Born in the notorious Raploch estate in Stirling, Scotland, Tony Lafferty had a rough start to life. His father was an abusive heroin addict who spent the majority of his life in and out of prison, while his Mother desperately fought to provide for her family. Tony’s earliest memory as a child was of him, his mother and sister hiding under a bed crying while his father attempted to kick down their flat door. Life was tough, yet not a single finger was laid on Tony or his sister, with his Mother a constant shield to the punishment.
What became clear from my many talks with Tony was the undeniable impact his mother had on his life. Working three jobs and sacrificing everything for her children, Tony describes her regularly as ‘his superhero’. One day, while his father was out, Tony recalls their frantic escape from the family flat, to a new life in St.Ninians. Although out of the clutches of his father, Tony faced a different form of adversity when he started school.
From the age of five to fifteen, Tony was a victim of horrendous bullying. On his walk back from school he was repeatedly beaten with fists and bricks as he attempted to clamber to the safety of his home flat. Inside school, the torment continued. With his confidence at breaking point, Tony recollects regularly skipping out on lessons as the fear of judgement overcame his educational prospects. Things got so bad that after one particular beating he had to have his top lip sewed together. Something had to change and change it did.
At the age of 15, Tony began thinking about his future and expressed great interest in joining the Army. But Tony had to get fit first and that’s when Boxing came into the picture. ‘The Top Of The Town Boxing Club’ in Stirling, Scotland was where Tony cut his teeth so to speak. In typical Tony fashion after just one session, ‘The Tiger’ found himself in the ring sparring with the seniors. Returning home proudly sporting two black eyes, the start of a very special relationship with Boxing ensued. Tony was as fit as a fiddle in no time and began to grow in confidence with every session.
Back at school, however, the bullying continued, until one day Tony had had enough. One of his biggest tormenters a much larger lad named Mark continually pressed Tony into buying his lunch for him. Yet on this particular day, things wouldn’t run so smoothly. As Mark approached holding his hand out to receive Tony’s lunch money, a less lenient adversary stood across from him. Rather than a handful of cash, he was met with a scorching right hand that shattered his nose and sent him running for the hills. For the first time in Tony’s life, he was hit with the over-whelming adrenaline rush that was bare-knuckle fighting. What followed was a string of bust-ups with just about every bully that had ever laid eyes on Tony. Finally, he had halted the affliction.
After finishing his exams, Tony applied for the Army. Because he was only sixteen his mother had to give consent for his application and did so under one condition, that he joined the corps of engineers and picked up a skill. However, Tony wanted to follow the family tradition and be an infantryman for the Argylls. So on the day of application and after some changes to his forms, Tony was applying for the Argylls, the dream, set in his sights. Yet, things didn’t run so smoothly in the interviews stage. Tony was so shy that he barely passed his interviews struggling to get a word out edgeways. But things were about to change again. Tony found himself in the Army and it shaped the man he is today.
After finishing third out of one hundred in the fitness testing, Tony was off to basic training at Catterick. Pushed to breaking point and back-squadded two months in the process, Tony dug deep and finished strong. After leaving a boy he had come back a man. Tony was officially a soldier of the Argyll. Immediate deployment to Kenya followed for desert warfare training before a string of campaigns across the globe. The first two in Northern Ireland, then the Falklands, and finally Afghanistan. Afghanistan was a particularly gruelling campaign. Tony recollects the disturbing reality of his prolonged desensitization to violence. Amongst his many harrowing tales was a head-on attack from a Taliban suicide bomber that left around twenty Afghan soldiers dead or maimed. Tony was slowly coming to the realization that his own mental health was taking a hit and things only got worse when he returned home. Within twenty-four hours Tony had gone from fighting for his life to sitting on his mother’s sofa. The guilt he explained to me was crippling. While his brothers in arms fought valiantly, Tony found himself spiralling into a depressive state. Turning to alcohol and drugs for his remedy, Tony found it difficult to adjust to civilian life.
After six years of active service, rising from Private and lead scout to Corporal and section commander Tony switched roles to become a PTI. It became the only option for Tony with his hearing rapidly deteriorating after several incidents in Afghanistan. Tony spent three years as a PTI at ATC Pubright, before he was medically discharged in 2013 at the age of twenty-six. After nine years of total service, Tony had achieved his dream of following in his family’s footsteps. A proud Argyll jock just like his grandfather, uncle and great great grandfather.
As a civilian, Tony felt alone and abandoned. The epitomisation of an institutionalized human being, times were tough. Tony’s first job was as a personal trainer at Virgin Active, but quickly realized it wasn’t the role for him. Re-training as an overhead linesman, the hands-on role suited him well. During his time working in Dover, Tony began looking for a boxing gym to restart his training. The first gym that popped up was Wayne Morley’s ‘Fighting Fit Combat Academy’ and the rest is history. After twelve years away from the sport, Tony accepted a fight just four weeks into his official training for unlicensed boxing company ‘UKBC’. In the space of one year, Tony had fought ten times accumulating a record of 9-1 and winning the UKBC British, International and Inter-county middleweight belts.
Yet Tony being Tony was always searching for the next big high. Luckily for him, he just so happened to train with Bare Knuckle legend Craig Amer who put Tony in contact with BKB owners Jim Freeman and Joe Brown. Tony had always wanted to fight Bare Knuckle ever since he had come across the Vice documentary ‘Underground Bare Knuckle Boxing in the UK’. But things had changed massively since then, the sport was fully sanctioned, professionalised and quite frankly right up Tony’s street. After negotiations went ahead with BKB, Tony found himself booked in for his Bare Knuckle debut at BKB 8 in Coventry.
