Answer Man

Boxing’s weight classes vary, depending on who sets them

Leo Santa Cruz, right, was bantamweight and super-bantamweight champion.
Leo Santa Cruz, right, was bantamweight and super-bantamweight champion. Los Angeles Times

Q: What can you tell me about the history of weight classes in boxing? When did they start and how many are there now? How do the classes for men compare with women and are they the same for the mixed martial arts that seem so popular now?

H.B., of Cahokia

A: Until about 100 years ago, boxing could be a little like the Romans throwing the Christians up against the lions.

With no standardized weight classes, bouts could produce serious mismatches, which were potentially dangerous for the smaller fighter and boring for the crowd. In 1823, for example, the “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” set the limit for a “light weight” at 12 stone (168 pounds) while “Sportsman’s Slang” had it at 11 stone (154 pounds). (The English adopted a stone as a weight of 14 pounds.) Until a standardized system could be developed, world and national titles were impossible.

That day finally arrived in 1910 when the National Sporting Club of London agreed to a set of eight weight classes ranging from fly (maximum 112 pounds) to light heavyweight (175 pounds) and heavyweight (unlimited). In 1920, New York passed the Walker Law, which re-established boxing after a three-year ban by instituting rules to make the sport safer, including a 15-round limit, a doctor in attendance — and standardized weight classes.

Because everybody loves a champion, boxing has seen weight-class inflation ever since, especially after the split of the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association in the early 1960s. Adding such words as “super,” “junior” and “light,” the number of divisions doubled as weight differences narrowed. In January 2015, the WBC, WBA and the International Boxing Federation (but not the World Boxing Organization) agreed on the following 17 professional weight classes for men and their maximum poundage:

Minimum weight (105), light flyweight (108), flyweight (112), super flyweight (115), bantamweight (118), super bantamweight (122), featherweight (126), super featherweight (130), lightweight (135), super lightweight (140), welterweight (147), super welterweight (154), middleweight (160), super middleweight (168), light heavyweight (175), cruiserweight (200) and heavyweight (unlimited).

But that’s for pro men only. Professional women duke it out in 13 similar classes, which are (as you might expect) generally 2 to 3 pounds lighter than the men with the heavyweight at anything over 189 (instead of 200). Inexplicably, however, middleweight women can range up to 165, 5 pounds heavier than the men. Also, women start out at a “pinweight” of up to 101 pounds.

That still doesn’t cover everyone. Amateur boxing has 11 classes from light flyweight (106) to heavyweight (over 201). In Rio, Olympic boxers will be competing in 10 classes this summer from light flyweight (roughly 108) to super heavyweight (200). Women, meanwhile, will be trading punches in just three categories: flyweight (112), lightweight (132) and middleweight (165).

By comparison, mixed martial arts are like the wild, wild West when it comes to weight classes. Depending on which country is hosting the events, the number and maximum poundage of divisions can vary widely. Russia’s M-1 Global has five, Japan’s Shooto has 10 and it’s apparently a free-for-all set by individual promoters in Great Britain.

In 2000, the New Jersey State Athletic Commission codified the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts with nine weight classes that generally increase by 10 pounds from flyweight (125) to super heavyweight (over 265). As you can see, the classes are generally considerably heavier than corresponding boxing classes. Women’s classes also vary by organization, although they are considerably lighter than men (atomweight and strawweight at 105 and 115) and they generally top out at 135 for bantamweight or welterweight. No heavyweights here.

Similarly, kickboxing offers a confusing hodgepodge of classes, names and limits, depending on the sanctioning organization.

Q: I’ve always been told that a Civil War general is responsible for prostitutes being called “hookers.” True?

C.W., of Edwardsville

A: While the loosey-goosey behavior of Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s Army of the Potomac may have helped popularize the term, it already was in wide use years before.

Some wordsmiths trace it to Corlear’s Hook, a section of New York City. According to John Bartlett’s 1859 edition of “Dictionary of Americanisms,” a hooker was a resident of the Hook — “i.e., a strumpet, a sailor’s trull. So called from the number of houses of ill-fame frequented by sailors at the Hook in the city of New York.”

Already in 1845, a North Carolina letter writer was advising the following: “If he comes by way of Norfolk, he will find any number of pretty Hookers in the Brick row not far from French’s hotel. Take my advice and touch nothing in the shape of a prostitute when you come through Raleigh, for in honest truth the clap is there in luxuriant growth.”

Ultimately, however, the connection may date back all the way to the 1400s when “hook” already meant in a figurative sense “that by which anyone is attracted or caught” and later referred to “fishing for a husband or wife.”

The family name, by the way, dates to at least 975 to people who either made hooks or farm laborers who used a hooklike implement.

Today’s trivia

How much did RCA Records pay to buy Elvis Presley’s contract from Sun Records in 1955?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Even before he was crowned Saudi Arabia’s fifth king in 1982, Fahd bin Abdulazzis Al Saud already had big plans. So in 1980, he started building in Jeddah what is still the world’s most powerful water fountain. The fountain took three years to build before being launched in 1985. Depending on whom you ask, the fountain can jet water from 850 to 1,025 feet in the air. Either way, it dwarfs the 630-foot Gateway Geyser in East St. Louis, the world’s runner-up. The King Fahd Fountain can spray water at a speed of 233 mph and its airborne mass can exceed 18 tons. Rather than fresh water, it uses salt water from the Red Sea, which is illuminated at night by more than 500 spotlights. King Fahd died in 2005 at age 84.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer