A Fascination With Bareknuckle Boxing

I have just put the finishing touches on my third novel, ‘A Devil In Hong Kong’, and so I am opening myself up to inspiration for my next book. The way that I write is unpremeditated. I allow an interesting aspect of the world that crosses my path and which captures my attention to flow into a story. Lately I have become fascinated with bareknuckle boxing.

I have been watching giant English and Irish men knock each other senseless on BKF fights on YouTube. The fights usually are held in trailer parks, vacant lots, or in pubs. An area smaller than a conventional boxing ring is cordoned off with bales of hay in a pub. Two steps and you are in the center of the ring, essentially toe-to-toe. Muhammad Ali would have no room to float like a butterfly in a bareknuckle ring. My writing muse is telling me that this brutal sport might have the threads to be woven into a tale!

In ‘The Witch of Wanchai’ I talk about the Burmese sport of lethwei, which is also bareknuckle. Other than the fact that lethwei fighters use elbows, knees, and kicks as well as fists, there are other marked differences between lethwei and English BKF. Lethwei fighters are not huge men, usually in the range of 150 pounds, if that. Their bodies are strung with taut muscles, not an eyedropper-full of fat on them. BKF fighters, on the other hand, for the most part have bodies that a hippopotamus would be proud of. It is rare to see one that would not break the average bathroom scale. (A personal observation from my YouTube viewing: the fatter BKF fighters are almost always the victors. Evidently in BKF huge girth equals awesomeness?)

I suspected that the BKF fighter’s mammothness is fuelled by a steady diet of Guinness, and this was confirmed by watching James ‘Gypsy Boy’ McCrory fight a U.S. contender in a British versus U.S. bout. (Yes, BKF has come to the attention of the Americans.) The U.S. contender, Jason ‘Machine Gun’ Young, arrived in gym-toned shape, six-pack and all. (He obviously was not told about the big belly equals awesomeness rule.) Gypsy Boy arrived to the match late and inebriated, sporting an inflated stomach the size of an ottoman. He said that he was late so that he could ingest a proper amount of Guinness pre-fight. (I knew it!)

The fight started with Gypsy Boy covering up and letting Machine Gun pepper him with powerful blows, taking huge brain-rattling shots. It looked like the American would win, essentially using McCrory as a punching bag with no answering blows from England. That was until the American punched himself out. Then McCrory calmly shot out a right hook, right uppercut, and left hook. Match over. Machine Gun went down and stayed down.

Another fascinating aspect of BKF is that the fighters are frequently in their late forties, or even their sixties! I am intrigued by an ancient, shapeless guy who looks like his only training is lifting a pint to his lips in pub wailing away on some upstart, twenty-year-old pup. You can’t look away. It is an impossibility of nature. The laws of all that is sane and logical are violated, somebody’s grandfather trading shots to the head, bleeding, and still walking in swinging. (Did I mention that there is a lot of blood in BKF? A lot!)

From the aspect of my potential story line, however, I am really fascinated by the Irish Travellers, a marginalised ethnic group whose lives revolve around bareknuckle fighting. Living in trailer parks, essentially gypsies, they speak a mixture of English (sort of), Shelta, and Traveller Cant. (I can understand maybe half of what they say on the YouTube videos.) Various Traveller families feud against each other, and their raving diatribes are on YouTube: the Joyces, the McDonaghs, the Quinns, and the Nevins, challenging each other to bare knuckle bouts and insulting each other’s fighting abilities. This is a world pregnant with story potential!

My stories, of course, all involve Asia. However, I am not worried about inspiration set in Europe. When I sat down to write a sequel to ‘The Witch of Wanchai’ the writing muse that I connect with had me start writing about seventeen-year-old computer gamers in Anaheim, California. No matter, I soon had the gamers living in Hong Kong and operating drones for a nefarious mercenary group. Could BKF try to breakout of the Traveller’s trailer parks to go mainstream. A bout arranged in Asia? A Traveller fighter ends up dead in Hong Kong? Travellers take their feuding to the streets of Tokyo? All possible!

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