am going to highlight 3 rules changes that I consider to be genuine ‘game changers’.  I am not going to get into any depth in terms of why I believe these changes have been implemented, or why they were implemented in the manner they were.

To tackle the ‘why’ question in any depth would take us into the realms of commercialism, legalities and brand identity and would require lots of debate.  Of course if you want to take the debate down the route in the comments section then the floor is most definitely yours.

Of course I will need to address the ‘why’ question in some areas to provide context, but I really don’t want this to be the focus of the article.

The focus of the article is to identify the key changes and then identify the likely impacts for competitors, coaches and the sport in general.

Rule Change 1 – The Return to Manual Scoring 

In the Beginning…

I am starting with the rule change that is in my opinion the most far-reaching in impact, the move away from computer scoring of fights and back to manual scoring.

For those who don’t know, computer scoring was first introduced into the sport during the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.  Manual scoring had fallen out of favour in a major way because quite simply the decisions taking place in the sport had become outrageous.

The catalyst to the introduction of full computer scoring came in the 1988 Olympic finals in Seoul, South Korea.  A dazzlingly brilliant young boxer by the name of Roy Jones Jr had thrilled the World with his sublime boxing skills.  You might have heard of Jones Jr, he went on to become a fairly decent professional 🙂

Roy had dominated all-comers in the light middleweight class.  In the final Jones Jr met Si Hun Park and true to form dished out a one-sided boxing lesson.  Well, that’s what pretty much every man and his dog recognised, except the judges at ringside that is.  Inexplicably these guys had contrived to give the decision to Park, who to be fair was as stunned as everyone else.

Outrageous results were not an unusual occurrence in the sport.  Amateur boxing was littered with terrible decisions, much more so than the pro game – often it was just outright corruption.  The problem this time was that it was a highway robbery that was perpetrated in the Olympic final.  It made a mockery of the sport in a very, very public way.

The Basics

Computer scoring had a variety of finer points applied over the years, but at it’s most simple 5 judges sat at ringside with a blue button and a red button at their disposal.

If the boxer from the blue corner landed a scoring shot then judge pressed the blue button, if the boxer from the red corner landed a shot then the red corner was pressed.  3 of the 5 judges were required to press a button within a second of each other in order for the point to register.

Computer scoring was intended to make judging more transparent and to be fair in the main it achieved that.  However, many felt that it changed the sport for the worse, creating boxers that popped off single and double shots and then moved.  The view was that we had created a sort of fencing sport, where combination punching was not particularly rewarded.  Many felt that this led to a sanitized, less exciting sport.

The Future’s Bright?

The implications of the return of manual scoring methods are far-reaching.  Here are a few observations that I have:

  • As a coach I need to alter the way in which I train the boxers.  The simple fact is that aggression matters.  Combination punching, domination of the ring and work rate are all key – high volume punching is back on the agenda in a big way.  It is also likely that body punching will play a much more significant role in winning bouts.
  • We will see power-based boxers come to the fore again, fighters who are willing to take one to land one.  Computer scoring favoured defensive smarts, manual scoring favours strength, power and punch volume.  Boxers will not become reckless, but they will certainly become more willing to launch attacks.
  • I expect to see resurgence in US Boxing at the amateur level and subsequently at the pro level.  The American coaching system of combining the amateur and professional boxers in the same gym with the same coaches meant that they really struggled to adapt to computer scoring.  Young fighters were trained in the pro style and went with power-based combination punching and this simply did not suit computer-based scoring.  We are now heading back to the type of boxing that American fighters were born for!
  • I expect to see a return of dubious decisions in European amateur boxing at the international level.  Eastern European/Eurasian judges will favour Eastern European/Eurasian boxers and Western European judges will favour Western European boxers.  This will result in fewer Western European boxers qualifying for Olympic boxing in 2016 and beyond.  This is not to say that Eastern European/Eurasian amateurs have quality issues…hell, for the majority of time they need no help at all from the judges!
  • The Cubans will continue to be brilliant regardless of the method of scoring in place

Rule Change 2 – The Style of Refereeing

Whilst the reintroduction of manual scoring of course has been a massive change to the way amateur boxing is practiced and executed, there has alongside this been a really interesting change in how referees control the fight.

Amateur boxing referees traditionally have been very strict.  Rules were rules and referees at international level would enforce them with great zeal.  One key distinction between the amateur and professional codes was what the referee would accept when the boxers were at close range.

