Real violence in the US has been all over the web for years and now—as shown by the rise of street fighter turned MMA contender Kimbo Slice—even upstreaming to primetime TV. Bare-knuckle fights over there are a hyped-up, pumped-up production set to a high-octane soundtrack of Slipknot and sometimes rap. Filmed fisticuffs in Ireland however are a bit different. Shot on shitty camcorders, they are a gritty, lo-fi affair featuring two big blokes with their shirts off and their dukes up, somewhere in the countryside. The only sounds you hear are fists hitting soft, flabby flesh, the scuffle of trainers on country lanes, and the barks of onlooking men, women and children, as well as the occasional dog.
Instead of embracing the digital age, Irish prize fights are actually going more underground. A government crackdown on videos on YouTube and eBay, has led to a boom in the flogging of DVDs at market stalls—as I found out the other day when I purchased one for a fiver.
Compared to the showy, money-orientated American fight industry, the Irish seem hilariously quaint. But they care less about crowd-pulling capitalism and more about an ancient gypsy code. Unlike happy slapping, bumfights, chickfights and the other human cockfights we see these days, Irish bare-knuckle fighting is a traditional, centuries-old way for travellers to settle internecine disputes over land or money or honor.
A one-sided £10,000 prize fight.
Outlawed but tolerated by the police, these contests take place at horse fairs, on campsites, or on country laybys. There a set of rules enforced by referee watching out for dirty moves and making sure the breaks are clean.
What happens when a gypsy tradition gets Americanized.
However, despite the pretense of a gentlemanly conduct, fighters are not averse to pulling secret gypsy martial art moves, like the disguised head-butt that can shatter a man’s face, and the special punch that knocks teeth out. Though they appear orderly and contained and frequently end with a civilized handshake, disputes over the result can often lead to clan warfare, bloodthirsty retribution, and even murder.
This violence has led a bunch of folks to call bullshit on the whole gypsy honor code. “Fair my bollocks,” says one commentator. “They'd hit ya over the head with a bottle then rob ya then stick the bottle in your face as quick as look at ya. They’re a shower of inbred, degenerate, scumbag bastards. A stain on Irish society.”
A title fight watched by 1000 people and widely regarded as a classic encounter.
Politicians in Ireland have attacked gypsy fight videos for being exploitative and playing on stereotypes about knackers and tinkers being nutcases who talk gibberish. I guess that’s why on the DVD cover, beneath this quote:
“Over two hours of gypsies punching the hell out of each other and shouting stuff that you wont be able to understand!”
it carries the following disclaimer:
“This DVD does not glorify hatred, violence or racial intolerance, or promote organizations with such views. All the contestants are willing participants. The contents of the DVDs provide substantial information of social value for educational purposes. NOT FOR VIEWING BY PERSONS UNDER 21 yrs”
A documentary about the late champion Bartley Gorman by Shane Meadows.