No Gloves, No Rounds, Plenty of Blood
December 8, 2014 11:40 PM   Subscribe

Of all the forms of fighting known to man, one name strikes fear further into the hearts of those who hear it: Bare Knuckle. For hundreds of years, the men of Britain have rammed their unprotected fists into each others bodies to decide who was the hardest of them all.

While UK bare knuckle boxing has spent years as an gangster-influenced underground bloodsport, BBAD promotions, run by former BKB fighter turned fight promoter Andy Topliff, aims to bring bare knuckle fighting out of the shadows and into the legitimate sports world.

At 46, Seth “The Bangor Hammer” Jones, (whose past includes convictions for drug smuggling) fights men half his age when not working as a newly minted solicitor. Even older is Big Joe Joyce, grandfather and self described King of the Travellers. On the other side of the scale, James “Mr. Happy” Lambert gave up fighting to become a life coach and motivational speaker, aiming to teach other young men how to give up the rage and anger that led him to beating the shit out of people. Somewhere in the middle of all this is family man and proud Irishman from Newcastle James “Gypsy Boy” Mccrory (SPOILER, ABOVE THE FOLD VIDEO).

Bare knuckle fighting has a long association among the Irish Travellers community, which has a tradition of a “Fair go” between two men as a way to settle disputes; no hitting a downed fighter, no kicking, biting, eye-gouging, or associated techniques are permitted, shake hands after. A “dirty go”, the kind reserved for truly acrimonious confrontations allow for… a more diverse menu of assaults.

Today, some Traveller families are engaging in multi-generational feuds, using social media to call out and insult their enemies. Often, large sums are gambled on the outcome of the fights. Violence has escalated to the point of armed confrontations, shootings, and the petrol bombing of a young girl visiting relatives. Ironically, many of the feuding families are actually cousins and uncles, making weddings and other large family events like funerals possible flashpoints.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (30 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't read this post without thinking of this hilarious bit from Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, on the homoerotic undertones of Britain's Hardest. "Are you?"
posted by JHarris at 12:13 AM on December 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


The British ramming their fists into their only bodies - w**kers.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:17 AM on December 9, 2014


Also Great post BTW.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:01 AM on December 9, 2014


the men of Britain have rammed their unprotected fists into each others bodies
Oh, steady on now!
posted by BinaryApe at 1:10 AM on December 9, 2014 [8 favorites]


This QI thread has some interesting stuff on bare-knuckle boxing. Go to the fourth post down.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:13 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Still plenty of it going on in the Traveller community in Ireland. See Brad Pitt's 'One Punch Mickey' character.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:26 AM on December 9, 2014


I appreciated the subtitles.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:31 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the fighters in the Vice piece talks about it being as good as sex, and that sounds like the guys I know who like to fight. They get something out of it; it's not just anger management problems.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:52 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


"At 46, Seth Jones ..."

looks like he's 65.

apparently this isn't a sport that keeps you fit. or maybe it's that it attracts hard living types who don't take care of themselves?
posted by jayder at 4:48 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Between 1930 and 1970, every holiday, birthday, graduation, wedding, funeral, and first communion in my father's Irish extended family involved a fist fight. They eventually got too old, I guess. Although at my grandmother's 90th birthday part the words, "That was 40 years ago!" were uttered, so they still carry the grudges.

That's in no small measure why we moved 1,500 miles away.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:48 AM on December 9, 2014


(While I in no way question the toughness of bare knuckle boxers) in boxing and mma, gloves are to protect the hands of the puncher not the head of the person being punched.
posted by MrJM at 5:51 AM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


gloves are to protect the hands of the puncher

When I was younger, I used to envy the tuff martial arts dudes who punched tree trunks or buckets of gravel to toughen their hands. Now I realize that they may as well have simply had their hands amputated and replaced with kettlebells.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:58 AM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Big foofy American boxing gloves are partly used to reduce cuts (after lubricating the hell out of the other guys face) and like football helmets may ultimately encourage more damage through concussions since they allow a fighter to take more blows to the head without immediate consequences.
posted by aydeejones at 6:07 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