In the amateurs, holding of any kind was simply not allowed.  At the first sign of holding the referee would stop the contest and issue a warning to the perpetrator.  Holding was never tolerated regardless of the method of scoring the bout.

Of course in the professional ring we have become used to seeing the boxers wrestle, lay on or otherwise tie-up the opponent at close range.  Infighting takes place also, but holding on the inside is an accepted part of the professional game.

Well, now, referees in the amateur code are increasingly allowing boxers to hold and wrestle on the inside, and for me it’s not a healthy or a happy change.  In fact, I’m really, really uncomfortable with this development.

There is very good reason why professional fighters hold and tie up an opponent on the inside.  These guys have to manage their energy levels across a 12 round fight.  That’s 45 minutes of fighting, hard, brutal fighting.  Holding is not just an accepted part of the professional game it’s an absolute imperative so that you can take a breather.

In the amateurs across a 3 round duration fight, we DO NOT need to hold when we are on the inside.  We should be fighting hard.  We should be looking to land punches all of the time.  The one minute rest period between rounds is ample time to recuperate, bring the heart rate down, re-oxygenate the muscles and so on.

Holding on the inside makes the encounter sub-standard in my opinion.  If holding is to become an accepted part of amateur boxing, then I need to make a decision as a coach as to whether I teach the boxers I work with some of the ‘rough house’ tricks that are used in the pro game.

I can of course use some very simple (and very legal) methods of helping boxers win close quarter encounters (which I actively am doing in the gym and really enjoying by the way), but I believe the step toward holding and wrestling detracts from the classic amateur boxing style that I fell in love with 35 years and have never lost the passion for.

Rule Change 3 – The Removal of Head Guards

I have previously described this change at length in another article (and received a ton of comments to go with it).  Here’s the link, go click and enjoy.

Please leave any comments and observations below.



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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank MItchell November 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Back in Victorian times, Prize-Fighters didn’t just wrestle when a clinch happened. They went on to do Judo-type thows, as you can see in old books on the Internet. This was before Boxing Gloves were invented. After that it became dangerous, because you couldn’t hold onto your opponent and control his fall. In Judo, the tough jacket or “Gi” enables you to do this. It’s one of Jigoro Kano’s safety features.


Fran November 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm

Nice bit of history Frank. I’ve been told that back then they began to encourage the fighters to use less wrestling so that the punters could see more blood basically. We still see the crowd baying for blood nowadays…some things never change.


mitja disic April 29, 2015 at 10:03 am

hy, here’s one abstract from study about boxers activity if you did’t see it jet.

The Activity Profile of Elite Male Amateur Boxing

“An activity profile of competitive 3 × 3-min elite-level amateur boxing was created from video footage of 29 Olympic final and semifinal bouts in 39 male boxers (mean ± SD) age 25.1 ± 3.6 y, height 178.3 ± 10.4 cm, and body mass 69.7 ± 16.5 kg. Boxing at this level requires the ability to maintain an activity rate of ~1.4 actions/s, consisting of ~20 punches, ~2.5 defensive movements, and ~47 vertical hip movements, all per minute, over 3 subsequent rounds lasting ~200 s each. Winners had higher total punches landed (P = .041) and a lower ratio of punches thrown to landed (P = .027) than losers in round 3. The hook rearhand landed was also higher for winners than losers in round 2 (P = .038) and round 3 (P = .016), and defensive movements were used less by winners (P = .036). However, the results suggest that technical discrimination between winners and losers is difficult; bout outcome may be more dependent on which punch is “lucky” enough to be scored by the judges or who appears to be dominant on the day. This study gives both boxers and coaches a good idea of where subelite boxers need to aim if they want to become among the best amateur boxers in the world.

Keywords: combat sports, video analysis, performance analysis, martial arts

Authors: Philip Davis, Peter R. Benson, James D. Pitty, Andrew J. Connorton, Robert Waldock”

Fran i’m competitve amateour boxer, what are most important changes for boxers in skills, can you make some guidelines? conditioning is obviously – hight work capacity, hard chin, pressure fighting?

thank you for good infos, and keep up the good work 🙂


Fran May 5, 2015 at 6:18 pm

Hi Mitja

Thank you for posting, that’s a really interesting synopsis. To be absolutely honest I believe (as do most coaches that I speak to) believe that intensity and pressure is key to gaining the judges score. Lots of phased/double attacks, put the opponent on the retreat and switch the attack from body to head and back again in order to successfully land the maximum number of punches. Physical strength and power punching are also of increased importance.

