American Fair-play rules

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The American Fair-Play Rules are a set of rules intended for amateur boxing matches. Recorded by John Boyle O'Reilly in Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport and by professional boxer William Edwards in his 1888 book, The Art of Boxing and Science of Self-Defense, together with a Manual of Training. Edwards attributes the rules to a "David Blanchard of Boston Mass." Further, Edwards claims that the rules are based off of the Marquess of Queensberry rules and that it "has been warmly endorsed by many prominent lovers of the manly art." The reasons Edwards gives for adoption of these rules are, in his estimation, that they "will encourage fairer and more harmless, and at the same time more scientific and interesting exhibitions of the old and much admired sport."

  1. An honest and competent referee must be chosen who should be familiar with the rules. His orders must be promptly obeyed, and his decisions in all cases shall be final.
  2. A responsible timekeeper must be appointed who shall take his position near the ropes, and should be provided with a proper time-watch. The referee also may have the privilege of keeping time for his own satisfaction, particularly in reference to the twelve seconds after a fall.
  3. All contests should take place in a roped square enclosure, twenty feet square or as near that as possible, with eight posts, which should be padded on the inside. Three ropes of one inch diameter should be used, the top one to be four feet from the floor or ground and the others at equal distances below it or sixteen inches apart. There should be a circle three feet in diameter drawn in the middle of the enclosure, to be known as the centre, where contestants shall meet for the beginning of each round.
  4. Each principal may have two attendants, only one of whom shall be allowed within the enclosure. While the contest is in progress the attendants must take positions outside the ring and neither advise nor speak to either of the principals, except while they are resting. A violation of this rule may be punished by the referee excluding the offender from serving as an attendant. Either attendant may quietly call the attention of the referee to any violation of the rules. While resting, principals may use a light chair in their corners, but it must be placed outside by the attendants while the contest is in progress.
  5. No wrestling, clinching, hugging, butting, or anything done to injure an opponent except by fair and manly boxing, shall be allowed. If a contestant should resort to clinching, his opponent may continue hitting as long as he does not clinch himself. A contestant shall not go to the floor to avoid his opponent to obtain rest, nor shal he strike his opponent when down or on one or both knees, nor be allowed to strike below the belt or waist. No feeling should exist between contestants, and the custom of shaking hands before and after the contest should never be omitted.
  6. A round shall be of three (3) minutes' duration, with one minute between rounds for rest, and the time occupied in verbal contention or discussion shall be noted by the timekeeper, and it shall not be included as part of a round. In all matches the number of rounds and weight of gloves should be mutually agreed upon. It is suggested that the gloves should not weigh over three ounces each.
  7. If a glove shall burst or come off it must be replaced immediately to the satisfaction of the referee. No tampering with the gloves by forcing the hair from the knuckles or otherwise, shall be allowed. The costume shall be tights, with stockings and light shoes and shirt if desired.
  8. If either man is sent to the floor, or accidentally falls, he shall be allowed twelve seconds to rise and walk unassisted to the centre. In the meantime his opponent shall retire to his corner and remain until the fallen man shall first reach the centre, when time shall be called and the round completed. If, however, the man fails to come to the centre within twelve seconds, the referee shall decide that he has lost the contest.
  9. If a man is forced on to the ropes in such a manner as to be in a position where he is unable to defend himself, it shall be the duty of the referee to order both men to the centre.
  10. If either principal becomes so exhausted that it is apparently imprudent to continue, it shall be the duty of the referee to stop the contest and give his decision in favor of the more deserving man.
  11. Spectators should not be allowed within three (3) feet of the enclosure.
  12. If at any time during the contest it should become evident that the parties interested or bystanders are doing anything to injure or intimidate either principal or to wilfully interfere in any way to prevent him from fairly winning, the referee shall have the power to declare the principal so interfered with the winner. Or if at any time the ring is broken into to prevent the principals from finishing the contest, it shall then also be the duty of the referee to award the contest to the man who at times in his opinion had the advantage.
  13. If on the day named for the meeting anything unavoidable should occur to prevent the contest from taking place or from being finished, the referee shall name the time and place for the next meeting, which must be within three days from the day of the postponement, proper notice of which shall be given to both parties. Either man failing to appear at the time and place appointed by the referee shall be deemed to have lost the contest.
  14. If there is anything said or done to intimidate the referee while serving, or if the referee has any other good and sufficient reasons why his decision should not be immediately rendered, he shall have the right to reserve his decision, which, however, must be rendered within twenty-four hours after the contest.
  15. If the contest should occur in a field, blunt hobbles not over one-eight of an inch in thickness or length shall be used in place of spikes on the soles of the shoes, and must be placed so as to be harmless to an opponent.
  16. In order that exhibitions may be conducted in a quite and orderly manner, the referee should always request spectators to refrain from loud expressions or demonstrations, and any one guilty of such conduct while a contest is in progress should be severely condemned.

Suggestion to referee: While in the foregoing rules broad and unrestricted powers are reposed in the referee in order that his authority may be unquestioned in preventing intentional violations of the rules and of fair dealing, it is expected that the referees will use the greatest caution and wisest discretion in the exercise of their power and in distinguishing accidental mistakes on the part of the contestants or their supporters from willful violations of the spirit of these articles.



  • Edwards, William (Billy). The Art of Boxing and Science of Self-Defense, together with a Manual of Training, New York, Excelsior Publishing House, 1888.
  • John Boyle O'Reilly., The Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport.