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The Differences Between Olympic And Professional Boxing

Many of the great boxers we know of today like Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield and Sugar Ray Leonard got their start in Olympic (amateur) boxing. They used their Olympic success as a platform for launching their professional boxing careers and became household names that shaped the boxing industry. Despite the popularity of both Olympic boxing and professional boxing, most boxing fans today don’t know the huge differences between the two.

The boxing rules, the length of the bouts, the boxers themselves, the boxing rings, skill level and the general atmosphere surrounding amateur and professional boxing are relatively different. Here are the main differences between the two sports.

As in any other combat sport, there are levels in boxing, both when it comes to skills and when it comes to competition. Most boxers start their careers in amateur and Olympic boxing before turning pro later in their careers.

In some way, boxers can’t succeed on the pro level without earning their stripes as an amateur first. But how does Olympic boxing differ from pro boxing?

Olympic boxing is amateur boxing where the rules differ from pro-level regarding rounds. Gear fighters need to wear scoring criteria. Professional boxing is a home of skilled boxers who fight for money, fame, and legacy. The emphasis is on aggression, hurting the opponent as much as possible, and winning a fight at all costs.

Professional Boxing vs. Olympic Boxing

The Rules

Olympic boxing rules differ a lot from professional boxing. The emphasis of amateur boxing is on gaining experience, learning, and growing as a boxer. In this day and age, there are three central governing bodies in amateur boxing, out of which “IOC” is responsible for Olympic Boxing:

  • International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) – since 1946, AIBA has been handling events like “World Boxing Championships” and “Boxing World Cup.”
  • International Olympic Committee (IOC) – founded in 1894, IOC handles boxing events. 
  • International Military Sports Council (CISM)-founded in 1948, CISM handles “Military World Games.”

Professional boxing rules differ a lot between countries and organizations. Still, most promotions follow the famous “Queensberry Rules” put together in 1867 by John Chambers. The general rules are always the same, but promotions may decide to increase or decrease the number of rounds, for instance. There are four primary governing bodies:

  • World Boxing Association (WBA)
  • World Boxing Council (WBC)
  • International Boxing Federation (IBF)
  • World Boxing Organization (WBO)


There are three full rounds in Olympic boxing, each lasting three minutes for male boxers and four two-minute rounds for female boxers. The time allocated for each round may vary depending on the level of amateur boxing.

In professional boxing, fights are from four rounds up to 12 rounds, with a standard of three minutes each. In some cases, exhibition matches can even last less than four rounds.


This is one area where there are glaring differences in the way boxers show up for a fight. In amateur or Olympic boxing, boxers have to wear headgear to prevent trauma to their eyes, ears and head, the most common areas of injury in pro boxing. While headgear will not completely prevent an amateur from injuries, they do prevent most serious injuries from happening. In addition, gloves and mouth guards are worn in both sports.

In professional boxing, head guards are prohibited in fights. However, they’re used as training with in-ring trainers and during boxing fitness exercises. In addition, all male and female boxers in Olympic boxing must wear singlets or tops for bouts, while in professional boxing, the tops are prohibited for males.

Scoring of the Fight

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Although the concept of landing hits and avoiding hits is the same for both Olympic and professional boxing, the truth is, the two types of boxing are scored in very different ways.

Did Boxing Always Have A Scoring System?

Today’s sport we know and love looks nothing like it did during its formation. The earliest known records of boxing date back to ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilizations.

Back then, the sport was carried on open plots of land where spectators formed a sort of “living arena.” They normally lasted until a fighter became seriously injured, or sometimes until they were the last one standing.

Although modern boxing matches can get tough, we don’t normally see severely injured athletes in the ring. This is because of advancements in equipment and attire, such as padded gloves that protect hands from injury. 

Because of this, fighters can usually last a bit longer in the ring, and knockouts aren’t as commonplace as they were during the sport’s fruition. To adapt, boxing leagues have developed a scoring system to declare a winner at the end of each match.

What Exactly Are The Judges Looking For?

While you’d probably do well relying on the eyeball test to determine the winner of each round, it helps to know what a judge is looking for. These are the things that help determine which fighter won around:

  • Effective Aggression – Being aggressive gives the impression of dominance, but unless the boxer is landing shots and not constantly getting countered, it’s not exactly “effective.” Judges look for effective aggression, where the aggressor consistently lands his punches and avoids those from his opponent.
  • Ring Generalship – The fighter who controls the action and enforces his will and style.
  • Defence – How well is a boxer slipping, dodging, and blocking punches? A good defence is important.
  • Hard and Clean Punches – To the untrained eye, it can appear as if a boxer is landing many shots when, in fact, most are being blocked or aren’t landing flush. A judge needs to look for hard shots that land clean. When watching a boxing match, most people think they can easily tell when a boxer is landing punches or nailing their opponent properly. 

The Decision

If you have ever struggled to grasp how particular decisions are made, there are easy ways to conclude logically. For one, there are three judges assigned to every bout. This way, the chances are that a decision can be made by employing the majority rule. In other words, if two judges agree on a decision, this will override the judge that sees things a little differently.

If a fight goes this distance, the scorecards determine the result. Here are the possible outcomes:

  • Unanimous Decision – All three judges had the same fighter scoring more points.
  • Split Decision – Two of the three judges had the same fighter scoring more points (the winner), while the other judge had the other boxer scoring more points (the loser).
  • Majority Decision – Two of the three judges had the same fighter scoring more points (the winner), while the other judge ruled the contest a draw.
  • Draw – A draw can occur when either two of the judges rule the contest a draw, or it can happen when one judge scores the bout for one fighter, another judge scores it for the other fighter, and the third rules it a draw.

Olympic Boxing Scoring

In Olympic boxing, the winner receives 10 points, while the loser receives nine points or less on five judges’ scorecards. There are only three judges in professional boxing, but they score similarly. Boxers are scored based on punches landed, clean affective punches, and ring generalship. This system is based on subjective scoring, but so are many Olympic sports, including gymnastics, diving, and ice-skating, but that’s a winter Olympic sport. A fight in the Olympics can’t end in a draw. At least three judges will rule in a boxer’s favour, and their scores will overrule the two opposing cards.

Professional boxing bouts can be 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12 rounds. Fights in the Olympics are only three rounds. Both have three-minute rounds. Amateur boxers in the Olympics used to wear headgear but no more. That changed before 2016 as well. Headgear is still required for female boxers.

Professional Boxing Scoring

One thing about boxing that causes a lot of arguments and controversy is the scoring system. Every once in a while, the boxing scoring system will come under intense scrutiny. Given the bewildering decisions handed to particular fighters, it can be easy to lose your mind as a boxing fan. That said, these oddities tend to be few and far between, given the countless number of bouts that proceed, without controversy, around the world every week.

Still, the scoring system can be a little… confusing for the average guy on the street.

Professional boxing operates under the 10-Point Must System, based on the idea that the winner of a round is awarded 10 points. As a result, most rounds in boxing tend to end with a 10-9 score, with the losing fighter awarded 9 points, that is, of course, unless there is an obligation to deduct a point. Or, sometimes, a few points. On even rarer occasions, a round can end 10-10, but this is seldom seen.

With point deductions, a knockdown leads to a point being deducted for the fighter that has been dropped. Furthermore, a point will be deducted for every knockdown after that. But, if both fighters are knocked down in a round, they will effectively cancel each other out.

Olympic Weight Categories

There are 13 weight categories, eight for men and five for women, in boxing.

Trying to get more participation from the female boxers, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has reduced the men’s events from 10 to 8.


  • Flyweight (48-52kg)
  • Featherweight (52-57kg)
  • Lightweight (57-63kg)
  • Welterweight (63-69kg)
  • Middleweight (69-75kg)
  • Light Heavyweight (75-81kg)
  • Heavyweight (81-91kg)
  • Super Heavyweight (+91kg)


  • Flyweight (48-51kg)
  • Featherweight (54-57kg)
  • Lightweight (57-60kg)
  • Welterweight (64-69kg)
  • Middleweight (69-75kg)

Boxing tournament format

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The Olympic boxing tournament follows a simple knockout format, withdraws made at random for each weight class. Winners of each bout will qualify to the next round.

The winner of the final bout wins the gold medal while the loser gets the silver medal. Both boxers losing out in the semi-finals win bronze medals.

Boxing rules at the Olympics

Boxers wear protective gloves to avoid injuries. However, they can’t hit the opponent anywhere below the belt or on the back of the head, as it’s prohibited.

In women’s Olympic boxing, protective headgears are a must, while for men, headgears were removed in the Olympics from 2016.

