Inside the brutal world of bare knuckle pit fighting – where gloves are banned

EXCLUSIVE: Inside the brutal world of bare knuckle pit fighting – where gloves are banned and competitors can settle feuds without the risk of going to prison

  • EXCLUSIVE: Striking pictures have laid bare what it’s really like inside the world of bare-knuckle pit fighting 
  • Incredible black and white portraits show fighters training and battling it out in 8×8 foot hay-bale arenas 
  • Pictures are taken by brave Bradford photographer John Bolloten who has documented fights for three years
  • Photos show fights across north of England hosted by only active club, the Spartan Bare Knuckle Fight Club
  • Pit fighting is widely regarded as the most dangerous combat sport out there and injuries are very common

Advertisement

Striking pictures have laid bare what it’s really like inside the brutal world of bare-knuckle pit fighting – from gory injuries to victorious celebrations.

The incredible black and white portraits show bare knuckle fighters in the ring, training and posing before and after matches.

Taken by brave Bradford-based photographer John Bolloten, the images document the fighters’ wins and heavy losses.

They were taken in various locations across the north of England, from Bradford to Manchester and Oldham, from 2020 to this year.

Savage fights allow boxers to settle feuds without the risk of going to prison – with it described as ‘doing boxing the old school way’.

Striking new pictures have laid bare what it's really like inside the brutal world of bare-knuckle pit fighting. Pictured: Billy Braud takes on Tony Meehan at a bare knuckle pit fight in Manchester in 2020

Striking new pictures have laid bare what it’s really like inside the brutal world of bare-knuckle pit fighting. Pictured: Billy Braud takes on Tony Meehan at a bare knuckle pit fight in Manchester in 2020

The pictures document entire bare-knuckle boxing bouts, from gory injuries to victorious celebrations. Pictured: John Best and Andrew Shields battle it out at a bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham in 2021

The pictures document entire bare-knuckle boxing bouts, from gory injuries to victorious celebrations. Pictured: John Best and Andrew Shields battle it out at a bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham in 2021

Pictured: Bradford-based bare knuckle fighter Robbie Adamson training at an eerie abandoned building in Halifax last year

Pictured: Bradford-based bare knuckle fighter Robbie Adamson training at an eerie abandoned building in Halifax last year

The black and white portraits document the highs and lows of the sport. Pictured: James Weightman is consoled after losing his fight in Oldham in 2021

The black and white portraits document the highs and lows of the sport. Pictured: James Weightman is consoled after losing his fight in Oldham in 2021

The photos were taken by brave Bradford-based photographer John Bolloten. Pictured: Heavyweights Marti Barnes and Leon Brazil battle it out in Oldham in 2021

 The photos were taken by brave Bradford-based photographer John Bolloten. Pictured: Heavyweights Marti Barnes and Leon Brazil battle it out in Oldham in 2021

Spartan Bare Knuckle Fight Club is the only active club in the UK and holds events quarterly across the region. 

They are governed by the World Pit Fighting Association, which dictates that all boxers should wrap their hands and land punches with closed fists, as in gloved boxing.

Tough looking boxers, most of whom are heavily tattooed, go head-to-head in violent battles staged in ‘pits’.

Unlike bare knuckle boxing, which is fought in a ring, pit fighting takes place is a tiny 8×8 foot arena, constructed by a small space being boxed in with hay bales.

Pictured: Fighter Aaron Lambourne enjoying a cigar a few hours before his fight in Oldham in 2021. He shows off his tattooed knuckles as he poses for the camera

Pictured: Fighter Aaron Lambourne enjoying a cigar a few hours before his fight in Oldham in 2021. He shows off his tattooed knuckles as he poses for the camera

Pictured: A victorious Thomas Blakeman celebrates after knocking out John Best at their fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: A victorious Thomas Blakeman celebrates after knocking out John Best at their fight in Oldham last year

Medical teams are always on-hand at the tournaments. Pictured: Lee Paul is checked over by a medic after losing his fight in Oldham in 2022

Medical teams are always on-hand at the tournaments. Pictured: Lee Paul is checked over by a medic after losing his fight in Oldham in 2022

Pictured: Wakefield's Nathan Dixon celebrates after winning his fight in Oldham in 2021. A relative newcomer to bare knuckle, straw weight Dixon is now regarded as one of the best pit fighters in the UK with 5 wins and 0 losses

Pictured: Wakefield’s Nathan Dixon celebrates after winning his fight in Oldham in 2021. A relative newcomer to bare knuckle, straw weight Dixon is now regarded as one of the best pit fighters in the UK with 5 wins and 0 losses

Pit fighting is widely regarded as the most dangerous combat sport out there. 

Although events are usually licensed and a medical team is present, injuries are very common – from broken noses, jaws, fingers and hands to fractured eye sockets and deep cuts. 

In spite of that, fighters will often state that they believe bare knuckle fighting is actually safer than gloved boxing.

Some argue that injuries can heal up without causing lasting damage.

Pictured: Ben Waddington and Aaron Lambourne in combat at their bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: Ben Waddington and Aaron Lambourne in combat at their bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: Nathan Dixon defeats Taylor Harvey to become British straw weight champion. Harvey covers his head with his hands as Dixon is about to strike a devastating blow

Pictured: Nathan Dixon defeats Taylor Harvey to become British straw weight champion. Harvey covers his head with his hands as Dixon is about to strike a devastating blow

Meanwhile, in gloved boxing, fighters are repeatedly hit with a blunt instrument for a considerably longer time period. 

The average bare knuckle pit fight lasts less than a minute. 

Used to being ringside, Mr Bolloten has been involved in the savage world of bare knuckle pit fighting for almost three years.