And presumably allow the opponent to go on hitting harder for longer without hurting their hands, too.
posted by Segundus at 7:54 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which form of boxing causes the most brain damage? Because James “Gypsy Boy” Mccrory appeared - in his words - "brain damaged". Vice skipped over that part as part of the sport, a given that is accepted.
posted by stbalbach at 8:12 AM on December 9, 2014


Reading and viewing stuff like this gives me a sense of unease. I felt the same way a few years ago when I unfortunately stumbled across videos of Kimbo Slice and that horrible backyard brawling scene he was part of. These people seem like very damaged, awful excuses for human beings.
posted by jayder at 8:23 AM on December 9, 2014


From Paul Slade's link, above:

Promotional posters for boxing matches in the 19th century followed a formula: the two adversaries would be depicted squaring up to each other, with heads tilted slightly backwards and their fists held low, the knuckles pointing out and upwards. The pose looks comical nowadays, as if they are actors in a silent movie rather than pugilists.

The stance and guard were low because bare-knuckle boxing consisted largely of striking the opponent's body. The skull is an extremely hard object, and a full-force punch to an opponent's head could easily result in a broken hand. This is why so many bar-room brawls end after one punch. The "boxer's fracture" – a break behind the knuckle of the little finger – is regularly seen in hospital casualty departments at weekends.

The Marquess of Queensberry rules took off not because society viewed the new sport as more civilised than the old, but because fights conducted under the new guidelines attracted more spectators. Audiences wanted to see repeated blows to the head and dramatic knockouts.

By contrast, the last bare-knuckle heavyweight contest in the US in 1897 dragged on into the 75th round. Since gloves spread the impact of a blow, the recipient of a punch is less likely to be blinded, have their teeth knocked out or their jaw broken. However, gloves do not lessen the force applied to the brain as it rattles inside the skull from a heavy blow. In fact, they make matters worse by adding 10oz to the weight of the fist.
A full-force punch to the head is comparable to being hit with a 12lb padded wooden mallet travelling at 20mph. Gerald McClellan took around 40 such blows over the course of his world title fight against Nigel Benn in 1995. Even the most hardened spectators were shocked by its brutality.

Neither fighter made any great attempts to defend himself. Instead, the two stood toe to toe, trading punches. As a result, McClellan suffered brain damage that left him blind, 80 per cent deaf and paralysed.

As the bare-knuckle campaigner Dr Alan J Ryan pointed out: "In 100 years of bare-knuckle fighting in the United States, which terminated around 1897 with a John L Sullivan heavyweight championship fight, there wasn't a single ring fatality." Today, there are three or four every year in the US, and around 15 per cent of professional fighters suffer some form of permanent brain damage during their career. Worldwide, there have been over 400 boxing deaths in the last 50 years alone. The total would be far higher were it not for the advances in medical care that saved the lives of fighters such as McClellan and Michael Watson. A return to bare knuckles would be bloodier and less acceptable to mass television audiences, but one has to ask whether wheelchairs and life-support machines are any easier on one's conscience.

posted by Greg Nog at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


jayder: These people seem like very damaged, awful excuses for human beings.
I dunno... participants in the sport engage in permanently damaging mutual abuse, and it provides "legitimate" outlets for those who are drawn to acting out violently. These aren't wonderful, joyful people I'd like to have in my neighborhood, but I'll stop short of condemning them altogether.

I'd love - dearly, sincerely love - to see if the incidence of violent crimes tapers off (after adjustments for age) for participants that take up the sport after already racking up police records as repeat offenders. Is it like porn (that has been proven to reduce incidents of sexual violence), or is it like getting feeding an addiction?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 AM on December 9, 2014


Relevant: One of the best Achewood story arcs there is, The Great Outdoor Fight.
posted by jjwiseman at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I was younger, I used to envy the tuff martial arts dudes who punched tree trunks or buckets of gravel to toughen their hands. Now I realize that they may as well have simply had their hands amputated and replaced with kettlebells.