An Olympic boxing bout comprises three rounds of three minutes each. A one-minute break separates each round.

A boxer can win via knockout/KO. When a boxer lands enough legal hits on their opponent to knock them down, and the opponent cannot stand up within a count of 10 by the referee, it constitutes a KO victory. In this case, the bout ends immediately.

When there’s no knockout, the bout, which lasts for three rounds, is decided through points. Five judges score the boxers based on the number of blows landed on the target areas, domination of the bout, technique and tactical superiority. Deductions can also be made based on infringement.

At the end of every round, each judge determines a winner and award the victor 10 points for the round. The loser of the round can be given between seven to nine points.

At the end of the bout, each judge determines the final winner. A boxer can win via unanimous decision if all five judges unanimously agree that the winner has taken two or more rounds. If they have a different view, the majority consensus is taken into account, and the winner is determined through a split decision.

Why Are There So Many Boxing Weight Classes?

Boxing is one of the most uncompromising sports. A single mistake puts a fighter at risk not just of losing a match but also of suffering serious bodily harm. Yet, the sport has an innate sense of fairness for all of its brutality. This is best embodied in the range of weight classes used in pro boxing.

According to Bleacher Report, the need for so many weight classes — 17 in total — confuses many people. As a result, it grows difficult to establish the best boxer in a particular division in some cases. So let’s break down the pros and cons of having so many weight classes and investigate complicating factors.

The pros of so many weight classes

Even a relatively small difference in weight can lead to a huge advantage for pro fighters. Weight classes eliminate this kind of disparity, ensuring that skill remains the most important factor in determining the victor. A smaller boxer would have poor odds of ever becoming a champion with fewer weight classes, no matter their skill.

Furthermore, weight classes are designed with boxers’ safety in mind. In a mismatched fight, the smaller opponent stands a much greater risk of suffering a serious injury. Simply put, boxing is dangerous enough already without pitting smaller fighters against physically larger opponents.

Cons of having so many weight classes

A common argument against so many weight classes centres on the issues it creates in championship belts. How many sports can you think of where 17 different champions exist every year? Detractors of the current weight-class structure argue that the system diminishes the value of winning a championship. It would be like if the NBA had different leagues for players of different heights.

The fractionalized structure of boxing increases its perception as a niche sport. You don’t have to be a die-hard football fan to tune in to the Super Bowl and figure out what’s going on. Boxing makes it a lot harder for casual fans to understand. With so 17 different title fights, it’s hard to determine which matches have value.

What Are Rehydration Clauses?

Rehydration clauses are often used to limit the disparity between a boxer’s weight between the weigh-in and the start of the fight. It means that a fighter cannot gain more than a pre-agreed weight after the weigh-in and before the bout.

Because fighters can undergo extreme weight loss due to dehydration to make the weight limit, they could gain more than ten or more pounds before the fight begins.

That can be undesirable for a couple of reasons. One, extreme dehydration can put a fighter at long-term health risks throughout his career, and in the short term, may leave him unable to fight the next day properly, risking injury. Secondly, even if he is healthy once he is rehydrated, weight gain may be considered an unfair advantage by his rival or a regulating body.

What Are Catchweights?

Catchweight allow for agreements between fighters to take place at non-traditional weight limits. There are several ways and reasons this might take place.

One example may be to make a fight between two fighters who are reluctant to move to one class or another to meet a particular fighter, with the other competitor also unwilling to move in the other direction by such a distance.

For example, a light-heavyweight at 175lbs might be uncomfortable losing the seven pounds to take on a super middleweight, and the 168lbs fighter may not want to attempt a further seven-pound increase. They could then agree to fight at 171lbs, which is not a traditional division limit, but would allow the pair to change their weights less drastically.

Catchweight can also be agreed to save a fight if one fighter fails to cut the pre-agreed weight. For example, if a lightweight fighter comes in at 136lbs, he may take a financial hit and give up any title on the line. But if the two want to fight nevertheless to ensure they fulfil their obligation to put on a show, a catchweight of 136 lbs may be used.

Another example may be when a fighter wants to fight within a traditional weight class, to challenge for a particular belt, but is only willing to do so if his opponent agrees to a non-traditional limit within the division. That could be because a smaller-framed boxer does not want to give a taller fighter a weight advantage. A welterweight pair may agree to fight at 145 lbs, for example.


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