How Tyson Fury’s relative got in ring with Lenny McLean, Roy ‘Pretty Boy’ Shaw and even Muhammad Ali
‘King of the Gypsies’ Bartley Gorman was ‘most dangerous unarmed man on planet’
- 17:30, 5 DEC 2015
- Updated 10:15, 5 MAY 2017
Traveller Tyson Fury may be the new world heavyweight champion – but he’s still got a long, long way to go to match the fighting exploits of his Midland ancestor.
Because Fury, who shocked boxing by outpointing Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf, is part of the same family which produced King of the Gypsies, Bartley Gorman.
Tyson revealed the blood ties immediately after his victory.
And the 6ft 9in colossus has very big shoes to fill.
Because Gorman, from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, is generally regarded as the greatest modern bare-knuckle boxer.
The battle-scarred warrior, who died of liver cancer in 2002 at the age of 57, fought at horse fairs, campsites and once even down a mineshaft.
By his own analysis, he was “the most dangerous unarmed man on the planet’”.
“I will never fight a normal man,” said the scrapper, unbeaten in 25 years of brutal warfare, “because I am liable to kill him with one punch.”
The fifth in a line of Bartley Gormans, he began fighting at the age of ten and claimed the King of the Gypsies crown in 1972, following the death of previous holder Uriah Burton.
He was so dangerous, in fact, that seven years ago, the Sunday Mercury revealed that Bartley was STILL a menace from beyond the grave.
Jerry Gorman revealed his late uncle had placed a curse on thieves who stole his caravan.
“The thieves are cursed,” he said. “That caravan will only bring them bad luck. Surely they can’t realise who they have stolen from and what this means to the traveller community? If they did, they would have realised it was the worst mistake of their lives.
“I don’t know what the thieves are going to do with it. They can’t go around boasting they’ve got Bartley Gorman’s caravan and trying to sell it because the police will be on to them. The only option they have is to return it.”
Bartley Gorman’s blood-and-bruises story is a gripping tale of a world light years from the controlled, regulated violence that has made Tyson Fury a fortune.
But the new world champ is acutely aware of Bartley’s legacy, and can be seen on YouTube paying tribute to the undisputed bare knuckle boss.
Bartley’s life is crammed with larger-than-life tales that have become embedded in gypsy folklore.
In the shadowy world of illegal fighting, sifting the fact from the fiction can prove problematic.
He certainly couldn’t match 18-stone Fury’s vital statistics.
Gorman stood 6ft 1in tall and weighed 15 stone, but regularly sparked out much bigger men.
Among his many victims were London stars of the underground fight scene, Lenny McLean and Roy “Pretty Boy” Shaw.
It is also alleged that the Gypsy King secretly sparred with Muhammad Ali when The Greatest visited Birmingham in 1983. He was certainly a massive Ali fan and modelled his style on the heavyweight legend.
Gorman was born in Nottingham in 1944, the son of a Welsh father and Irish mother. Quite simply, he was born to fight, explaining in an interview: “Bartley Gorman III was the champion of North and South Wales.
“Bartley Gorman IV wasn’t a fighter, he was a great lover. Then there’s Bartley Gorman V. That’s me, champion of the world.”
Below: Our gallery of Muhammad Ali’s Birmingham visits
He moved to Uttoxeter when he was 20 and lived for a while in the former pit town of Rugeley but is best remembered for his time in Uttoxeter where there is a plaque commemorating his achievements.
His was a violent world from the off. During a 1953 Boxing Day gathering at a bar in Exhall, Stratford-on-Avon, the young Bartley witnessed his uncle’s death. He was killed by a single blow from a showman enraged after his drink was spilled.
Although his grandfather and great-grandfather were gypsy boxing champs, his dad, Samuel, was deeply religious and shunned fighting.
Samuel initially brought the Gorman clan from Wales to Bedworth to be schooled. They lived in a Warner’s Yard travellers plot and Bartley attended St Francis of Assisi Primary.
At the school, the youngster learned how to read and fight.
The fighting started with playground tussles, then after-school scraps, followed by proper training at Bedworth Labour Club. There was also a string of schoolboy amateur fights, including some for his secondary school, Nicholas Chamberlaine.
But the secretive world of gloveless scraps beckoned.
In his autobiography, King of the Gypsies, Bartley chronicled his toughest contests. He came within a whisker of defeat when suffering a dislocated shoulder during a 1980 challenge at a Coventry pub, believed to be the old Port O’Call.
Bartley was enjoying a pint when Mexicana Webb, a giant with a wiry, unkempt head of hair that looked like a busted sofa, threw down the gauntlet. The crowd cleared the tables to give the two men fighting room, and warned the landlord not to ring the police.
Bartley won only because Mexicana failed to realise his opponent’s shoulder had “popped out”.
He also engaged in contests at the Aston Firs travellers site, Hinckley, at his brother Sam’s 1991 wake, and at the Coventry Crock Fair three years later. Bizarrely, one of his last contests took place on a ship in the north Atlantic.
In 1997, mellowed if not softened by age, Bartley announced his retirement, declaring: “I’m too intelligent to fight.”
He became a public mouthpiece for the gypsy community. His many projects included setting up a rehabilitation camp for travellers who wanted to be true Romanies.
He also famously invited then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Prince of Wales to a hedgehog barbecue.
But the dinner invitations were torn up after animal rights campaigners savaged the scheme.
Peter Walsh, who helped Bartley compile his book during the last 18 months of his life, said: “He was a unique man, a one-off. He was a lovely man with a wicked sense of humour but a streak of melancholy that never left him.”