The distance, in boxing, refers to the full number of rounds in a match. It is frequently used in the expression "going the distance", which means fighting a full bout without being knocked out.[1]

In title fights, this is called "the championship distance", which once was 15 rounds but today usually means 12 rounds (See history section),[2] though there were some ten-round championship matches. Non-title fights can be of any length under 12 rounds but are typically 10 rounds or fewer. Women's championship boxing is ten rounds or fewer, each round lasting 2 minutes instead of 3 for men.


In the early days of bare-knuckle boxing, there was no limit on the number of rounds and so matches would be fought to a conclusion (i.e. with a knockout or tap out). For example, the match between Simon Byrne and James 'Deaf' Burke in 1833 lasted 3¼ hours.[3]

Subsequently, laws and rules were passed to prevent such protracted bouts. When John L. Sullivan made boxing under Queensbury rules with gloved hands popular, his matches were of a pre-determined length and the referee would decide the winner if they went the distance.[4] If a match reached the prescribed limit without a formal result then the result would be "no-decision", though one boxer might be considered the winner by popular acclaim—a "newspaper decision". To regulate such results better, official judges were appointed to award points so that a technical winner could be determined.[5] For a period, titles in many US states could not be lost if the match went the distance.[6]

For amateur boxing, the Amateur Boxing Association of England set rules for the length of a match when it was formed in 1880. Initially there were three rounds of 3 minutes with a break of 1 minute between them. Changes were made in 1926 and 1997 and most recently, in 2000, the International Boxing Association made it four rounds of two minutes each.[3]

Championships shortened

In professional boxing, until the 1980s, the "championship distance" generally referred to the title rounds that numbered between 13 and 15.[7][8] For decades, the last heavyweight title match scheduled for less than 15 rounds had been the September 22, 1927 10-rounder between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey; from then, the only bout that was not scheduled for 15 rounds had been a scheduled 20-rounder between Joe Louis and Abe Simon on March 21, 1941.[9] This changed though, following the death of lightweight Duk Koo Kim in 1982[2] after his fourteen-round fight with Ray Mancini. Almost immediately, the World Boxing Council (WBC) issued a statement saying that WBC world title bouts would be set for 12 rounds.[9]

The following year on March 27, 1983, the first ever heavyweight title fight scheduled for 12 rounds under that rule was held by the WBC between Larry Holmes and Lucien Rodriguez.[9] The World Boxing Association, from which the World Boxing Organization had not yet separated, later followed suit[10] by voting to reduce their championship distances to 12 rounds on October 19, 1987.[11] While the International Boxing Federation, which had recently broken away from the WBA, continued to hold onto the position there was no documented medical evidence to show a 15-round fight is more dangerous than a 12-round fight, they eventually voted to shorten their championship distance to 12 rounds as well on June 3, 1988.[12]

The last heavyweight 15-rounder title fight was on October 16, 1987 between Mike Tyson and Tyrell Biggs.[2][13] The last middleweight 15-rounder title fight was a World Boxing Board title match on June 7, 1997 in which Jose Alfredo Flores won a split decision over Eric Holland in Ruidoso, New Mexico.[14]

In recent years, there have been calls to return the championship distance to 15 rounds.[2][8][9] For example, the debate following the Bernard Hopkins vs. Jermain Taylor fight on July 16, 2005 questioned whether Taylor, who was "losing steam" in the later rounds, would have won the title match were it a 15-round bout.[9]

Distance change criticisms

The shift from a 15-round to a 12-round distance for title fights has been controversial. There have been studies which show that the brain becomes more susceptible to damage after the 12th round.[10] Moreover, it has been argued that the 15-round distance greatly increased the risk of dehydration and exhaustion.[15]

However, "purists" of the sport have contended that the shift from 15 rounds to 12 rounds has impacted viewership of the sport.[15] Moreover, Frank Lotierzo, a critic of the 12-round limit, pointed out that fatalities are rare in heavyweight matches, instead attributing deaths to dehydration from the pressure of "making weight" for lower weight classes:[2]

In my opinion, the reason that you hardly ever see fatalities in the heavyweight division is because the big guys don't have to make weight. In many cases, fighters under 150 pounds dehydrate themselves shedding those last few pounds to make weight. This leaves them vulnerable to brain injuries with a lack of fluid around their skull protecting the brain from crashing against it when they are hit. I believe this is more of a danger than fighters fighting 15 rounds. If I'm wrong, someone please explain why we rarely see heavyweights being killed in the ring? You would think most boxing fatalities would occur in the heavyweight division since they are clearly the most powerful punchers.

