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What is the Walker Law?

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  • Written By: Matt Brady
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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The Walker Law is a landmark piece of legislation that legitimized and provided lasting official regulations for the modern sport of boxing. It was passed in 1920, and it made New York the first state in the U.S. to fully permit and officiate boxing as a sport. Up until that point, boxing had largely been an underground sport, shunned by the general population as too brutal and uncivilized. The Walker Law, more than any other legislative action, helped clean up that image by providing the sport with an official regulatory system, which would for the first time be able to make official decisions on rounds; it also implemented practices that ensured certain measures of safety and decency.

In the early 1900s, New York had become a groundswell of movements and laws—culminating in the Walker Law—that helped clean up boxing's image and thrust it into a popular spotlight. There was the Horton Law in 1896, which first decriminalized prizefights. Then there was the Lewis Law, which allowed those who qualified to fight in exclusive bouts. And then there was the Frawley Law, one of the first laws to begin carving out a limitation on rounds.

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In 1920, all the shifting in boxing regulations began to settle with the passage of the Walker Law. Almost as quickly as it was passed in New York, the law began to spring up in other states, which ultimately led to the adoption of the Walker Law's standards as the regulatory basis for boxing all across America. Since its passage, the Walker Law has stood a remarkable test of time, remaining more or less unchanged since 1920.

The law not only revitalized boxing's image, but provided a completely new structure within which it could thrive. The law finally allowed official decisions to be made on boxing bouts, which launched the sport as a legitimate career path for athletes. It also launched a thousand other careers, paving the way for trainers, managers, and event promoters, among other positions. Matches, which under the new law had a 15-round limit, were to be officially decided by referees and judges. The law also ensured that a person couldn’t box without meeting certain qualifications and obtaining proper licensing. Boxers and event organizers were also given guidelines to help keep the fighting relatively safe and clean.

Perhaps more than anything else in boxing's history, the Walker Law is responsible for the sport's worldwide popularity and acclaim. If the law had never passed, the system that allowed such boxers as Jack Dempsey or Muhammad Ali to showcase their skills might not have existed. World titles might not have been recorded. The audience might not have been as large. In other words, boxing is much of what it is and has been because the Walker Law helped make it possible.

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