Like other sports such as football and athletics, boxing offers talented young men from underprivileged backgrounds the chance to escape from a life of poverty. For this reason, it has always attracted members of immigrant groups. In London in the early 20th century, it was popular among Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, and in more recent years it has attracted people from an Afro-Caribbean background.

In the early 20th century, America dominated the sport, but some British fighters were successful on the world stage. London produced several world champions including George 'Digger' Stanley (bantamweight, 1910), Bill Ladbury (flyweight, 1913) and Teddy Baldock (bantamweight, 1927).

One of the greatest English fighters of the early 20th century was Ted 'Kid' Lewis, who came from the East End. Lewis, who was born Gershon Mendeloff, had his first fight at the age of 14. He went on to win the world welterweight championship in 1915 when he beat the American Jack Britton in the first of 20 epic fights between them. Lewis, also known as the 'Aldgate Sphinx', had a total of 279 bouts and was the first Briton to make an impact in America. He also won many more British, European, Commonwealth and world titles.

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