boxing rules

8 Rules of Amateur Boxing You Didn’t Know

So you think you know the rules of amateur boxing? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Take a look at some of the most common mistakes I see and experience (and sometimes make, myself) on a regular basis.

1. It’s not called a fight (Although I call it that sometimes.)

Only professional fights are called fights. In order to distinguish between pro and amateur events, the amateur events are called bouts or matches. You might hear me say it here on my personal private little cave, but when I’m in my black and whites you’ll never hear me slip.

I might accidentally say it, but then you’ll look the other way and pretend it didn’t even happen. That way I won’t be horribly embarrassed.

2. Referees CAN talk to boxers during the match

Before 2014, refs were limited to simple hand signals. I can remember infractions being called at least once or twice during matches I had, and I had no idea what offense had actually occurred. Most of the time in a boxing round, the ref is sort of invisible; you’re not really thinking about or paying attention to her.

But because amateurs are learning in the ring, the new rules allow refs to say what the infractions are, and even to coach a little bit during the round. Refs can state and explain an infraction, and even simple warnings (“Watch the holding,” or “Keep that head up”) are perfectly acceptable.

3. Most punches don’t count (And here’s why…)

Most people still think that whoever lands the most punches automatically wins, or should win.

Wrong again Beavis.

Amateur bouts (Hah! See how I didn’t call them “fights”? Sometimes I’m awesome like that.) are judged on five metrics:

  • Number of quality blows landed on the target area
  • Domination of the bout
  • Competitiveness
  • Technique and tactics superiority
  • Non-infringement of rules

So punching is just ONE part of the picture, and furthermore, for a punch to be counted, it must:

  • Land in the legal target area (above the waist, front side of the body)
  • With the knuckle part of the closed boxing glove (no slaps)
  • With the weight of the shoulder or hip behind the punch
  • Land without being blocked or guarded by the defender

So none of the punches in the clip below actually count. FYI.

Many people who watch amateur boxing only consider punches thrown, and don’t judge the quality, accuracy, or effectiveness of the shots. The shot must be thrown, land — with weight behind it — in the right place with the right part of the glove, and not be opposed. Boom.

4. A standing 8-count is not an automatic scoring deduction

You see 8-counts in nearly every amateur match. The referee gives these in order to evaluate whether a boxer is fit to continue. We need to look and make sure they’re okay.

And sometimes we aren’t sure because amateurs don’t always know what they’re doing. They have sloppy form (chin up), or they don’t block well, or they slip or trip and fall down, not because they’re in danger, but because they’re new.

Most boxers are allowed a total of three 8-counts in any one round, and a maximum of 4 in the match. (Slightly different rules for Elite Men — no limits in a round, and for Masters over the age of fifty, where it’s 2 per round and 3 total.)

So an 8-count is a fairly normal occurrence, and not something to wig out about. The judges won’t actually take it into consideration UNLESS is really IS being given because the other boxer is dominating, or has landed an extremely serious blow.

But most of the time, that’s not the case.

5. Mouthguards with red coloring are not allowed

Let me see if I can explain this one:

Red Mouthguards

(Refs can’t see any blood if there’s red.)

6. You can’t wear clothes that are all one color

Have you ever noticed that most boxing trunks have a contrasting waistband? That’s so that a low blow can be clearly seen. If a boxer is wearing black trunks with a black tank top, there’s no clear delineation for a ref to call a low blow, or for the judges to mark a clean and legal shot.

Before the 2014 rule change, you would see coaches wrapping duct tape around their boxers’ trunks to make an impromptu waistline. That’s not allowed any more. See next rule.

7. No tape is allowed on gear or clothing

This is one of the new rules that came in during 2014, and the reasoning behind it is so that boxers can have decent, functional gear and clothing. Before this year you would see tape of every kind fixing problems of every kind. Shoe soles taped together. Laces taped to shoes (so they don’t fly around or come undone), gloves taped on. The rear of a jersey, taped to make it fit a smaller boxer better.

Since getting rid of tape means upgrading equipment, and because boxing serves so many young people who simply don’t have the means to acquire new equipment, at the lowest levels of competition you’ll see some tape infractions ignored by officials when it’s supporting safety. Laces to headgear might be taped to the gear (so it doesn’t pop someone in the eye). Old, worn glove laces, same thing.

But that may not last, now that it’s part of the official rules. These guys below? Not allowed in the ring.

tape

8. You must weigh in clean-shaven

Therefore the ewok above is DISQUALIFIED. Catbeards and dogbeards also not allowed. Get these jokers outta here.

Clean shaven

UPDATE: The requirement that Master athletes (35 and older) be clean shaven at weigh-ins has been changed to allow moustaches and neatly trimmed beards of less than two (2) inches in length.

So. How’d you do?

Feel free to leave me a comment with questions about rules and regs, or contribute your own additions to the conversation.

