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Why Is Boxing Called The Sweet Science? – Ultimate Answers

Photo Credit: Cliff via Flickr

Boxing is one of the oldest and most popular fighting styles in the world. At first, seeing two people beating each other in the ring may look brutal and even simple in the eyes of average people. In the end, we can all throw a punch, right? Still, boxing is much more and there is a reason why it is often called “Sweet Science”.

The term “Sweet Science” is used to describe how technical boxing is, although boxers only use their hands. Boxing teaches how to be in a tactical advantage position and read the opponent’s moves in advance by preparing with counter moves. Boxing is all about the scientific approach to combat.

One has to spend many years training or following the sport to truly understand what is happening inside the ring. It is much more than two people beating and trying to knock each other with punches.

In this article, we will go deeper into what the term “Sweet Science” means. We will do our best to break the science of boxing to you using simple language and a lot of examples.

History Of The Term “Sweet Science”

The term “sweet science” has been around since 1813. The man who first came up with this term was the sports journalist Pierce Egan. He used the word “science” to describe how boxers need to be technical and have a game plan to win a match.

Even though this was a long time ago, the sport of boxing was surprisingly advanced back then. For instance, boxers were very strategic, and they used many techniques we are seeing in modern days like ducking and slipping the punches.

Even though it may sound weird at first, Sweet Science is actually an ideal term to describe boxing. Take a closer look at a single boxing match and the first thing you will notice is how calculated both fighters are. The way they move, throw faints and punches, dodge strikes and read the opponent is a science to some extent. In some way, the two boxers fighting in the ring are actually playing a game of chess. 

The term “sweet science” became popular in modern times when A.J. Liebling published his book “The Sweet Science” in 1956. The book includes the most iconic moments in boxing history, and it instantly became very popular. In 2002, “Sports illustrated” ranked it in number one place on their list of the greatest sports books of all times.

But, why it is “sweet”? The answer is really simple. Seeing a boxer outclassing the opponent by executing a perfect game plan always gives you that “sweet” feeling. It is one of those feelings where, even if you are not a fan of that boxer, you still admire them for putting on an incredible performance.

Boxing Styles And Techniques Explained

Boxing is a complex sport that consists of various styles, tactics, and techniques. As in any sport, every boxer is different and they all have strengths and weaknesses in their game. The science of boxing is about the way you use your strengths to control the fight and beat the opponent. Boxers do this by utilizing the mix of footwork, slipping and bobbing, waving, creating angles, blocking, and punching. 

To make it even simpler, let’s look at some of the famous boxing styles and techniques.


Swarmer – tends to overwhelm their opponent with pressure and high output of strikes. Although these strikes are not too powerful, they can do huge cumulative damage. These boxers have very quick footwork, hand speed, and insane cardio levels. They are the ones attacking, pushing the pace, and leading the dance.

Defensive or out-boxer – this type of boxing style is all about having good defense and keeping your distance. The secret is to use quick footwork and long range strikes to keep the distance and do damage. They also have really fast counter punching skills they use to catch the opponent coming in. 

Boxer puncher – this style is a mix of all styles put into one. Boxer puncher has good hand speed, power in the punches, fast footwork, good counters, and defense. They can fight on the outside, trade wild blows in the pocket, or focus on volume and pushing the pace. The drawback of this style is boxer-puncher does not excel in a single aspect. They usually lack mobility and have a poor defense.

Brawler/Slugger – this is the least technical style that is not a good instance of boxing science. Brawlers are usually very aggressive and always looking for the close range exchanges. They don’t mind taking some damage to land a knockout punch they are always looking for. The trouble is the lack of mobility, and brawlers are often very predictable and could be reckless at times.


Punches – boxers can do damage by using their hands only. They use jabs, crosses, and other straight punches to do damage and keep their distance. They land other punches like uppercuts, hooks, and body shots at much closer range.

Slipping and Bobbing – boxing puts a lot of emphasis on defense and slipping and bobbing are among the most important techniques when it comes to defense. The main goal is to keep your head off the centerline by moving it from side to side or back and forth. Slipping punches is also great because it sets you up to land a counter punch.

Footwork – this is a skill that separates great boxers from the average ones. Footwork plays a key role since it impacts the way you punch, slip or dodge strikes and perform other techniques.  

What Was Boxing Originally Called?

Boxing comes from Ancient Greece where it was called “pugilism”. The name “pugilism” comes from the words “pugnus” (Latin word for ‘fist’) and ‘pyx’ which means ‘with a clenched fist’. If we translate it to modern usage, it means “prizefighting” which describes a sport where fighters earn money competing.

The name ‘boxing’ came much later during the bare-knuckle days in the 17th century. At the time, boxers would travel across the countries and challenge local fighters to duels in a square ring with a couple of posts and ropes. One of the first people to use the term boxing was author Pierce Egan in the 1800s when he called it “boxiana”. 