Lotierzo also argues that part of the motivation for a 12-round limit was not so much for safety, but to allow the matches to appear on network television.[2] Previously, the timing of boxing involved 15 three-minute rounds with 14 one-minute intervals between each round, the preamble, and post-fight interviews—requiring around 70–75 minutes; in contrast, a 12-round bout lasts 47 minutes, which fits neatly into a one-hour time slot when pre- and post-fight programming and commercials are added in.[16] However, by the 1990s, championship boxing had been almost exclusively become a premium pay-television (HBO, Showtime, pay-per-view) sport, meaning no commercials were necessary, and making that irrelevant.

Nonetheless, it has been noted that these rule changes have made certain kinds of boxing deaths far rarer, though boxing remains the 8th most deadly sport with 1.3 deaths per 100,000 participants.[10]

Speculation regarding change

It has been argued that "some of the greatest moments in sports would never have occurred" were the 12-round limit imposed in earlier matches.[8] Nonetheless, entirely different strategies might have been used were the fights scheduled for only 12 rather than 15 rounds, so it is possible that some or all matches could have ended the same way regardless of whether the scheduled distance were 12 or 15 rounds.

The following are some of the most notable longer championship distances, including the Fight of the Century, that would have had the reverse result were they abruptly ended after the 12th round:

It has also been argued that extra rounds would have changed other fights after the distance was changed. As before, the trainers worked with the 12-round rule, and based their strategies on the 36-minute distance, compared to the 45-minute distance.

Popular culture

See also: Going the distance (disambiguation)

The notion of "going the distance" is featured prominently in the 1976 film Rocky in which Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed fight 15 rounds for the World Heavyweight Championship.[18] Rocky says,

Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.

Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Creed (Carl Weathers) nearly go the distance again in their rematch in 1979's Rocky II, as do Rocky and Ivan Drago in their showdown in Rocky IV. Balboa's final fight against Mason "The Line" Dixon in Rocky Balboa lasts the maximum of 10 rounds.

Balboa's use of the term has also inspired its use in other works.


  1. ^ "go the distance 1. (boxing) to complete a bout without being knocked out." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved September 03, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Frank Lotierzo "15 Rounds: The True Championship Distance." Boxing Scene. March 11th, 2005.
  3. ^ a b Marcus S. Smith (2006), "Physiological profile of senior and junior England international amateur boxers" (PDF), Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: 74–89
  4. ^ Adam J. Pollack (15 September 2006), John L. Sullivan: The Career of the First Gloved Heavyweight Champion, ISBN 9780786425587
  5. ^ James B. Roberts, Alexander Skutt (2006), The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book, ISBN 9781590131213
  6. ^ F. Daniel Somrack (October 2004), Boxing in San Francisco, ISBN 9780738528861
  7. ^ Ron Borges "Twenty-five years is a long time to carry a memory: Ray Mancini's tragic bout with Duk Koo Kim changed the lives of the fighters, their families and the sport of boxing itself forever." November 13, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Don Colgan. "The championship rounds." eSports. 05/14/2004.
  9. ^ a b c d e f JE Grant. "Fifteen Rounds Reexamined." The Sweet Science. Jul 24, 2005.
  10. ^ a b c JOHN F. MOLINARO "Remembering Davey Moore." CBC Sports Online. April. 14, 2005
  11. ^ "An End to 15-rounders." New Straits Times. Oct 24, 1987
  12. ^ "I.B.F. Approves 12-Round Fights." The New York Times (AP). June 3, 1988. Published: June 4, 1988
  13. ^ Pat Putnam "[1]." Sports Illustrated. April 28, 1986
  14. ^ BoxRec
  15. ^ a b Mark Louis "The Sport of Boxing is in desperate need of an Independent Body." Boxing News 24. August 20, 2010
  16. ^ Ernest Cashmore. Making sense of sports. Psychology Press, 2005. ISBN 0-415-34854-4, ISBN 978-0-415-34854-6. Page 338.
  17. ^ Will Hammock. "The Champ: County to honor legendary boxer Charles today." Gwinnett Daily Post. Jun 5, 2010
  18. ^ Peter E. Bondanella (29 December 2005), Hollywood Italians, ISBN 9780826417572
  19. ^ Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge (2001) Westwood Studios. EA Games
  20. ^ Movie connections for Rocky (1976). IMDB
  21. ^ Westlake "Game Reviews: Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge." Moby Games.