12/03/2009 2:38pm, #1
- Join Date
- Mar 2008
- Memphis, TN
James Figg: Father of British BoxingAn article/blog post from cool new blog (if you're big history geek like me)
James Figg was born to a poor farming family in Thame, Oxfordshire in 1684 (or 1695, depending on which source you read). He was the youngest of seven children and grew up a tough little nut, going to local fairs and challenging the prize fighters in the booths there. He based himself at the Greyhound Inn in Cornmarket in Thame, where he could be challenged, and gave self-defence lessons. By the time he was a grown man he was 6 feet tall and around 185lbs, fit and fast, and travelled to fairs throughout the Midlands where he challenged all-comers from noon until sundown.
He taught himself to fight with a short-sword, a staff and a club, and staged exhibitions of his skill at the fairs (very clever, as it avoided taking on an opponent for at least part of his day).
Gambling was an enormous part of bare-knuckle boxing (as it still is), and the Earl of Peterborough, a man who liked his sport and is gambling, happened to see Figg fight and offered to back him. Figg moved to London and set up home near Oxford Street. He opened his 'Amphitheatre' just north of Oxford Street, where he trained gentlemen in the 'art' of pugilism and self-defence. He also fought at Southwark Fair in his own booth, where he was known for taking on multiple opponents and beating them all. By 1720, he was openly acknowledged as London champion, and fought for money regularly, with the matches being advertised in the newspapers.
There were three rounds in an organized prize-fight: the first with short-swords, the second with fists and the third with the staff (sometimes a club). There was considerable skill involved, and considerable money; it was said that sometimes as much as 3000l could be wagered on a single match. It was also pretty brutal, with the bare-knuckle fight allowing slapping, kicking, biting and gouging.
Sometime before 1723, Figg let his Amphitheatre to another boxing master and began to prize-fight on a regular basis at 'The Boarded House' behind Oxford Street, in Marylebone-Fields. It was not only men who fought there, but women and animals. Figg fought about once a month, and his opponents included Christopher Clarkson The Lancashire Soldier, Philip MacDonald The Dublin Carpenter, James Stokes Citizen of London (and husband of the famous lady-boxer Elizabeth Stokes). However, Figg's greatest opponent was Ned Sutton of Gravesend. Sutton was the only person Figg ever lost to, but he regained his title as champion on the next bout. In around 250 fights, Figg recorded only one defeat. His most talented pupil, Jack Broughton continued to run his school and was instrumental in setting the first rules of boxing in 1743.
James Figg was enormously famous during his own lifetime with many of the aristocracy attending both his school and his fights. He was a great popular hero as well, and a familiar sight around the streets of the West End. William Hogarth, who both painted his portrait and allegedly designed his trade card (in the gallery) declared him 'the master of the noble science of defence'. There was one opponent Figg could not defend himself against however, and in early December, 1734 at the end of an astonishing career, this notice appeared in the papers:
Last Saturday there was a Trial of Skill between the unconquered Hero, Death, on the one side and till then the unconquered Hero Mr James Figg, the famous Prize-Fighter and Master of the Noble Science of Defence on the other: The Battle was most obstinately fought on both sides, but at last the former obtained an Entire Victory and the latter tho' he was obliged to submit to a Superior Foe yet fearless and with Disdain he retired and that Evening expired at his house in Oxford Road.
12/05/2009 3:33pm, #2
Histories of boxing tend to start with ancient Greece and Rome and then flash forward to Figg in the 1700s. IMO the most likely place of origin of modern boxing is actually Italy; various Italian cities and regions had their own codified fight-fighting sports throughout the Renaissance and into the 18th century.
12/05/2009 5:12pm, #3
- Join Date
- Oct 2007
12/05/2009 5:33pm, #4
The best resources are The War of the Fists– Popular Culture and Public Violence in Late Renaissance Venice, Oxford University Press (1994) and La Pugna o il Pugilato in Italia dal '200 al '700 nei Documenti Coevi, Scrima #1, 2006.
The latter article (only available in Italian, AFAIK) details codified fist-fighting sports in Venice, Tuscany and Rome, with references dating back to 1349. My Italian is too limited to be able to confidently define many of the technical details, but the article is very extensive; 12 pages of text and mostly color pictures, with a 17-item bibliography including Pyctomachia veneta seu pugnorum certamen venetum by Antoine de Ville (1634), Des combats a coup de poings by Alexandre Toissant de Limojon (c. 1673).
The bibliography lists three sources dating between 1349 - 1536, seven books from the 1600s, two from the 1700s and about ten from the 1800s. The majority of what appear to be technical manuals (going by my rough translations of the titles) are from the 1600s.
12/05/2009 9:44pm, #5
- Join Date
- Oct 2007
12/05/2009 9:53pm, #6