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Irish Traveler bareknuckle boxing legend

Watch Irish Traveler bareknuckle boxing legend James Quinn McDonagh, the Mighty Quinn, King of The Irish Gypsies, in action.
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This story is one part of a long effort by MixedMartialArts.com to understand what works in martial arts. The process is to study what happens on the street, or in this case on a stage, rather than what happens in the arena. Check out the best-of library on:
Martial Arts on The Street
Mutual Combat
Bare Knuckle Boxing


"D'ya like dags?"

That line comes from Guy Ritchie's Snatch (2000) a crime comedy film. What takes place below is as real as it gets.

James Quinn McDonagh went 10-2 as an amateur boxer in his early teens. and started bare knuckle boxing in 1993, when he was in his early 20's. He once fought for two hours and 47 minutes, with "no breaks, no rounds, just fight to the finish."

The video below is Irish Traveller bare knuckle boxing legend James Quinn McDonagh, the Mighty Quinn, King of the Irish Gypsies, in action, vs. Paddy Joyce (not to be confused with Oxford Joe Joyce).

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What Was That About?

Participants in this ancient tradition fight for the honor and pride of themselves and their families (and side sometimes side bets of up to the low tens of thousands). The code of conduct includes no throws, eye gouging, or hair pulling. Each fighter has a neutral fair play man who act as a referee.

Members of the Quinn McDonagh, Joyce, and Nevin Irish Traveler clans live across Ireland and England, and are bitter rivals, perpetually sorting out differences via bare knuckle boxing matches. They are also close family members.

Justin Monroe spoke with James for Complex magazine. As it turns out, the feud dates back to the mid-70s when James wasn't yet a teen. Things escalated until 1992, when a Quinn McDonagh accidentally killed a Joyce in a bar.

James Quinn McDonagh is a reluctant warrior, and does not wish it on his son.

I would like to see bare-knuckle boxing, or BKB as it’s called, be sanctioned as soon as possible, the reason being, somewhere along the line, if not sanctioned or organized in the proper way, someone may well be killed in it because it is a vicious sport. If it’s sanctioned you would have a medical team, or doctors, or some fairly well organized organization to kind of take it over.

I would like to see it that way, but no, I wouldn’t recommend it or encourage anybody to go out and do it on the streets because I know the dangers on the streets. If my sons were to do it, I would discourage them, but if I couldn’t talk them out of it, I would like to see them be ready for it, so I would probably train with them. But I would rather them not do it, I would rather them do something else with their lives.

I’ve seen people be knocked unconscious, I’ve seen people be put in a coma. I personally have given people a lot of pain, inflicted a lot of pain on ‘em, and not really wanted to do it but it’s something I had to do. I’ve inflicted a lot of stitches, a lot of cuts. I’ve seen people lose teeth, broken noses, busted eyes, busted eardrums, busted chins. There’s a lot of damage involved, especially if it’s a mismatch and one guy is too much for the other guy. Also, if there’s two guys and they’re well matched up, that can be very dangerous if both of them are fit and both are strong and both have this hatred for each other, then no one will give up until one of them is almost half dead.

Bare-knuckle boxing in the Traveller community, especially within this three-way feud, there’s been a lot of mismatches but there’s been a lot of weight difference and height difference and age difference; it’s because it’s limited to the competitors that each family will have. Each family will have maybe 20, 25 fighters, so sometimes they’re not in condition to fight and other guys will step in for them and you get a 40-year-old fighting a 25-year old, and 18-year-old fighting a 23-year-old. Sometimes it can be a mismatch but we try to match them age, height, and weight as much as possible and as accurately as possible to give each guy a fair fighting chance.

Even though Bareknuckle Boxing has been going on for centuries it has remained underground for far too long, I will do my best and use all my contacts that I’ve gathered over the years to help bring this great sport forward and to get it properly controlled and regulated with a credible sanctioning body and be available to the public to view as a mainstream sport with some great venues and huge crowds.

Now in his mid 50's and retired without a loss, Quinn McDonagh staged the first legal bare-knuckle fight in the UK. Quinn told his story in the autobiography Knuckle, available from Amazon, and was the subject of an excellent documentary by the same name, also available from Amazon.

Bare Knuckle Boxing is now a fast-growing and regulated sport, led by the premier promotion Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship.