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Boxing’s Irish Traveler ‘Era’ Figures to be Long-Lasting

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  • Boxing’s Irish Traveler ‘Era’ Figures to be Long-Lasting

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Travelers.PNG Views:	0 Size:	401.8 KB ID:	19074

    By Arne K. Lang

    Levi Frankham, one of England’s top amateurs, turned pro this week, joining Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions team where his stablemates include his cousins Joshua and Charles Frankham, both of whom, like Levi, are recent signees. The Queensberry roster also includes Tyson Fury and his half-brother Tommy and their cousin Nathan Gorman. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in Queensberry Promotions phenom Dennis McCann.

    What do all of these individuals have in common? They are all members of the Irish Traveler community, an official British ethnic group that is seen as a blight by much of the British middle class.

    Travelers have been a major component of the British amateur boxing scene for decades. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that the community produced its first world champion when Andy Lee, Tyson Fury’s second cousin, won the vacant WBO middleweight title.

    Travelers tend to leave school early (very early) and marry young. Many Traveler men become parents in their late teens which has been cited as the main reason why so many of their top-shelf amateurs didn’t transition into the pros. It isn’t that they lacked the dedication, but rather that pressing financial needs took precedence. Without a wealthy backer, boxing doesn’t pay the bills while one is climbing the ladder. There is more money to be made, and a steadier paycheck, in the construction field. Moreover, until recently, there were few illustrious Traveler pros to serve as role models for the generation coming up behind them.

    Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders broke the mold. Lee became the first Traveler to win a world title when he defeated Matt Korobov to win the vacant WBO middleweight belt in 2014. Saunders, a gifted amateur -- an Olympian at the tender age of 18 -- unseated Lee in the first world title fight in which both combatants were Travelers.

    Andy Lee’s second cousin, the charismatic Tyson Fury, raised the bar. The “Gypsy King” is worshiped by his fellow Travelers. Thanks to him and to a lesser extent Lee and Saunders, the mere fact of being a Traveler now makes it easier for a standout amateur to command a nice bonus when he is ready to turn pro.

    Frank Warren hardly has a monopoly on the top prospects in the Traveler community. His arch-rival Eddie Hearn roped in Leeds southpaw Hopey Price (currently 4-0), a super bantamweight with a high upside. Warren’s Traveler stable already included Commonwealth middleweight champion Felix Cash (13-0), former British and European super featherweight champion Martin J. Ward (21-1-2), heavyweight contender Hughie Fury, Tyson’s first cousin, and, of course, the aforementioned Saunders who will take a 30-0 record into his match with Canelo Alvarez on May 8 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

    Billy Joe is generally regarded as the slickest boxer to lock horns with Canelo Alvarez since Floyd Mayweather Jr back in 2013. (He and Tyson Fury are bosom buddies and frequent training partners, but they are tied to different promoters.)

    As is well known, organized bare-knuckle boxing has been a distinctive feature of the Irish Traveler culture. As author Rafe Bartholomew notes, these extra-legal encounters, often brutal, function as conflict resolution. If a Traveler has a beef with a member of another clan, he would never think to get a lawyer involved.

    Many of the booth fighters that traveled the fair circuit in old England, taking on all comers, were likely Irish Travelers. The most famous bare-knuckle fighter of recent vintage was Bartley Gorman (1944-2012), the self-styled King of the Gypsies. Nathan Gorman is his great nephew; Tyson Fury is a more distant relative.

    Many of today’s Traveler fighters are second- or third-generation fighters. The Frankham brothers, Joshua and Charles, are the grandsons of “Gypsy” Johnny Frankham who won and lost the British light heavyweight title in back-to-back fights with former world title challenger Chris Finnegan in 1975. Tyson Fury’s volatile dad John Fury had a brief pro career, finishing 8-4-1 as a heavyweight, not to mention numerous undocumented bare-knuckle fights.

    In the past, several ethnic groups made a big splash in boxing but their heyday was short-lived. During the Depression, the ranks of Jewish boxers in New York were so thick that it was virtually impossible for a matchmaker to cobble together a full program without including at least one.

    Given the long tradition of fighting in the Irish Traveler community, their “heyday” figures to be long-lasting.