The photographer has gained recognition as a photographer specialising in documenting life on the fringes of society. 

Pictured: Adi Doherty sports a tattoo of the grim reaper at his bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham this year. He poses for the camera and adoring fans who hold their phones aloft to get their own pictures of the fighter

Pictured: Adi Doherty sports a tattoo of the grim reaper at his bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham this year. He poses for the camera and adoring fans who hold their phones aloft to get their own pictures of the fighter

Fighters show their aggression as they battle it out cheered on by noisy crowds. Pictured: Scott Midgley, an old school bare knuckle legend, defeats James Weightman in Oldham in 2021

Fighters show their aggression as they battle it out cheered on by noisy crowds. Pictured: Scott Midgley, an old school bare knuckle legend, defeats James Weightman in Oldham in 2021

This set of images is entitled Blood Brothers in reference to the camaraderie but also violent exchanges these men share. Pictured: John Best fights Chene Ferguson in Oldham in 2022

This set of images is entitled Blood Brothers in reference to the camaraderie but also violent exchanges these men share. Pictured: John Best fights Chene Ferguson in Oldham in 2022

He is most known for his ground-breaking work with heroin and crack users in Bradford and has documented and published a wide variety of work including the grime and drill music scenes, an outdoor cannabis farm and non-league football.

This set of images, entitled Blood Brothers in reference to the camaraderie but also violent exchanges these men share, depict the fighters training and battling it out at events.

In one stunning image, taken in 2021, Bradford bare knuckle fighter Robbie Adamson trains at an eerie abandoned building in Halifax.

Pictured: Nathan McAdam defeats Tom Leavy at their classic battle in Oldham this year. McAdam clearly has a bloodied nose, despite his victory

Pictured: Nathan McAdam defeats Tom Leavy at their classic battle in Oldham this year. McAdam clearly has a bloodied nose, despite his victory

Pictured: Bare knuckle pit fighter Jacob Williams poses in a boxing stance for his close-up

Pictured: Bare knuckle pit fighter Jacob Williams poses in a boxing stance for his close-up

A bloodied Aaron Woodward, despite losing his fight, told the photographer he was proud to have taken part

A bloodied Aaron Woodward, despite losing his fight, told the photographer he was proud to have taken part

Pictured: Wain Morgan celebrates after winning his fight. Due to the sheer intensity of these encounters, it is not uncommon for winning fighters to wildly celebrate

Pictured: Wain Morgan celebrates after winning his fight. Due to the sheer intensity of these encounters, it is not uncommon for winning fighters to wildly celebrate

Shunning boxing gloves, the fighters usually just wrap their hands with bandages. Pictured: Emanuel Olaru shows his bloodied wraps after winning his fight

Shunning boxing gloves, the fighters usually just wrap their hands with bandages. Pictured: Emanuel Olaru shows his bloodied wraps after winning his fight

ictured: Antz "Anyman" Harrison celebrates after winning his bare knuckle pit fight in Manchester in 2020

ictured: Antz “Anyman” Harrison celebrates after winning his bare knuckle pit fight in Manchester in 2020

In a portrait taken a few hours before his fight in Oldham in 2021, fighter Aaron Lambourne enjoys a cigar as he poses for the camera showing his tattooed knuckles.

Posing in a defiant stance, one picture shows Wakefield’s Nathan Dixon as he celebrates after winning his fight in Oldham in 2021. 

A relative newcomer to bare knuckle, straw weight Dixon is now regarded as one of the best pit fighters in the UK with 5 wins and 0 losses.

Fighters demonstrate their strength as they go toe to toe in arenas built from hay bales. Pictured: Matti Mongan and Peter Hayes battle it out in a pit fight in Manchester in 2020

Fighters demonstrate their strength as they go toe to toe in arenas built from hay bales. Pictured: Matti Mongan and Peter Hayes battle it out in a pit fight in Manchester in 2020

Pictured: Lee Riach is knocked out by Stefan Davies at the bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: Lee Riach is knocked out by Stefan Davies at the bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: John Best and Andrew Shields battle it out at a bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: John Best and Andrew Shields battle it out at a bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Many of the fighters are heavily-tattooed and most show off their body art as they fight topless.

Belfast’s Stephen Weldon, who won his first ever pit fight in Oldham this year, has ink covering his shaved head and torso.

Meanwhile fighter Adi Doherty sports a huge tattoo of the grim reaper across his back. 

Shunning boxing gloves, the fighters usually just wrap their hands with bandages. 

Pictured: A bloodied Scott Mason swings at Phil Pell at their fight in Oldham this year as delighted crowds cheer the fighters on

Pictured: A bloodied Scott Mason swings at Phil Pell at their fight in Oldham this year as delighted crowds cheer the fighters on

Pictured: Nathan Dixon defeats Chris Fairclough at their bruising strawweight encounter in Oldham last year

Pictured: Nathan Dixon defeats Chris Fairclough at their bruising strawweight encounter in Oldham last year

Pictured: A triumphant John Best celebrates after defeating Andrew Shields at their bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

Pictured: A triumphant John Best celebrates after defeating Andrew Shields at their bare knuckle pit fight in Oldham last year

In one photo, boxer Emanuel Olaru shows his bloodied wraps after winning his fight.

A number of the fighters also pose for their close-ups in the portraits, including fighters Jacob Williams and Aaron Lambourne.

Even losing fighters are proud to have taken part in the intense battles, with a bloodied Aaron Woodward posing triumphantly for the cameras.

Other pictures show fighters wildly celebrating as they reign victorious over their opponents. 

Source

Related posts