ESPN conducted with scientists from the United States Olympic Committee to rank and compare the overall difficulty of 60 different sports. I don’t think there will be many surprises when everyone sees which sport came out on top.

(Glossary key can be found at the bottom of the page for a breakdown of all the criteria used in the rankings.)

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We sized them up. We measured them, top to bottom. We’ve done our own Tale of the Tape, and we’ve come to a surprising conclusion. Pound for pound, the toughest sport in the world is . . .
Boxing.

The Sweet Science.

That’s the sport that demands the most from the athletes who compete in it. It’s harder than football, harder than baseball, harder than basketball, harder than hockey or soccer or cycling or skiing or fishing or billiards or any other of the 60 sports we rated.

But don’t take our word for it. Take the word of our panel of experts, a group made up of sports scientists from the United States Olympic Committee, of academicians who study the science of muscles and movement, of a star two-sport athlete, and of journalists who spend their professional lives watching athletes succeed and fail.

They’re the ones who told us that boxing is the most demanding sport — and that fishing is the least demanding sport.

We identified 10 categories, or skills, that go into athleticism, and then asked our eight panelists to assign a number from 1 to 10 to the demands each sport makes of each of those 10 skills. By totalling and averaging their responses, we arrived at a degree-of-difficulty number for each sport on a 1 to 100 scale. That number places the difficulty of performing each sport in context with the other sports we rated.

On the grid below, click on each sortable category to find out how our 60 sports rank in each skill. A glossary key is included at the bottom of the grid that explains each category.

So put on the gloves, get in the ring and let the roundhouse hooks begin.

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