New Boxing Rules

New USA Boxing Rules for Amateur Competition

The scoring of boxing events at the 2012 London Olympics was a mess. Yes, we were thrilled to finally see the ban against women’s boxing in the Olympic Games lifted, and despite heavy inequalities between the number of men versus the number of women allowed to compete, there was a tremendous showing of support. But the outdated, inefficient, and highly-variable computerized scoring rules that have governed amateur boxing for years finally caused enough problems to grease the wheels of massive change in the sport.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA), the body which governs USA Boxing, hammered out several long-awaited changes to the scoring system to bring sanctioned amateur boxing more into line with the way pro boxing is scored.

The 10 Point “Must” System

The name may sound odd, but the gist is that (before any point deductions for fouls) one boxer must be given a score of 10 for any given round, making her or him the winner of that round. The loser of the round will be given a score or 9, 8, 7, or 6, depending on how they performed. So each round would have one of only four possible scores:

10-9: The round was very competitive, but one boxer was slightly better.

10-8: One boxer was clearly dominant over the other.

10-7: Total dominance by one boxer.

10-6: One boxer completely overmatched by the other.

At the end of 3 rounds (or however many rounds they box), each boxer’s points are added up in order to determine the winner. Rounds are no longer judged primarily by the somewhat convoluted system that includes punch counting, but rather on the following criteria:

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

Notably, and unlike in the pros, a knockdown or 8-count in amateur boxing does *not* count against a boxer.

There are eighteen hojillion other subtleties and bits of information about the scoring, and if you want to read it all, you can download the official rulebook, although you should know (as of this posting) it has not been updated to reflect the new rules yet. Still, there’s lots in there that you may be surprised to learn. I just became a USA Boxing certified official, and even after my 7 years in the sport, there was a LOT I had to learn.

Other Rule Changes

No headgear option for Elite men: There’s also a controversial new rule allowing Elite level men (but not Elite women) to box without headgear. My guess is that this has to do with crowds wanting to see boxing without headgear at the Olympics so that it’s more like the pros. If the women were included (sigh) I would actually strongly support this rule, but (double sigh) no one asked my opinion. ‘Cause I’m just a girl, you know.

Okay, enough with the eye rolling; I still predict it will be much more work to get that addressed.

15 Professional bouts and still eligible for Olympics: Again, this makes some sense. The Olympics used to be a showcase for amateur athletes, but that’s long since crumbled before big sponsors with big money. If so many of the other sport categories allow pros, boxing should too (IMO). The sad thing, of course, is that so many amazing amateur fighters whose skills should be showcased will lose precious Olympic berths to more seasoned fighters.

Extra recovery time for low blows: I don’t know if one additional minute and a half to recover will make a significant dent in how fast a guy can recover from a blow like this, but now the ref *can* disqualify the offending fighter if the blow is considered intentional.

Referees are now unmuted: Now refs can actually speak to the boxers, whereas before a fighter had to play charades to try and understand what call the official had made. Thank you for that. Seriously.

There are some other modifications, including glove weights, ages for Masters level boxers, and so on, but the scoring system seems to have had the most profound immediate impact.

The new rules went into effect on January 1, 2014.

I think it’s definitely a move in the right direction. What’s your opinion? Leave me a comment below.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dy via Compfight cc

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12 Responses to New USA Boxing Rules for Amateur Competition

  1. Cheryl February 18, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

    Hi Lisa,

    How does getting knocked down or getting a standing 8 count not count against a boxer? Wouldn’t it show dominance or overmatching by the opponent? Curious as to how that is viewed in the reality of a competition.


    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

      Hey, Cheryl, — great question, thanks for asking, because I should clarify that some.

      A knockdown does weigh into a judge’s thinking IF it’s connected to one boxer actually being better than the other. But often you see knockdowns in amateur boxing when someone’s fighting a southpaw and they step on each other’s feet, or someone trips or slips in the ring, or there’s some clinching or wrestling action and a boxer overbalances or falls.

      If the knockdown happens because of a blow, you still think of the blow like you would a regular blow and judge it accordingly: did it hit cleanly (without being touched) in a target area with the weight of the shoulder or hip behind it? If so, it’s a good blow, but still just one of many in the round.

      For example, if boxer A is losing a round, but manages to hit boxer B and knock her down, that doesn’t mean boxer A wins the round. In the pros, a knockdown might actually win you the round.

      Does that help? 🙂

  2. Melanie Ley July 1, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    “but now the ref *can* disqualify the offending fighter if the blow is considered intentional. – ” This is not new. It as always been the case that a referee can disqualify a boxer for an intentional harm foul.

  3. Peter Spano March 7, 2019 at 10:28 am #

    amount of time between bouts. Rest time in weeks?

  4. ferrero December 2, 2019 at 3:30 pm #

    shirts/ rashguards are allowed?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 2, 2019 at 4:33 pm #

      Shirts are required. Ask your Local Boxing Club about the rashguards.

      • ferrero December 17, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

        So dress code is the same as professionals except headgear?

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 17, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

          That’s not the case at all. Pro boxing allows a lot of things that USA Boxing does not. Be sure to read the USA Boxing Competition Guidelines (Rules 21 through 24, plus Appendix D: Boxers’ Uniform Guidelines, and Appendix E: Gloves and Headgear Specifications) if you plan to compete; I’ve seen bouts cancelled on the spot when boxers are in conflict with the rules.

  5. william ryan March 5, 2021 at 1:36 pm #

    Lisa, do you a time soon when elite ladies will be boxing without headgear?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe March 5, 2021 at 1:59 pm #

      In the amateurs? I hope so. I can’t see why women shouldn’t be given the same choices as the men.

  6. william ryan March 5, 2021 at 7:04 pm #

    Thanks for your reply. Yes I meant the elite amateur ladies boxing. So you think it is only a matter of time before the headgear is gone. I agree women should have the same choice as the men.
    What do think of elite amateur boxers boxing without singlets, men boxing bear chested ? and ladies with just the sports bra as in professional boxing. Singlets do get very wet and sticky.

  7. william ryan March 5, 2021 at 8:05 pm #

    Thanks Lisa, so you see a time when elite ladies will box without headgear. I would agree with elite boxing without headgear, should be given a try.
    Do you ever see the day when the dress code for elite boxers, male and female, will be the same as the professionals, no shirts / singlets required, men will box bear chested and ladies with sports bra. Amateurs may not agree.

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