Now there is some confusion over Tony’s first opponent. It was originally scheduled to be Coventry-based Boxer Matthew Seawright. However, after a last-minute drop-out, Tony was pitted up against one of Seawright’s training partner’s Anthony Romeo. Certainly an impressive debut from the Scotsman, a first-round knockout marked Tony a man to watch in the sport. A quick turn-around was mounted next, as Tony accepted a fight between himself and the ultra-tough Jonny Lawson at BKB 9. A real back and forth affair, Tony edged the scorecards on the night but was not best pleased by his performance. Vowing to come back a different animal, Tony would go on to take the fight that would shape his Bare Knuckle career against former English gloved champion Tyler Goodjohn at BKB 11.
It’s hard to put into words just how good this fight really is. And for Tony, it was the fight that brought him to the realization that he could really achieve something in Bare Knuckle Boxing. From start to finish a tremendous pace was set, neither man willing to take a back step in a fight which re-defines the meaning of toe to toe. Tony recollects this contest fondly, a good hard scrap that brought him back to his younger years when he fell in love with fighting. Although Tony was subsequently finished in the fifth, he held his head up high, having given Goodjohn a real run for his money. Two shows later and Tony was back in action at BKB 13. Originally it was set to be a British title fight against Ricardo Franco, however, Franco was forced to pull out after sustaining a serious septal hematoma. In his place came the debut of Leeds’s own Scott McHugh coming in as a short-notice replacement. What ensued was a typical Tony Lafferty scrap, non-stop action from bell to bell, with a particularly noteworthy first round that saw Tony drop Scott three times. Either way, both men impressed on the night and it was another cracking decision victory for Tony.
Everything seemed well and good in life, Tony’s fighting career was taking off and he had just moved halfway across the world in pursuit of a new journey in Australia. Yet as is the nature of life, nothing ever stays good forever. One night as Tony was sleeping he was awoken by a phone call from his sister. Within a few minutes, Tony’s life had come crashing down. His beloved mother Andrea had been diagnosed with cancer. Laying awake until seven in the morning, Tony booked a flight home as soon as he could, returning to Scotland two days later. Spending every last moment he could with his mother, Tony left this traumatic period with no regrets. As time progressed, things had got so bad that he and his sister celebrated their mother’s Birthday one week early, fearing the worst. Then on the day of her Birthday, Andrea fell into a coma and passed away the next day.
It’s always difficult to write a worthy tribute for a woman who had made such a massive impact on Tony’s life, but I feel there is no better man to do it than Tony himself:
To my mum, I’d just like to thank you for everything you were to me and my sister Caroline. What else can I say… she’s the reason I’m on earth, the reason I am alive, the reason I served my country and the reason I fight with so much heart. She gave me my heart and the reason to fight. Everyone should appreciate their mum’s, for they are greatest human beings on earth. I love you forever, and everything I do I know you are watching, so I will make you proud every moment of every day and become the man you always said I could be.Tony Lafferty
During his time back at home Tony had accepted a fight against James Lilley for BKB 17 as a way of distracting himself. Yet with all that had happened Tony understandably had to pull out of the fight while James faced Jonny Lawson. Yet, despite his mother’s passing, Tony fought on, accepting a place on BKB’s second prizefighter commencing at BKB 18. The name that came out of the hat was Ben Gumbrell, a tough gloved amateur who gave Tony one hell of a fight. By the end of three rounds, the judges couldn’t call it and so a fourth followed. For Tony, this fourth round was a representation of everything he had gone through. It wasn’t just about his troubled childhood, the bullies and the atrocities of war. In its purest sense, it was two minutes to let go of everything and fight like it was his last. Bloody, bruised and exhausted Tony threw himself at Ben with such ferocity that he found his opponent overcome. There is little else to describe this performance than gutsy, with every punch thrown you can literally see the determination in Tony’s eyes. A fitting tribute for a man who fights like the soldier he was moulded to be. With his hand raised high, Tony was declared the victor in a bout which will live in the memory of many forever.
Progressing to the Semi-Finals of the competition, Tony faces Smudger Smith next in a much-anticipated war of attrition. Yet, what I always find so fascinating about Bare Knuckle Boxers like Tony, are their reasons behind fighting in such a brutal discipline. And I feel as though there is no better way to finish this story and single-handedly encapsulate the Bare Knuckle Boxing ideology than Tony’s response:
I fight because I have something inside me that makes me good at it, I’ve got a big heart, and it’s always good to be good at something. I want to be remembered as a warrior and a gentleman. I get alot of messages from people saying that I inspire them to get through s*** simply because of the way I fight. It’s good to help and inspire others whilst doing something you love. I live for the feeling I get in that ring, testing myself against another man in battle. Not many people can say they share that special kind of bond with another human being, bonded by blood. This sport has taken over my life , after Smudger I quit my job and begin training full time, my heart is unbeatable it’s time my body caught up. I need to evolve with the sport and become a full-time fighter like my opponents. Twelve hour shifts thirteen days straight with one day off just isn’t cutting it as a fighter.Next year is my year as I embark on the path to greatness. I will be world champion mark my words. People haven’t seen anywhere near how good I can be, come January I will be a completely different animal.Tony Lafferty