19.10.05 – By M.C. (Mike) Southorn: Born in 1704 in Cirencester and already 30 years old at James Figg’s passing, Jack (John) Broughton had trained at Figg’s Academy after coming to London to become a waterman. A large man for his time, Broughton stood 5’11” and weighed around 180 lbs. His exact record is unknown, but in a career that spanned nearly 20 undefeated years as Champion of England, his bouts must have been numerous. In his “Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence”, published in 1747, Captain John Godfrey wrote of Broughton:
“He fights the stick as well as most men, and understands a good deal of the small-sword. This practice has given him the distinction of time and measure beyond the rest. He stops as regularly as the swords-man, and carries his blows truly in the line; he steps not back, distrusting of himself to stop a blow, and piddle in the return, with an arm unaided by his body, producing but a kind of flyflap blows; such as the Pastry-Cooks use to beat those insects from their tarts and cheesecakes – No! – Broughton steps bold and firmly in, bids a welcome to the coming blow; receives it with his guardian arm; then with a general summons of his swelling muscles, and his firm body, seconding his arm, and supplying it with all its weight, pours the pile-driving force upon his man.”
Broughton was sponsored by the Duke of Cumberland, who helped him open his own Academy just up the street from Figg’s Academy which was under new management since the death of the former Champion. Competition between the two establishments was fierce and Broughton’s most historic fight took place against Figg alumnus George “The Coachman” Stevenson and most historians place it in 1741. Stevenson, a Yorkshireman, was hoped to be the one who would destroy Broughton’s reputation, thereby putting his Academy out of business and restoring the London boxing monopoly that Figg’s Academy had once enjoyed. Public interest in Broughton vs. Stevenson grew when the Prince of Wales (Cumberland’s brother) publicly backed Stevenson. In spite of the public’s perception of the fighters, and although there was bad blood between the Academies, Broughton and Stevenson actually
held no ill feelings towards one another. Captain John Godfrey, a fellow product of Figg’s Academy was on hand at this fight, and he described it in his “Treatise”. It should be noted that when Godfrey uses the term “bottom”, he is speaking of courage:
“I will name two men together, whom I take to be the best bottom men of the modern boxers: And they are Smallwood, and George Stevenson; The Coachman. I saw the latter fight Broughton, for forty minutes. Broughton I knew to be ill at that time; besides it was a hasty made match, and he had not that regard for his preparation, as he afterwards found he should have had. But here his true bottom was proved; and his conduct shone. They fought in one of the fair-booths at Tottenham Court, railed at the end towards the pit. After about thirty-five minutes, being both against the rails and scrambling for a fall, Broughton got such a lock upon him as no mathematician could have devised a better. There he held him by this artificial lock, depriving him of all power of rising or falling, till resting his head for about three or four minutes on his back, he found himself recovering. Then loosed the hold, and on setting to again, he hit The Coachman as hard a blow as any he had given him in the whole battle; such that he could no longer stand, and his brave contending heart, though with reluctance, was forced to yield. The Coachman is a most beautiful hitter; he put in his Blows faster than Broughton, but then one of the latter’s told for three of the former’s. Pity that so much Spirit should not inhabit a stronger body!”
Stevenson was hurt badly and this was immediately evident. Broughton was panicked that he had So grievously injured his challenger.
It is here that I should refer the reader again to Godfrey’s quote on the fight: Notice that Godfrey refers to Stevenson in the present tense (“The Coachman is a most beautiful hitter…”). The reason I point this out is that most boxing historians have Stevenson dead by Broughton’s hand in 1741, and the fight certainly happened prior to 1743 if it to be credited with inspiring Broughton’s Rules. But if Godfrey is consistently writing as though Stevenson were still alive in 1747, then either he’s writing about a different George Stevenson (and doesn’t mention the one Broughton killed in 1741), or Jack Broughton didn’t kill George Stevenson, or the Treatise was written recently after the fight in 1741 (before Stevenson died), and wasn’t published for six years. This last scenario is least very unlikely given that elsewhere in the
Treatise, Godfrey states that at the time of his writing, Broughton had been a top-tier fighter for “17 or 18 years”. Broughton entered his prime circa 1730, which supports the evidence that Godfrey’s Treatise was published soon after it was written in 1747. Given the overall content of Godfrey’s ‘Treatise’ and it is my considered opinion that reports of the death of George “The Coachman” Stevenson’s were greatly exaggerated.
Regardless, the beating Broughton handed Stevenson was such that it rattled Broughton and he took a step back from the boxing world. He did not retire altogether, but rather, he chose his matches carefully in order to ensure he need not strike another man such a blow again. His negotiations with potential challengers became quite complex – he wanted to ensure that the fight would be as safe as possible. These negotiations finally yielded Broughton’s Rules.
