English travellers like Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders are taking over world boxing, and there's a reason why they fight nothing like Brad Pitt's character in "Snatch."
English travellers, a nomadic minority group also referred to as "gypsies," live on the road in caravans and temporarily on camp sites across England, according to the BBC.
In Guy Ritchie's cult British crime film, Pitt plays Mickey O'Neill, a wild and unpredictable traveller who becomes embroiled in a rigged fight.
O'Neill had an intimidating boxing style as he could absorb a terrible amount of punishment but get up from the deck and knock his bigger and bulkier opponents down with a single blow, often leaving them in a comatose state.
English travellers fight nothing like this. They typically do all they can to avoid taking a terrible amount of punishment, and are not known for their concussive punching.
Instead, they are technically adept and defensively brilliant. So brilliant, they have a habit of making opponents look foolish.
Just ask the Canadian middleweight David Lemieux, who timed a punch so badly in his 2017 loss to Saunders that the Londoner had time to evade it and showboat half a step later.
Watch it here:
Saunders was so slick in that fight he dodged 90% of Lemieux's jabs, according to Compubox data.
Similarly, in Fury's signature victory — his 2015 bamboozling of Wladimir Klitschko in Germany — the six-foot-nine underdog showed so much ring craft that he limited Klitschko, who had reigned as champion for almost a decade, to a pitiful 4.5 punches landed on a per round average, Boxrec reports.
So why are English travellers like Fury and Saunders so skilled at defensive boxing?
"In life you have to know how to defend yourself first," Saunders, an unbeaten fighter with 28 wins, told Business Insider at a recent Matchroom Sport press conference in London. "Moreso in boxing, the only sport you can legally be killed in. You have to keep yourself on the ball, be physically and mentally in the right place, and above all witty. If you can't get hit, you can't be beat."
His father, Tommy Saunders, added that fights between boys are commonplace in the traveller community, and that he took his son, Billy Joe, to a boxing club so that he could be taught how to defend himself from bullies. Often, the first lessons involve learning how to avoid getting hit.
"In the travelling community he had to defend himself," Saunders Sr. told Business Insider. "That's why I took him boxing, to stick up for himself and stop him being bullied. All traveller boys go through that. Then, when it comes to them stepping into the ring, there's no fear of having a fight."
English travellers have a specific and distinctive boxing style
Renowned boxing trainer Alan Smith, who runs the iBox Gym in south east London, told Business Insider he has taught many traveller boys through the years and believes they all fight in a similar way.
"Do you know what … I've been in amateur and professional boxing for 35 years, and I've seen all types of fighting style," Smith said. "But travellers pretty much box the same. They're defensive, leaning on the back foot, and I think it's just because they all spar with each other. So one style rubs off on the other one.
"I've trained quite a few travelling boys," Smith said. "People you admire often inspire you and so when they stay together in their own community on their sites, trailers, mucking around, they end up carbon copies of the people they're sparring."
One of Smith's current pupils is Dennis McCann, a three-fight bantamweight novice who blew Business Insider away with a polished performance when we were ringside for a Frank Warren show at London's O2 Arena earlier in the summer.
McCann, a traveller, is a babyfaced assassin who throws punches in bunches from awkward angles until he secures a TV-friendly, highlight-reel knockout.
"He's a mini superstar," Smith said of his protégé. "He's got a bit of everything. He's marketable, brash, brave, can punch a little bit. As a whole, he's very near the complete package.
"He's got cockiness, he loves the crowd, and the camera loves him. He's an incredible worker. He's the first in the gym and the last out. I have to turn off the light, kick him out the gym, and remind him I've got a home to go to!
"As a trainer and boxer we have a certain bond, and he can go to the top. He has all the star potential to be a world champion."
Watch McCann's style right here:
Fury, the most famous of all English travellers in combat sports today, has already been a world champion. By beating Klitschko four years ago, he won four championship belts. The self-styled "Gypsy King" ruled the boxing world.
But after reaching that seemingly insurmountable high, a crashing low followed. He abused substances, became obese, and said on the Joe Rogan Experience that he wanted to kill himself. He said he once drove his convertible Ferrarri 190 miles per hour and planned to crash into a bridge so he could crush the car "like a Coke can."
Thoughts of his family prevented him from doing so. He began to turn his life around, lost 140 pounds, and returned to boxing in 2018.
After two fights, he challenged knockout puncher Deontay Wilder in a dramatic 12-round battle, outboxing the American through large stretches of the bout. However, having been knocked down twice, he only left the Staples Center in Los Angeles with a disputed draw.
A rematch between them has been touted for 2020. Fury has since been keeping busy, beating Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas in June, before a fight against the Swedish heavyweight Otto Wallin on Saturday.
Fury told Business Insider that boxing is an outlet for travellers and non travellers alike to become successful in sport. Before himself and Saunders, there were few travellers who were decorated professional athletes at the elite level.
"There's only really been me and Billy Joe at this level," Fury said. "But there's quite a lot of young lads coming through, and now they can see it can be done. We've shone a light so other people can follow. If I can do it, anybody can do it.
"But it's not just travellers, it can be non-travellers … whoever," he said. "From whatever background you come from, or whatever walk of life you're from, boxing is an outlet where you can achieve massive things if you're good enough. You can change your life."
Billy Joe Saunders, who is chasing big fights against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, added that younger travellers see the success that he and Fury have enjoyed, and it inspires them not to start working at 16 years old, not to get married young, and to instead dedicate themselves to sport.
"They're looking at that and thinking, 'Let's put a bit more time into boxing, a bit more thought and effort in, let's not get married and run off. Let's live the life a bit more.' And I think that's the reason they're doing it now," Saunders said. "If we can make another one or two world champions from our culture, then we'll be very proud of ourselves."
Tommy Saunders said if it weren't for boxing, young traveller boys would have to get jobs from a young age selling scrap metal to earn a living. "That's the culture," he said.
"But now Billy Joe and Tyson are heroes. Boys coming through now stick with boxing, you know? They're not walking away at a certain age.
"A lot of traveller boys are now trying to do the same and hopefully there'll be a lot of world champion traveller boys at different weights. This country is going to see even more and hopefully even better fighters than Billy Joe and Tyson, and that's a positive thing for British boxing."
English travellers have attracted the attention of Britain's media
Neither Fury or Saunders have been far from controversy throughout their careers.
In the past, Fury suggested he'd "hang" his sister if he thought she was promiscuous, said two boxing rivals Tony Bellew and David Price were "gay lovers," and once went on an anti-Semitic rant, according to The Guardian and The Telegraph.
He has since distanced himself from these remarks, apologizing for any offence caused.
Saunders has also attracted the ire of the press.
He previously threw chicken at the heavyweight boxer Wilder at a restaurant, paid a drug addict to slap a stranger, and posed as his 7-year-old son punched an opponent in the groin at a weigh-in.
"There's bad press but I've grown up around them, trained a lot of them through my life, and they're the easiest people to get along with," the boxing coach Smith said. "I feel comfortable in their company.
"Most young traveller boys go to the gym, leave the gym at 15 or 16 as they get married very young, and have to go to work."
Smith said that before Fury and Saunders there was the Irish fighter Andy Lee, the first athlete from the traveller community to win a world title in boxing when he won the middleweight belt in 2014.
"Lee changed the way for traveller boxers," Smith said. "He proved you can get to world level and carried himself fantastic. He did a lot for the traveller community, and you see an influx of traveller boxers come through now."
Travellers dominate boxing because they don't travel anymore
The boxing promoter Frank Warren, who represents Fury and used to promote Saunders, told Business Insider the key reason why fighters like Lee, Fury, and Saunders won world titles, and why there are more prospect traveller boys coming through, is because English travellers don't actually travel anymore.
English travellers now settle on sites, and learn to box at local boxing clubs where they are then taken to amateur tournaments up and down the country to fine-tune their craft in a competitive environment.
"What happened with travellers is they were travelling so they weren't going to one boxing club, but Billy Joe for example … he was from Hatfield. He was trained locally.
"Years ago, they'd be up and down the country doing whatever they're doing and not taking it so seriously. Travellers are more settled down in their areas and you get more kids going to clubs and coming through."
Warren said it's all about discipline. "I go back to the days of Johnny Frankham, fighters like him. Tony Collins. Great fighters. But they all lacked discipline. No discipline. Johnny Frankham used to go running in the morning with a cigarette in his mouth!
"You can have talent but you've also got to have discipline and put the hard work in. Travellers, now, have got discipline nailed down."
Fury and Saunders still have a number of years left to compete at the top level and McCann, if he lives up to Smith's expectations, could well join them. But McCann could be one of many.
So while English travellers fight nothing like Pitt in "Snatch," they are still striking a knockout blow for their community, their culture, and for British boxing in general.
Warren told us he is still signing English traveller fighters to his promotional company, and Smith said a trend has been set and he expects to see even more traveller boys perform at the highest level.
"Britain is just so lucky at the moment as boxing is thriving," Smith said. "It's a healthy sport, it's well-paid, and well shown by a few channels like BT Sport.
"It's an interesting time for the traveller community and people from other backgrounds, from every walk of life, and every nationality. That's what boxing's good for."