Round Nine - Audience APPEAL

The pugilistic writers made sporadic attempts to depict pugilism as palatable for a refined audience, but discussion of concerns over declining masculinity, increasing ‘effeminacy’, national identity, and martial readiness suggest that these idealistic calls to extend the sport’s appeal lacked conviction. Possibly, such pieces expressed unrealistic pretensions to attract a diverse audience. The degree of flash content confuses issues of audience accessibility.

Egan may be viewed as a historically specific figure, and debateable concerns over his target audience being, notwithstanding occasional pleas to the contrary, confined to the Fancy (or at least those with more than a passing interest in sporting matters) suggest these works were also culturally specific.

Boxiana commentaries were couched in flamboyant, jargon-filled language that risked alienating the non-Fancy reader.

There were subtle modes of influencing public opinion; Boxiana-style descriptions using figures that inject an element of audience recognition. A prime example of the ring transformed into an imaginary field of battle occurs in Egan’s account of Randall v Belasco (1817), as he describes the manoeuvrings: ‘[NAPOLEON] never looked upon the advantages of a move with greater interest – nor did the competent WELLINGTON ever attempt to frustrate any grand design, with more zeal, judgement, and anxiety […] It was a complete system of tactics’. (Boxiana II)

Pierce Egan indicated a prevailing fascination, for persons unacquainted with the intricacies of sporting circles, ‘to take a peep at the resort of the Fancy’ in order to observe ‘heroes of the ring; and the persons considered “public characters” connected with the turf’. (Book of Sports)

The essayist G A Sala (1828-95) offers an appraisal of a typical prizefight gathering at which he perceives ‘all peculiar and distinct varieties of the genus sporting man’ amongst a ‘locust crowd’: ‘There are several horsemen, hovering on the skirts of the ring, well-mounted gentlemen in garb, and apparently half interested and delighted with the prospect of the sport, and half ashamed to be seen in such company’. ('The Sporting World', 1859)


The ambivalent feelings coincide with the indeterminacy of a pugilistic scene incorporating conflicting senses; deplorable yet enticing, degrading yet honourable.


Briefly looking at a more modern medium and its audience, Russell Crowe starred as former heavyweight champion James J Braddock (1905-1974) in one of the more compelling films in the sporting genre -- Cinderella Man (2005).