James Figg

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James Figg c. 1727–1729. The verses below read:
The Mighty Combatant, the first in Fame,
The lasting Glory of his Native Thame,
Rash, & unthinking Men! at length be Wise,
Consult your Safety, and Resign the Prize,
Nor tempt Superior Force; but Timely Fly
The Vigour of his Arm, the Quickness of his Eye.
[1]

James Figg (1684 – 7 December 1734) was an English bare-knuckle boxer. He is widely recognized as the first English bare-knuckle boxing champion, reigning from 1719 to 1730.

He was born in Thame in Oxfordshire and fought his early prize fights there. In 1719 he started his own school and taught boxing, fencing, and quarterstaff.

Although records weren't kept as precisely at the time, the common belief is that Figg had a record of 269–1 in 270 fights. His only loss came when Ned Sutton beat him to claim the title. Figg demanded a rematch, which he won, and also went on to retire Sutton in a rubber match. After 1730 he largely gave up fighting, and relied on his three protégés to bring in spectators: Bob Whittaker, Jack Broughton, and George Taylor. Taylor took over Figg's business upon Figg's death in 1734, though Broughton went on to become his most famous protégé.[2]

Figg died in 1734 and was buried in St Marylebone Parish Churchyard.

Legacy[edit]

  • Jack Dempsey called him the father of modern boxing, although this accolade has also been awarded to Jack Broughton. Many of the bouts at the time consisted of boxing, wrestling and fencing with sharp swords. Figg was also a great fencer who engaged in sword duels and singlestick matches.
  • Pugilism.org describes Figg as one of the 5 Hardest Men of the Pugilistic Era and founder of the modern sport of boxing.[3]

Relationship with William Hogarth[edit]

William Hogarth was reputedly a friend and fan. Figg sometimes featured in his pictures, such as Southwark Fair (where he can be seen riding a horse on the far right). It is not unlikely that Hogarth used Figg as model for some of his well known works such as A Rake’s Progress[6] and a A Midnight Modern Conversation[7]. But as records in this time are unreliable (Hogarth himself warned against finding likenesses of individuals in his depiction of drunks, stating that "We lash the Vices but the Persons spare")[8] this cannot be ascertained with certainty. A typical example is James Figgs' trade card which was believed to be engraved by Hogarth[9], but the general consensus is that it was engraved by somebody else, it is even suggested that the trade card itself is a forgery.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

James Figg's great-grandson appears as a central character in the Marc Olden novel Poe Must Die and appears alongside other historical figures including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens. Whilst he is a fictional adaption, Olden's character references the life and experiences of the real Figg.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b James FIGG (1684–1734). Oxfordshire Blue Plaques
  2. ^ Derek Birley (1993). Sport and the Making of Britain. Manchester University Press. p. 118. ISBN 0-7190-3759-X.
  3. ^ Figg on the Pugilism.org website
  4. ^ James Figg on the IBHF Website
  5. ^ Listing on the website
  6. ^ James Figg on BBC Oxford
  7. ^ A Midnight Modern Conversation (1733) on the website of the Royal Collection Trust
  8. ^ A Midnight Modern Conversation on the website of the Indianapolis Museum of Art
  9. ^ James Figgs'trade card on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  10. ^ The trade card on the website of British Museum

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Figg, James". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.