I could never even figure out what the theory was behind how this was even supposed to work, but then just a couple of months ago I caught an episode of one of those "Stupid Human Tricks" type shows covering a guy who broke 2×4s with shin-kicks or something like that. They claimed that if you can cause stress or impacts that only result in cracking and abrasions on the surface layer of your bones, and can produce evenly distributed damage like this over time, when those injuries heal the cumulative effect is to thicken and strengthen the bones along their entire length. As opposed to the sort of bone knot that develops in a specific place when a single all-the-way-through fracture heals.

So no idea whether that's really true but evidently that's how it's purported to work.
posted by XMLicious at 11:04 AM on December 9, 2014


IAmBroom,
It is much more like an addiciton than a release valve. The "rush" of the fight is what the person seeks. They don't even care why they are fighting, so long as they are fighting. Any excuse to get the blood pumping and their endorphins flowing from the physical exertion. Add into it the massive flood of adrenaline and pain suppressing brain chemicals, and it's like getting high on narcotics like cocaine or meth.
posted by daq at 11:58 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


daq, your explanations aren't evidence. I'm not interested in sensible-sounding Just-So stories; I want to know if sports like this provide some sort of societal good as an outlet for such people - or if it's turtles Ray Rice all the way down.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:19 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is much more like an addiciton than a release valve. The "rush" of the fight is what the person seeks. They don't even care why they are fighting, so long as they are fighting. Any excuse to get the blood pumping and their endorphins flowing from the physical exertion. Add into it the massive flood of adrenaline and pain suppressing brain chemicals, and it's like getting high on narcotics like cocaine or meth.

Doesn't this sort of apply to any physical exercise?
posted by Greg Nog at 1:20 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


the idea thst some people need to do battle with another person in order to channel their violent urges away from criminality does not seem plausible, to me. why wouldn't competition of a non damaging sort burn off those aggressions?
posted by jayder at 3:40 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


jayder, it sounds like you've never engaged in martial arts contests.

I used to fight in armor in sport competitions (SCA). We hit each other full-force, and I can tell you: when you're angry, smashing the ball through a wire hoop versus smashing a stick down over another person's head are not the same release at all.

Also, the risks involved (an elbow to the ribs, versus a handful of deep bruises - either sport could end in joint injury, but of course that's rare), make the game feel different.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2014


Many researchers into the psychology of rage think that the notion of "catharsis" is a myth.

As someone who has fought both SCA-style armed combat & competitive full-contact Tae Kwon Do, getting amped up for a physical confrontation is one thing. But rage? That's something different.

And I've never seen a rage-filled guy beat someone else until the rage went away. Quite the opposite. I've seen anger-junkies go the Mr. Happy route, and I've seen well-adjusted guys who engage in combat sports.

But I've never seen someone subject to anger and rage pummel their way to inner peace.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Valid points PBZM, but I've personally used SCA fight practices to work off rage. At least as effective than doing it in the gym with weights, I assure you.

And I'm not speaking of that, anyway. I'm suggesting that some types of people, prone to violence, might use these sports as an outlet for that desire - not as an immediate rage-solving step.

I don't know if that holds any water, but as I said - is there any evidence either way?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2014


And I'm not speaking of that, anyway.

Actually, you were. In your immediately preceding comment.
posted by jayder at 10:32 AM on December 10, 2014


Ah, you're right.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:11 AM on December 11, 2014


jumping off from the prone-to-violence angle, I've been thinking about how many "bottoms" in the BDSM world I know who really get off on receiving a beating; serious ecstatic transport on bruises and endorphins.

I kinda wonder how many of these fighters are channeling a similar energy, but who don't fancy being tied up to a post in the process.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:12 AM on December 15, 2014


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