And you can download the most recent copy of USA Boxing’s Technical Rulebook and Competition Rulebook at these links. Which I know you will. Because it’s such scintillating reading.

Top photo by West_Point on Flickr 

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44 Responses to 8 Rules of Amateur Boxing You Didn’t Know

  1. Blake December 18, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    Thanks for clearing up the notion that the rules of amateur boxing is problem. Well it’s not. It’s the judges that suck!! Lots of these judges aren’t judging by these standards.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 18, 2014 at 9:14 am #

      Hey, Blake, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. And I hear your frustration loud and clear. Every boxer has been in the ring (or just watched from the bleachers) and been shocked at whose arm was raised. Boxing is far more complex than football or soccer or other sports where the outcome is determined by much simpler means.

      And interestingly, judges in boxing are not allowed to count/score anything they cannot actually see. Even if they KNOW that guy just got rocked, if the boxer’s back is to them and they don’t see the blow landing without opposition in the target area, they absolutely can not count it. That’s why there are three judges on different sides of the ring, it’s one of the reasons why the refs stay in constant motion (to keep from obstructing the view of the judges) and it’s also why you get split decisions, even if the judges all actually believe the same boxer won. Interesting, right?

      This is just year one for the new rules (which became effective Jan 2014); let’s hope things will get better as we continue to have them in place.

      • Carrie August 29, 2017 at 8:30 pm #

        Hey Lisa, Also can not use orange or pink mouthguards anything in the warm color hues.
        Carrie Barry
        AIBA 1 Star Coach

    • Carrie March 25, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

      Blake,

      as an athlete for over 10 years and now a Coach for USAB.

      IF YOU DONT LIKE THE JUDGING THEN GET IN THERE AND BECOME A Judge.

      standing back and pointing fingers doesn’t help our program.

      • Leon Shook April 11, 2016 at 2:27 am #

        Thank you Carrie. As a judge I know how difficult of a job it is. I have judged bouts and had one boxer winning easily, only to have the other two judges see it the opposite way. Some of these bouts I have been fortunate to watch video of them later. Some I still thought my guy won. Many more I thought otherwise or at least could see how some of the rounds could be judge the other way. The new 10/9 must system has taken a lot of the pressure off judges. Back in the day when we had to use hand clickers to count punches it was crazy. I have watched live pro matches and thought it went one way to only what the TV recorded bout later and think it went the other. Judging is subjective and not a science.

      • Evan January 15, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

        Blake, what is the best way to get involved with USAB? I’m interested and live in California. I would love to see if it is something I would enjoy more being in the ring than just watching. Thanks!

  2. Jeannie Joiner December 19, 2014 at 2:18 am #

    #4 is not all correct: Elite men (18 40) after a maximum of three 8 counts in one round the bout will be stopped. There is no limit of the amount of 8 counts in a bout without exceeding 3 in a round. Therefore, for example, there could be two eight counts in round one & two in round two and two in round three for a total of six. If any of the rounds there are three the bout would be stopped. Women,youth and juniors will have a maximum of three 8 counts in one round and 4 in the bout.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 19, 2014 at 9:31 am #

      So awesome to see someone who watches these things! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Jeannie.

      The only thing you are saying that is different is that there is no limit on 8 counts across the entire bout, and I haven’t seen that done in my state, even though it does sound reasonable…

      Do you have a place in the rulebooks you can cite? Because according to Appendix F in the USA Boxing Competition Rulebook, there are three 8 counts in a round, 4 in a bout, except for Elite Men and Masters (which I mentioned in the post). Screenshot linked below.

      http://www.theglowingedge.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/8-Count-Rules.jpg

      I am still very new at this (only officiated at 13 events so far), so it’s very possible I’m missing something. I’ve also sent off an email to one of the long-time officials I work with. I think he’s been doing this for 30 years.

      Standing 8 counts always get so much attention, don’t they? And yet they are so different in the amateurs than pro. I’ll try to remember to post back whatever I learn here.

      Thanks again for commenting!

    • boxing weight classes March 21, 2015 at 8:42 am #

      Hi Jeannie,
      not 18-40 i think 18-30…but others i want to agree u…

      IMHO
      Giorgi

  3. Mitch Geller December 20, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    Wow, at some point during the last 40 years they must have changed rules about pugilistic nomenclature when I wasn’t looking. In the 4 years I boxed in the GGs, from 1972-1976, the boxers, trainers, judges, sponsors and other officials freely used the term “fight” interchangeably with “bout” or “match.” Must be some new-fangled thang that “only professional fights are called fights.”

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 21, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      I’d actually be curious to hear when and how that rule change came into effect myself, but I would bet money that it came up in connection to the Olympics at some point. That whole mess about amateur vs professional. I’m not sure how anyone can tell the difference any more.

