Place of Birth - London
Date of Birth - 1703 (exact date unknown)
Passed Away - 8th January 1789
Record - 15 wins, 1 loss
Greatest Accomplishments - Becoming the second bare-knuckle champion and producing a set of established rules for prize-fighting
Born John Broughton, but known as “Jack”, his exact date of birth is unknown, though it is believed he was born during 1703. Details of his childhood are sketchy, but it has been indicated that he undertook an apprenticeship as a ‘lighterman’ on London’s docks (a ‘lighterman’ was basically a labourer who moved goods between ships and quays using a small barge, which was known as a ‘lighter’). He later worked on the River Thames, ferrying passengers in a rowing boat.
Broughton would have been a heavyweight in the current era
Broughton began boxing in the 1730’s and in 1738 he beat fellow London pugilist George Taylor to be acknowledged as the champion of England. Taylor was a prospect who was being groomed for stardom by James Figg, who was the first recognized champion of England, and surprisingly, Taylor was also blind in one eye.
Tragedy struck in 1741 following Broughton’s victory over George Stevenson, a coachman, who died as a result of injuries suffered in their bout. This prompted Broughton to draw up a set of rules to offer protection to fighters, because previously contests were no-holds-barred brawls which could involve kicking, gouging and biting. The new guidelines included not hitting an opponent when he was down and allowing a fallen fighter 30 seconds to get up. Broughton’s rules gained general acceptance and subsequently evolved into the London Prize Ring Rules, which preceded the Marquess of Queensbury rules.
Broughton had a patron, the Duke of Cumberland, and opened an amphitheatre in Haymarket, central London, in 1743. As well as boxing, Broughton worked as a Yeoman of the Guard (basically a bodyguard) for King George II. He retired in 1744 and concentrated on running his amphitheatre, which not only featured boxing but also gladiatorial combat (using weapons) and bear-baiting, such was the brutal entertainment of those times. However, in 1750 he made a comeback against Jack Slack, a butcher from Norwich. It was not a wise decision as the aging, ring-rusty Broughton was knocked out after 14 minutes (his eyes became so swollen he could barely see). As an unfortunate sideline, the Duke of Cumberland lost a £10,000 wager on him. Interestingly, Slack was the grandson of James Figg, Broughton’s predecessor as champion of England.
Broughton (left) squares up to George Stevenson
Broughton retired again and his amphitheatre closed in 1754. Following this, he opened an antiques shop and by all accounts was quite successful. After his death in 1789 he left an estate valued at £6000 for his family. He was buried at Lambeth church. He was certainly one of the greatest of all bare-knuckle fighters, weighing approximately 195 lbs, and advanced the sport by focusing on punching accuracy and defence instead of flailing recklessly, which was the usual method at the time.
How would he have faired against contemporary fighters? Who knows, but he was certainly the best of his own era.