Best Boxers Who Represent Sweet Science

In boxing history, there have been many fighters who are a great instance of how sweet science looks in practice. Most of them have been very strategic which mixed together with their amazing skills made them look unbeatable inside the ring. Let’s see who they are in the list below:

Floyd Mayweather Jr. – often seen as the best defensive boxer in history, Mayweather is a great instance of why boxing is called sweet science. He is an outside boxer who has amazing footwork and counter punching skills. He is a master in exposing every single hole in the opponent’s game, keeping his range and absorbing minimum damage.

Muhammad Ali – one of the reasons why Ali was so great was his amazing speed, intelligence, and footwork. Ali was one of those fighters who had the ability to see everything coming at him in advance. First, he would use amazing footwork and head movement to make the opponent miss most of the punches until they got tired. Then he would attack using angles and fast hand speed to put them out. He was a true showman who made most of his opponents look like amateurs standing in front of him.

Willie Pep – Pep was one of those boxers who could do it all inside the ring. He had great hand speed, power, accuracy and his ability to block and dodge punches was what set him above the others. He knew how to box on the outside, keep his distance, and counter. Still, he was also not afraid of wild pocket exchanges. At one point in his career, Pep was on the 63 fight winning streak.

How Do Boxers Prepare For A Fight?

When boxers prepare for a match, boxers would first study the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent. Coaches would break the opponent’s style frame by frame to the deepest details. Then, they would come up with a plan on how to use their own strengths to expose all the holes in the opponent’s game. This includes positioning, combinations, angles, and many other elements.

Photo Credit: Boxing AIBA via Flickr

The next step is to create a training camp and work on specific offensive and defensive techniques and strategies to win a match. Fighters would drill these techniques and plans every single day for months. They also need to work on their cardio and follow a strict diet program.

Once in a match, their mind would spot the patterns they practiced in the camp and trigger the response on its own. Or in other words, boxers would throw a punch or move away without even thinking about it. The work you see inside the ring is just a final product of the scientific approach that goes into preparation. 

Related Questions:

Who Invented Boxing Gloves?

Boxing gloves first appeared in the 18th century with the birth of the first boxing rules put together by Jack Broughton. Initially, boxing gloves were used only for training while matches remained bare-knuckle. However, this changed with the arrival of “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” in 1967. This set of modern rules made boxing gloves mandatory for both practice and pro matches. The first modern design of boxing gloves came towards the end of the 1980s.

Types of Boxing Gloves?

There are many types of boxing gloves that come in different shapes and sizes. Here are the most common types of boxing gloves:

Sparring gloves – boxers wear this type of glove to protect their hands in sparring sessions. These gloves are usually heavier than the ones boxers wear in pro matches but are much safer. They usually wear from 4 oz to 10 oz size gloves, but, there are some fighters who prefer lighter and less safe ones that go above 10 oz.

Bag gloves – like its name suggests bag gloves protect your hands while you are punching the heavy bag. These type of gloves are only for this purpose and it’s not recommended to use them in sparring. The size usually goes from 8 oz to 12 oz. Some senior boxers may use 14 oz or even 16 oz gloves while hitting the heavy bag.

Competition gloves – the design and production of these gloves has to be done according to the official regulations. They are usually less padded than other types of boxing gloves and come in three different sizes: 8 oz, 10 oz, and 12 oz.

Lace up gloves – they are used by pro boxers for both training and competition. Lace up gloves provides a close fit around the wrist which is usually padded for more comfort. The design includes a single lace crossing both sides which allows you to tight them hard around the hand. They come in the following size: 8oz, 10 oz, 12 oz, 14 oz, and 16 oz.

Is Boxing A Martial Art?

Boxing is a true martial art that is also very popular in form of sports competitions. Even though some people try to argue against this, boxing is a martial art since it meets all the criteria. Saying it is just a sport is not right and here is why.

First of all, every single technique you learn in boxing works in real-life situations. This makes boxing great for self-defense scenarios where you have to defend yourself or others. No other martial art will teach you better footwork, blocks, movement, and punches. Training includes a lot of sparring in which you can feel how it is to be in a real fight and to control your emotions.

Second, boxing is good for both physical and mental health. The training sessions are intense and will get your body and mind in top shape. Boxing also helps you to develop a strong mindset and higher pain tolerance which impacts your life outside the gym as well.

In the end, how can we say boxing is not a martial art when it is one of, if not the oldest combat style? The earliest records of boxing date way back to the 3rd millennium BC and it has been a part of the Olympic Games since 688 BC. It has a much, much longer history than most other martial arts.

Why Do Boxers Put Vaseline On Their Faces?

Before and during a boxing match, we can often see the cutman putting some Vaseline on the boxer’s faces. They usually apply a few dabs of Vaseline around specific areas around the eyes socket, nose, lips and eyebrows. But, why they do this? Well, Vaseline is a petroleum jelly which protects fighter’s faces during the match and here is how. 

When your skin is dry, there is a higher chance that the opponent’s punch would open up a cut or do other damage. This is because there is a lot of friction between the flat surface of the glove and dry skin. When you apply some Vaseline to the same areas, the punches would usually slide off and not drag the skin across the edge of the bone. 

We have to point up that boxers can’t use Vaseline as much as they want in a fight. The referee has the right to instruct the corner to remove an excess deposit of Vaseline on the boxer’s face.