The rules were first introduced at Broughton’s Amphithetre in the presence of a number of the top fighters of the day. They were as follows:
Broughton’s Rules (16 August 1743)
TO BE OBSERVED IN ALL BATTLES ON THE STAGE
1. That a square of a yard be chalked in the middle of the stage, and on every fresh set-to after a fall, or being parted form the rails, each second is to bring his man to the side of the square, and place him opposite to the other, and till they are fairly set-to at the lines, it shall not be lawful for one to strike at the other.
2. That, in order to prevent any disputes, the time a man lies after a fall, if the second does not bring his man to the side of the square, within the space of half a minute, he shall be deemed a beaten man.
3. That in every main battle, no person whatever shall be upon the stage, except the principals and their seconds, the same rule to be observed in bye-battles, except that in the latter, Mr. Broughton is allowed to be upon the stage to keep decorum, and to assist gentlemen in getting to their places, provided always he does not interfere in the battle; and whoever pretends to infringe these rules to be turned immediately out of the house. Every body is to quit the stage as soon as the principals are stripped, before the set-to.
4. That no man be deemed beaten, unless he fails coming up to the line in the limited time, or that his own second declares him beaten. No second is to be allowed to ask his man’s adversary any questions, or advise him to give out.
5. That in bye-battles, the winning man to have two-thirds of the money given, which shall be publicly divided upon the stage, notwithstanding any private agreements to the contrary.
6. That to prevent disputes, in every main battle the principals shall, on coming on the stage, choose from among the gentlemen present two umpires, who shall absolutely decide all disputes that may arise about the battle; and if the two umpires cannot agree, the said umpires to choose a third, who is to determine it.
7. That no person is to hit his adversary when he is down, or seize him by the ham, the breeches, or any part below the waist: a man on his knees to be reckoned down.
These rules were adapted as the standard prizefighting rules for nearly the next 100 years, until they were replaced by The London Prizefighting Rules in 1838. Broughton’s obsession with safety did not end with the Rules however. He invented “Hand
Mufflers” – gloves stuffed with horse’s hair – designed to soften the blows and he made his students at the Amphitheatre wear them, as well as padded headgear, and other rudimentary protective equipment while sparring. One side effect of these measures was that now nobles felt they could learn to box without spoiling their looks. Boxing became even more popular among the bluebloods and Broughton, like Figg before him, joined the powdered wig set. (Ironically, by protecting the hands, “Hand Mufflers” allowed fighters to punch harder than ever. Prior to the Queensbury age most career-ending boxing injuries were hand injuries, not brain injuries).
It is one of the cruel truths of boxing that when it’s over, it’s over. An old baseball or hockey player can have one more winning season if he’s on a strong team, but an over-the-hill fighter must either step down in class, retire or lose (and not necessarily in that order). It is sad that the career of one of the best, and most ethical fighters in boxing history should have ended at the hands of one of its biggest rogues. Jack Broughton had made an historic positive impact on the sport of boxing, to the extent that it took little prodding from his patron, The Duke of Cumberland, to have him made a Yeoman of the Guard.
The young challenger who would lift the crown from his head in 1750 was made of lesser stuff, in spite of an impressive pedigree.
Jack Slack was the grandson of James Figg, and, like so many other challengers, he was a product of Figg’s Amphitheatre, but unlike Figg or Broughton, Slack was a rogue. Slack went by the handle “The Norwich Butcher” and called himself “The Knight of the Cleaver”. Where Figg and Broughton had taken their knowledge of the short backsword and advanced the science of boxing, Slack took his proficiency as a rabbit-butcher and invented a short chopping punch delivered to the neck or the back of his opponent’s head: It became known as the “Rabbit Punch”.
The champion was now 46 and the odds were against him, nevertheless, his patron believed that he had one good fight left in him and wagered five thousand pounds at 10-1 odds that Broughton would retain his title. Sadly, youth was served; Slack battered Broughton about the eyes so viciously that they were virtually swollen shut by the 10-minute mark of the fight. The Duke of Cumberland, fearing for his wager, called out, “What are you about Broughton? You can’t fight! You’re beat!”
To which Broughton replied, “I can’t see my man, your Highness, I am blind, but not beat; only let me be placed before my antagonist, and he shall not gain the day yet!”
The bravado was in vain and four minutes later Slack was declared the winner and new Champion. The Duke had lost his wager and stormed out vowing that he was finished with prize-fighting in favour of horse-racing. He approached the local Magistrate and had Broughton’s Amphitheatre closed.
In addition, (after a second debacle at the hands of Slack) Cumberland successfully lobbied to ban boxing in England. Jack Broughton saw the writing on the wall and retired from the sport. He used his former boxing club to open an antique shop, which became quite profitable. Broughton lived to be 85, and died January 8th, 1789. He left a 7 thousand pound estate, which at the time was very good for a commoner.
He is currently buried in Westminster Abbey, next to his wife Elizabeth. Meanwhile, with Broughton retired and Jack Slack as it’s Champion, boxing entered the first of it’s modern “dark ages”…