James Figg (1695-Dec. 7, 1734) was an expert fencer who became the first recognized "boxing champion" in 1719 (to 1730). He reportedly coined the well-known boxing phrases of "The manly art of self-defense" and "Third man in the ring."
He is largely responsible for the popularity of the sport, as he traveled around England giving sparring exhibitions. He opened his English School of Arms and Art of Self-Defense Academy in 1719, on Tottenham Court Road, London. It was also called Figg's Academy or Figg's Amphitheatre. His Academy provided for: wooden rails for ring enclosure, an elevated stage platform, a referee who officiated outside the ring, sparring exhibitions before bouts, and the fight being declared over when one man remained standing. It also presented the sports of cudgeling and fencing. It closed in 1743.
From 1723 (or 1724, depending on the source), Figg regularly participated in contests at the Boarded House, at Mary-le-bone, near Oxford Road, which was known as a "Theatre for Pugilism" as early as 1716. His last-known documented fight has him defeating Sparks in December 1731, in a broadsword contest, at Little or French Theatre, at Haymarket. (Thus the sources that report his retirement in 1730 appear to be incorrect.)
The date of his death is incorrectly reported in many boxing history books as being December 8, 1743. (Some sources also incorrectly report that he died in 1740). According to his obituaries, he died on December 7, 1734, a Saturday.
- Elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, "Pioneer" Category.