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Entrepreneurial pugilists of the early eighteenth century

Day, Dave (2011) Entrepreneurial pugilists of the early eighteenth century. In: Sporting Lives. Manchester Metropolitan University, Institute for Performance Research. ISBN 978-1-905476-62-6

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Abstract

Pugilism became immensely popular in England throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, partly through the efforts of James Figg, Edward Sutton, James Stokes, Thomas Sibblis, George Taylor and Jack Broughton, whose biographies are explored within this chapter. In 1719, Figg (1695-1734) claimed the Championship of England and opened an amphitheatre in London. In a career which spanned eleven years he never lost a bout and he also proved successful in business with his boxing arena attracting the patronage of the upper classes and giving pugilism a degree of respectability. After his retirement in 1730, other professors and entrepreneurs emerged including Jack Broughton, later to be awarded the soubriquet of “father of British Boxing”. Broughton (1704-1789) was a well-educated, intelligent, and courteous man who revolutionised the sport and, under his guidance, boxing became a specialised activity. His amphitheatre opened in 1743, the same year that Broughton’s rules came into being, and he subsequently opened a boxing academy. Following his death in 1789, he was interred at Westminster Abbey leaving an estate worth around £7000. This paper concludes that stereotypes portraying eighteenth century pugilists as inevitably doomed to a life of drink and physical decay did not apply to all of these men and suggests that their biographies confirm the need for historians to consider the particular, rather than the generic, in their discourses about the men and women who have occupied social roles such as athlete, coach, or administrator.

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