Boxing was phenomenally popular in 18th and 19th century Britain. Aristocrats attended matches and patronized boxers, and the most important fights drew tens of thousands of spectators. Promoters of the sport claimed that it showcased the timeless and authentic ideal of English manhood—a rock of stability in changing times. Yet many of the best fighters of the era were Irish, Jewish or black.
This history focuses on how boxers, journalists, politicians, pub owners and others used national, religious and racial identities to promote pugilism and its pure English pedigree, even as ethnic minorities won distinction in the sport, putting the diversity of the Empire on display.