      And add to that the fact that NOW Elite Men in amateur boxing are allowed to *not* wear headgear. The women, of course, are still required to wear it.

      Bit of a tangle, no?

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Mitch!

  4. Dr. Nevin February 12, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    Great article and awesome website. The no beard part is BS. There is zero % chance my soft, long flowing beard that I wear for the US Beard Team is not going to cut or stab someones eye out.

  5. Garrett March 25, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    Knew all of these lol. 8-counts actually do affect boxers fighting at the national level. The nationals such as USA Boxing World Team Open and Elite Men’s use the ten point must system. Any 8-count or knockdown is scored a 10-8 round. There also isn’t a use of headgear in these competitions (for Elite men 19 years and older at the nationals).

  6. Julia August 12, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    Can and women fight a man in amateur boxing for a charity event?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

      No, not and be sanctioned by USA Boxing. Matches that are out of weight, age, gender, or other boundaries DO happen, but they’re typically called “exhibition” matches, and they can not have a USA Boxing official (referee or judges, etc.).

  7. Maria J. Minton December 4, 2015 at 4:22 am #

    Really interesting post about Boxing. I am an amateur boxing and I know 5 of these 8 facts

  8. Ken December 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    Under point #2, why in the world would a referee ever say “Keep that chin up”? That is not perfectly acceptable.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

      Hi, Ken. Nice call! You rock. I actually meant to say “head” up.

      Some kids change their level by bending forward at the waist, rather than using their knees to get low. It’s a lazy habit, and when their face is parallel to the canvas they often leave themselves open to a killer uppercut. Also they can’t see their opponent and as a result you get some unintentional head butts, which can be bad. So we tell them to keep their head up.

      Good call! I’ve edited that now. 🙂

  9. Wazir May 2, 2016 at 8:17 am #

    Very Nice article…. When I watch AIBA World championship Videos, usually I find that most boxer hit slap punch in between and referee don’t give caution or warning to the boxer. Only in a very rear occasion I have seen referee telling “no open gloves’ . Can you please tell me when to give a warning to a Boxer who is hitting Slap Punch.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 2, 2016 at 8:51 am #

      That would be at the referee’s discretion, Wazir. At the local level, and with newer boxers, you might let some slap shots go by, but more than that should be called, in my opinion. And I’m surprised to hear that there was a lot of it in an AIBA World Championship bout. Those boxers are typically more skillful than that.

  10. Phil Dong June 10, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Hello,

    Nice article, do you have a reference for part 3, with regards to the 5 metrics?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 10, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

      Hi, Phil. That’s an excellent question, and when I first began as a referee, this was not listed in the rulebooks, but it was in some older documents that didn’t have the force of the official rules. But Angel Villareal, Chief of Officials for USABoxing, noted and clarified it as the rules were updated during 2013. Here’s the link:

      http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Boxing/Features/2013/August/29/Memo-from-Chief-of-Officials-Angel-Villareal-on-New-Rules

      And here’s the excerpt that pertains to your question:

      Q – Tell me how a bout is judged by the official? What is the judge looking for from my boxer?
      A – Each judge will independently score the merits of the two (2) boxers using the scoring system based on the following criteria which are weighted equally:

      Number of quality blows on target area
      Domination of the bout
      Competitiveness
      Technique and tactics superiority
      Non-infringement of the rules

      After each round, the judge must apply the following criteria to score the round:

      10 vs. 9 – Close round
      10 vs. 8 – Clear winner
      10 vs. 7 – Total dominance
      10 vs. 6 – Overmatched

  11. Brandon White June 27, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    What is the amateur rule about names or “nicknames” on shorts? If my name is “Brandon White” would they consider “B.White” on my trunks as a nickname and not allow me to wear them?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 27, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

      I haven’t heard of any rule like that before. I looked in the competition rules and didn’t see anything. So I’m guessing you should be fine, but you could always ask the Chief of Officials in your Local Boxing Club (LBC).

      • Brandon White June 27, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

        thanks! I haven’t heard of it myself, only when I went to the Title Boxing Nationals and they made a big announcement on the loud speaker that they will not allow nicknames on trunks and if we did we’d have to change. 🙁 thank you though for the reply!

  12. peter williams October 22, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    G’day,
    i won an amateur Australian lightheavy weight title in 2006 and when i was fighting i was never told to take my hands of the ropes when I had given my opponent an 8 count… i would take that opportunity to take as much air into my lungs as possible and i would put my hands either side of me on the ropes to help me breath and relax…

    My question is,,, is that now not allowed???
    Is there a specific rule to stop a fighter from recovering with his hands on the ropes whilst an 8 count is being given….
    Thank you for your halp

    Australian Boxer

  13. Ed January 2, 2017 at 2:53 am #

    Can I compete with “MMA compression shorts” in a amateur boxing match?

