hold the ring

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Soldiers watching a boxing match aboard a Royal Navy troopship in November 1942 during World War II, from the collection of the Imperial War Museum, UK

Probably from keep the ring. In days past when spectators would encircle participants in a prizefight or a performance, people would be employed to maintain order among them and keep them from coming too near the participants.[1]



hold the ring (third-person singular simple present holds the ring, present participle holding the ring, simple past and past participle held the ring)

  1. (sports, theater, obsolete) To maintain order among spectators encircling participants in a prizefight or a performance and keep them from coming too near the participants; to keep the ring.
  2. To be a spectator at a fight; (figuratively) to watch other people argue.
  3. (chiefly Britain, idiomatic) To oversee a situation while attempting to remain uninvolved in it.
    Police held the ring during the protests.
    • 1968, J. Hurstfield, “Social Structure, Office-holding and Politics, Chiefly in Western Europe”, in R[ichard] B[ruce] Wernham, editor, The New Cambridge Modern History, volume III (The Counter-Reformation and Price Revolution 1559–1610), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ↑ISBN, page 132:
      In England a century earlier it had been a struggle between two warring houses, in France it was now a struggle between three: Guise, Montmorency and Bourbon, with the feeble government of Catherine de Medici vainly trying to hold the ring.
    • 1991, Martin [Gardiner] Bernal, “The Thera Eruption: From the Aegean to China”, in Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, volume II (The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence), New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, ↑ISBN, page 288:
      While this debate was going on in Nature another was being conduct in Archaeometry. This was between Betancourt – and his old colleague Michael – and Warren, with the English archaeometrist M. J. Aitken holding the ring.
    • 2002, Martin Wight, “International Anarchy”, in Hedley Bull and Carsten Holbraad, editors, Power Politics, ↑ISBN, page 100:
      It is the great powers that create international upheavals. In 1912–13 the Balkan powers fought two bitter wars among themselves, while the great powers held the ring.
    • 2006 August 31, “Holding the ring in the capital: Embedded with American troops in a volatile district, our correspondent asks how long they can prevent an all-out sectarian war”, in The Economist[1], archived from the original on 6 March 2016:
      Lieutenant-General Fry says that coalition forces will continue military operations "to separate the two sides of the sectarian conflict" but that such operations were meant to hold the ring until the politicians come up with a solution.
  4. (sports) Of a prizefighter: to hold one's own during a fight; to continue winning a series of fights.



  1. ^ See, for example, “Pugilism”, in The Sporting Magazine, or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of the Turf, the Chase, and Every Other Diversion Interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise & Spirit, volume LXXII (Old Series); XXII (New Series), issue CXXXIII, London: Printed for M. A. Pittman, 18 Warwick Square, October 1828, OCLC 385568558, page 448: “Eight pugilists were engaged specially to keep the ring, and everything went off as it should do.”