In January of 1681, the Protestant Mercury (a London newspaper) reported the story of a bare-knuckle boxing match between the Duke of Albermarle's footman and a butcher. In this first-known newspaper story about a boxing match, the butcher won.
At the time, boxing was really a mixture of wrestling and boxing. (The ancients also had a mixed wrestling/boxing sport, called Pankration, whose rules would never pass muster today. Biting an opponent - or gouging his eyes, nose and mouth with fingernails - was all that was prohibited.)
Not until James Figg became a boxer, in 1719, was any effort made to train would-be participants in a boxing school. Figg, known as the "father of boxing" (he fought nearly 300 times before his death in 1734), started a Boxing Academy and died unbeaten. He was known, as well, for challenging just about anyone to boxing bouts at his Southwark Fair booth.
Although the sport was still vicious then, without rules or regulations, the King (George I) enjoyed the spectacle. His interest (in 1723 he set up a boxing ring in London's Hyde Park) helped boxing to regain respectability.
One of Figg's students, John ("Jack") Broughton, introduced the sport's first rules in 1743 - after an opponent died following a fight. His rules included breaks, if a boxer were knocked down, and gloves used for practice.
Champion from 1729 until 1750, Broughton also taught boxing at his Amphitheater near Oxford Street. His rules were used until 1838, when the Pugilistic Society created the London Prize Ring Rules. Broughton lived until he was 86 years old and is buried, with his wife, in the West Cloister of Westminster Abbey. His gravestone notes his status as a champion boxer:
Mr. John Broughton
Champion Prizefighter of England
Died Jan 8th 1789, Aged 86 years
Other world-champion British boxers followed, including Daniel Mendoza (known as the "father of scientific boxing"), Jem Belcher, Tom Cribb, James Burke and Jem Mace. Footwork, sparring and counter punches were developed during this time frame, changing the sport from a slugfest to something more sophisticated.
The Queensberry Rules of 1867, written by John Graham Chambers and sponsored by John Sholto Douglas, the Eighth Marquess of Queensberry (who was once embroiled in a famous trial involving Oscar Wilde), introduced three-minute rounds, the ten-second count (if a fighter went down), a prohibition against wrestling/hugging, and boxing gloves.
At the end of the 19th century, American fighters began to defeat their British opponents. When John L. Sullivan was world champion for ten years, the sport became popular in America.
It was never more popular, however, than when a down-on-his-luck fighter named Jim Braddock staged one of the most incredible sports comebacks of all time.