    Thanks!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 2, 2017 at 10:30 am #

      I usually wear those under my boxing trunks. Boxing shorts typically have a stripe of contrasting material at the waist, which you must have in order for the ref and judges to clearly see when a punch is legal and above the waist.

  14. Sonnny Barch January 13, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    The status armature actually really meant what was referred, in layman terms as an armature athlete actually the participants do not receive pay.( until the big promoters decided that they would always have first dibs. Also there were many different organizations. The last time I sparred as a pro (named of promoter????) there were two kids on US team making more than me and worked no more than two to three rounds a day. It’s time to bring real matches back where kids can come in and not have to compete with paid athletes. As an armature our coaches volunteered their time and you would never see reps of big time promoters allowed in the doors. I gave all I had been taught and the trust of the guys that ate cheap hamburgers with us. I do respect and hope to be able to do what an ex teammate of mine has done in Arkansas, Ollie C. you are a wonderful example to all colors. Keep Chief R., Robert W. Mr. Shaw, Bubba, Alex, Mike S. Robert S. and all the guys in your prayers as I will keep you and the man I’m proud you have become in mine. Teach them first and foremost that one minute all is yours but remember that greed, pride, and forgetting where we began will turn light to darkness. Thank you for all you do.

  15. Morgan January 18, 2017 at 11:55 pm #

    Hi Lisa, great article. I have a question I’m hoping you can answer:
    What is the rule regarding a boxer who’s head is outside of the ropes?
    Example – during the Hopkins v. Smith Jr fight (December 2016), Hopkins’ head is clearly through the ropes & outside of the ring, but he still gets hit flush with a left hand by Smith Jr. (Round 8). I believe when a fighter who uses the ropes to stay up it’s ruled a knockdown, but what about being clearly outside of the ropes, wouldn’t this be akin to hitting a downed fighter?
    Any answer would be truly appreciated.

    Thank you

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 19, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

      I didn’t watch that fight, but I can tell you that the rules for pro boxing are totally different from amateur boxing. In the amateurs, our primary concern as referees (and coaches, etc) is the safety of the participants. If a boxer had gotten caught up in the ropes I would call a halt while everybody got back inside the ring.

  16. Lwandiso February 3, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

    Are exhibition bouts allowed in amateur, if so what is the rule governing such tournaments. Because in South Africa we have a group of people who are practicing what is called “White Collar Boxing” and they say it is not regulated.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 3, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

      We have exhibition bouts here, but they are not regulated in the same sense that sanctioned bouts are. And many of the “White Collar Boxing” events here are sanctioned events.

  17. Cory Fox February 14, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

    hey I’m an ameture boxer in England and for my first bout I want to wear my Newcastle united football shirt with blue and white shorts am I allowed no one has given me a straight awnser and I’m really confused because you can wear tank tops that are baggy so does the same apply for a tight fitting football shirt

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

      Hi, Cory. The rules here for USA Boxing state that you can’t have names on your boxing shirt (except for sponsor names or logos), and you can’t wear long sleeves. The long sleeve rule is probably connected to the fact that blows would be more cushioned and even slip off the fabric more than they would on bare arms — that’s just my own guess; it doesn’t say why outright in the rules.

      By the way, this is from Rule 24 in the USA Boxing Competition Rules, and also from Appendix D. You can download a copy of the Rules on the USA Boxing website.

  18. Muhammad Saeed May 3, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    i am Muslim , and in our religion their is a strict rule to have beard ( of almost 3 inches ) ………and i also wanna become a boxer so what should i do?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 3, 2017 at 8:46 am #

      I know at least one woman has been granted a waiver so that she can wear her hijab (http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-muslim-teen-wins-fight-to-box-wearing-a-hijab/420029693/#1), but it’s not yet an across-the-board rule. I’ve not heard of anyone petitioning for a waiver on the rule that men must be clean-shaven. You could certainly contact the head of your Local Boxing club, or email someone at USA Boxing. Part of the battle you’ll face is that referees must be able to see your face clearly for injury reasons. But if one person could get a waiver, perhaps another might be able to. Hope this helps!

  19. diante June 10, 2017 at 7:42 pm #

    hey am i allowed to tape laced gloves for an amatuer match. thanks

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 10, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

      You’re not supposed to tape up gloves at sanctioned amateur boxing events, but at many local shows the officials will let that slide, since it can be expensive to have enough gloves in top condition for everyone at the show. Lace-up gloves are most commonly taped to keep the lace ends from flying out and hitting someone in the eye. The higher you move up in competition, the less you’ll see taping (anywhere, including shoes) allowed.

  20. Francis jacobs August 14, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

    Does this apply in Canada 🇨🇦? The bread being allowed as long as it no longer then two inches?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 14, 2017 at 6:58 pm #

      Sorry, I don’t know anything about Canada. You will have to get the information from your local boxing club.

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