Inside The World Of Bareknuckle Boxing


Boxing faces a possible new challenge from its own history.

The bosses behind bareknuckle boxing say they are “a threat to boxing” and it’s a threat that’s being taken seriously by the British Boxing Board of Control.

“We are against it, obviously,” said Robert Smith, General Secretary of the Board.

“I don’t know too much about it, but we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s brutal.

“I don’t know much about the medical provisions, but they wouldn’t be like ours.”

Not so, says Jim Freeman, the co-owner of leading bareknuckle promoters UBBAD.

“Safety wise, we tick all the boxes,” said Freeman, a businessman from Wellingborough, Northants.

“We have a mobile brain scanner, doctors at ringside who check both fighters in between rounds, there are medics and an ambulance.

“Fighters get a 20-second count when they go down, there is a 90-second break in between rounds and we have doctors at ringside who can throw in the red towel and stop a fight at any time.”

Bareknuckle boxing actually isn’t bareknuckle boxing.

By law, fighters wear hand wraps, but without the added protection of the gloves, there are more quick knockouts and fewer long, punishing fights.

Better for the fighters, says Freeman, and better for the audiences.

“People want knockouts,” he said, “and when they go to bareknuckle shows, they get knockouts.”

Whatever you think of bareknuckle boxing, it’s found an audience – and it’s growing.

“There are a lot of boxing shows that don’t sell as many tickets as we do,” said Freeman, who has staged shows at the O2 Indigo and Echo Arena this year.

Freeman describes himself as “a lifelong boxing fan” and added: “I got a bit fed up with knowing who was going to win every fight at pro shows and when I was invited to a bareknuckle show, I thought: ‘That sounds rough and exciting and a bit different, I will give it a try.’

“I enjoyed it, got on board and ran with it.”

UBBAD stage four shows every year and current champions include heavyweight Michael ‘Real Deal’ Ferry, from Wallsend.

“You need to have that killer instinct to be a bareknuckle boxer,” said Ferry.

“You need to go in there and get the job done – and not take too many punches. They hurt 10 times as much without the gloves on.

“You need a lot of balls to be a bareknuckle fighter.

“I’ve seen good experienced boxers fall apart when they try fighting bareknuckle.”

For all the claims of brutality, when Boxing Social went to a show in Coventry earlier this year, the injuries suffered were no worse than those seen at any boxing show.

Except it hurts more when you win.

“Every punch you land hurts,” said ex-pro Hari Miles.

“It can hurt when you’re wearing 10 oz gloves in the boxing ring, but this hurts more.

“You have to think about where you are hitting them. If you hit them on the top of the head it can do you more damage than it does them.

“You have to hit them in the soft places.”

Top of the bill on the next show, in Coventry on Saturday, November 4, and every night he fights, is Jimmy ‘Celtic Warrior’ Sweeney.

He is known as ‘The King of the Middleweights’ and judging by the theatrical stamps of his feet and maniacal glares before the opening bell, he is only just the right side of crazy.

“It’s all part of the show,” said the 32 year old from Sligo.

Sweeney had a lengthy amateur boxing career – he represented Ireland and had a win over Andy Lee – and said: “I got bored with the amateurs.

“I was overweight and needed something to motivate me, so when I got the call from Jim (Freeman) about bare knuckIe boxing I thought: ‘Fuck it, I will give it a go.’

“I’m an Irish Traveller, so bare knuckle boxing is part of my culture.

“I grew up with it.”

Sweeney has won all 16 fights and though not entirely comfortable with the ‘Golden Boy’ tag he’s been given, he is the undoubted star of bareknuckle boxing with his unique counter-punching style that bamboozles opponents.

“I have come up with my own style,” he said. “I don’t just get in there and swing.

“I was always an aggressive counter puncher, but I’ve had to make changes.

“I wouldn’t get away with lots of feints in the amateurs and in bare knuckle boxing, you can’t afford to make any mistakes.

“One punch can change a fight. You can get cut or knocked out. The name of the game is hitting and not getting hit. I don’t take a lot of punishment.”

The worst injury Sweeney has picked up is a chipped bone on his left hand.

“You have to be careful with your own punches,” he said. “I won’t punch above the eyes. Anything above that is skull and if you hit that, your hands will go. I try to get the body shots in early and get them to crumble.”

Sweeney has made a pair of successful defences against UFC star Melvin Guillard and said: “By beating these well-known UFC fighters, I’m giving the sport credibility.

“The progress we have made in the last couple of years is amazing.

“We used to fight in front of 30 people for a few pounds.

“Now we’re pulling in thousands and fighters are getting paid properly.

“Imagine where we might be in another five or 10 years ?”