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John "Jack" Broughton (c. 1703 or 5 July 1704 – 8 January 1789) was an English bare-knuckle boxer. He was the first person to ever codify a set of rules to be used in such contests; prior to this the "rules" that existed were very loosely defined and tended to vary from contest to contest. His seven rules of how boxing would be conducted at his amphitheatre (the largest and most influential at that time) evolved later into the London Prize Ring rules which are widely regarded as the foundation stone of the sport that would become boxing, prior to the development of the Marquess of Queensberry rules in the 1860s.
Broughton was of obscure birth, he is variously described as being born in either London or Gloucestershire. He served his apprenticeship in the Port of London, initially working as a lighterman but eventually, in light of his physical prowess (Broughton was nearly 6 feet tall and very muscular, weighing over 14 stone, or approximately 196 pounds), working as a waterman rowing passengers on the River Thames. In 1730 he won a major annual race on the Thames, Doggett's Coat and Badge race which is contested to this day, against a number of other watermen who had recently finished their apprenticeships.
Throughout the 1730s Broughton fought semi-professionally and earned a sizable reputation. Although records of fights fought in this era are few, there is no evidence that Broughton ever lost a fight. Following his retirement, he certainly claimed to have been undefeated, and this is also claimed by Captain Godfrey, a man who had cudgelled with James Figg and knew the fighters of the era well. In his treatise on boxing published in the mid-1740s. Broughton's fights often attracted sizeable audiences, so much so that on one occasion a spectator was crushed to death. Another of his fights, the epic and fatal Broughton v. Stevenson, served as the inspiration for Paul Whitehead's poem The Gymnasiad.
As a result of his status in boxing, and with help from a number of wealthy patrons, he opened his own amphitheatre in 1743, in Hanway Road, near Oxford Street. Here, Broughton and his team staged boxing exhibitions.
Broughton drew up a set of rules for the sport that were regarded as definitive for around 100 years. The rules stipulated that a round would last until a man went down, and there was to be a 30 second interval between rounds.
In 1750 Broughton came out of retirement to settle a dispute with Jack Slack, a Norwich butcher who had allegedly insulted him. Despite being far older than his opponent, Broughton entered the contest as the clear favourite. However, despite a strong start, the fight did not go his way and he suffered an embarrassing loss (destroying the perfect record he claimed for himself) when after 14 minutes of struggle Slack punched him right between the eyes, creating so much eye swelling that Broughton was unable to see his man, and thus had to retire from the bout. The Duke of Cumberland, Broughton's patron at the time (and a son of the king), was said to have lost £10,000 on the match, and accused Broughton of throwing the fight. This led to the eventual closing of Broughton's amphitheatre, variously reported as 1753 or 1754. Slack was heavily rumoured at the time to be the grandson of Broughton's old boxing master, James Figg. After the closing of the amphitheatre, Broughton continued to teach young boxers until his death. In his retirement he ran an antiques business and a furniture warehouse, making such a success at it that he left an estate of some £6,000 to his family.
Aside from his career in boxing, Broughton also served in the Yeomen of the Guard (the bodyguard of the British monarch), as a member of which he accompanied George II at the Battle of Dettingen, the last time a British monarch fought in a battle.
Following his death in 1789, Broughton was interred at Westminster Abbey. His headstone did not bear an epitaph for nearly 200 years because the Dean of the Abbey felt that the epitaph that Broughton had requested was inappropriate. It was not until 1988 that Broughton's request was fulfilled and the words "Champion of England" were engraved on the headstone.
Broughton developed a system of parrying, "hitting away" (striking on retreat), stopping and barring blows, and his defence, according to contemporaries, was so complete as to render him nearly untouchable. His code of 7 rules formed guidelines for the sport until the London Prize Ring Rules (1838, which expanded upon Broughton's code). Broughton also was the inventor of the first boxing gloves, called "muffles", which were used in his boxing academy by his students to "effectually secure them from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses...” They were never used in the professional prize ring.
Broughton was one of the original inductees of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, inducted as a pioneer of the sport.
- Mitchell Rawson (20 February 1961). "The Bare-knuckle Legacy Of Boxing: The early years of the prize ring were filled with mayhem, skulduggery and brutal fights". Turner - SI Digital. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- "Jack Broughton". Famous Fights. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Roberts, James B. & Alexander G. Skutt (2002). Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book. London, McBooks Press. ISBN 1-59013-020-0.
- Hennell, Reginald (1904). The History of The King's Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co.
- Mee, Bob "Bare Fists" pug. Collins Willow 1998
- Miles, Henry Downes "Puglistica" Pub. John Grant (Edinburgh) 1906
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- Godfrey, Captain "A Treatise on the Useful Art of Self-Defence", 1740 (reprint)