On April 17,1860
American Heavyweight Champion John C. Heenan met British Champion Tom Sayers in
a title fight outside London. It was the first time that an international match
was held between American and British champions. As such, it was the beginning
of an era; but it was also the end of one. The Heenan-Sayers fight was stopped
by an unruly mob and the police—an anti-climactic finish to the great days of
It was not
surprising, though, that the first international championship should have been
interfered with by a mob and the police. The history of bare-knuckle fighting
was a constant skirmish with forces on both sides of the law.
boxing, as a modern sport, began when James Figg opened an amphitheater in the
Tottenham Court Road, London, in 1719. Fighting—with backswords, cudgels or
fists—was the entertainment at Figg's place. Figg himself was a complete
fighting man who engaged all comers. Boxing became the most popular activity,
and he assembled professional bruisers to fight him and each other. So far as
the records show, he was never defeated; though, to be practical about it, this
may have been because he was the boss.
or unwittingly, launched the first of boxing's golden eras. Figg was a
celebrated character in London. Poets praised him; James Bramston, for
instance, in his satire The Man of Taste, included him among the pleasurable
diversions of the day: "In Figg, the prize fighter, by day delight/And sup
with Colley Cibber every night."
fighting for money went on prosperously after Figg's death in 1734. His
successor at the amphitheater was George Taylor, one of the fighting troupe,
but Taylor's position as head man did not prevent another boxer named Jack
Broughton from giving him a whipping. Not long after, Broughton opened his own
amphitheater and took the best business away from the old shop.
deserves his title, Father of the English School of Pugilism. He drew up the
first definite code of rules for the growing sport, and they were the final
authority for almost 100 years. It was he who introduced boxing gloves, or
mufflers, as they were called, in the interest of the noblemen and gentlemen
who were his patrons and pupils. The new invention caught on at once for
sparring, but the serious business of fighting in the ring continued to be a
bareknuckle matter until the day, far in the future, of John L. Sullivan.
round according to Broughton's rules lasted until a man went down, and he could
be thrown as well as knocked down, provided he was held above the middle. Half
a minute was allowed between rounds, which could last anywhere from a few
seconds to as much as half an hour.
tenure as champion was a good time for boxing. In 1750, however, he made the
mistake of fighting a grudge fight with a younger man named Jack Slack. The men
met at Broughton's Amphitheatre, with the odds 10 to 1 on the champion. One of
Broughton's patrons was the Duke of Cumberland, who was so enthusiastic he bet
�10,000 on Broughton. The fight lasted only 14 minutes. A blow between the eyes
blinded Broughton, and Slack had only to continue hitting him until he was
unable to rise again.
The Duke of
Cumberland was quite upset by the loss of his �10,000. At first he told
everyone that he had been "sold," though later on he forgave Broughton
and pensioned him. But it is said that to the end of his days "he could
never speak of this contest with any degree of temper." He went to
Parliament, where he was very influential, and had legislation passed that
closed Broughton's Amphitheatre. The first big slump in boxing history
As for Broughton,
he never again raised his fists for money, except to instruct the young and
hopeful with the mufflers. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, the only boxer to
be so honored.