Hope this helps and thanks for posting.


Ivan April 27, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Hi Fran,
Be a sport and do not overestimate the pros – 12 rounds is 36 minutes old school mentality or not. Most of todays pretenders can hardly hold it together for half an hour and fight only in spurts. They lift weights instead of doing pull ups and swim after the treadmill rather than run.

Boxing judging is subjective by definition and the home-field factor is more important than the East-West malarkey. The home factor allowed Anthony Joshua to get past Erislandy Savon with a score of 17:16 in a fight that Savon won very clearly under any scoring system. His next fight against Dychko could easily have gone to Dychko if he was British as well. The final against Cammarelle was scored even somehow but Joshua got the medal.
Luke Campbell’s bout against Detelin Dalakliev was scored 16:15 and Dalakliev took it like a man but when he came back he told me “There is no way I lost, I out-landed him 2:1” so he moved on the WSB.
All of the changes you list are no doubt crucial and I’d like to add the WSB series as a major change and that the AIBA will also sanction professional boxing and allow pros at the Olympics. This will influence the styles of amateurs more than any other rule change.


Fran April 27, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Couldn’t agree more on the hometown decisions, that has always been a case in the sport. Fact is though computer scoring is a whole lot less subjective than manual scoring. I think in the 2012 Olympics GB boxers definitely got a level of favouritism – it was no coincidence that they were our most successful Olympics ever!

It’s more the unpublicised qualifying tournaments that I think we might see the most suspect decisions. This being said, maybe I am just recalling years gone by. The sport is more exposed now (as is everything else in life) and hopefully less exposed to the behaviours of the past.

The blurred line between the professionals and amateurs is of course a massive change. AIBA absolutely want it on their terms though. I have fellow coaches who operate pro-am gyms and they are not allowed to corner their boxers at any AOB event. So, you can mix the codes as long as it the codes are all ultimately controlled by AIBA! I don’t see Lomachenko coming back to claim his 3rd Gold…as much as I would love to see it!

Thanks Ivan.


Dan April 26, 2015 at 2:35 pm

As a USA Boxing official I’d like to clarify. There has been no change in the rules concerning holding, it is just as illegal as it ever was. The change is that Referees are now allowed to talk to the boxers in the ring with, for instance, “No holding” or “Fight your way out” – rather than stopping the fight frequently. Referees are encouraged to let the fight continue and stop the action only when needed. They can still, at their discretion, stop the boxers at any time to caution or give a warning and take away points. My opinion is that it’s a matter of style. If a Referee allowed holding before the rule change they will probably continue to allow it and vice versa. You will have more experience than I about how this plays out on an international level, but none of our local officials allow holding in any form


Fran April 27, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Hey Dan

Thank you for the clarification, very helpful and very welcome. It’s a very interesting angle actually. When you look at the rules around ‘fouling’ there is wording that would appear equally unhelpful to coaches and referees alike. Holding is a foul, as is holding and hitting, as is ‘hitting in the clinch’. Not sure though what the difference is between a ‘clinch’ and a ‘hold’, but it would appear that the former is a word that actually has it’s origins in boxing. Feels ambiguous to me as it does to lots of coaches I speak to. The consensus seems to be that boxers are allowed to hold a lot more now. Not sure how the talking plays out at international level given the language barriers in play. Maybe refinements will come. Thank you again Dan, excellent and much appreciated contribution.


wayne thompson April 26, 2015 at 12:44 am

This article is late but what you are saying is absolutely true. My fighter jets lost in the Golden Gloves finals for Washington DC. We lost to Barry hunter’s fighter. It was a horrible decision made worse by the amount of wrestling and holding his fighter was allowed to do. I don’t blame the coach. I blame the referee. I’m very disgusted with amateur boxing right now.
Thank you for continuing to provide information.


Fran April 27, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Hi Wayne

We all have lots of readjustment to make I suppose. I do notice at a domestic level a general increase in the complaints about poor decisions and challenges in how to deal with the variations in referee interventions. Something we are forced to deal with I suppose.


joe April 25, 2015 at 10:02 am


Has there been any studies with regard to the amount of punches that are thrown on average during a round in the amatuers?


Fran April 27, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Hi Joe

Not come across anything mate.


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