Famous Boxers manuscript  [ca. 1830s]
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Boxing (also known as pugilism or prize fighting) originated in antiquity, but the sport was relatively unrecognized in Great Britain until the 18th century. James Fig, a boxing champion prominent in the early 1700s, helped increase its appeal, and Jack Broughton's set of rules codified and tamed the sport in 1743, outlawing hits below the waist or against a fallen opponent. Despite a 1750 law prohibiting the sport in England, prize fighting increased in popularity throughout the century. Members of all social classes participated in bouts, and the sport was particularly popular among the working class in urban areas, drawing large crowds and significant monetary wagers.

Prize fighting maintained its popularity in England until around 1825, just as it began to win followers in the United States. As the sport's popularity waned in England, famed boxers moved to North America, where the sport continued to develop.