TWO bare-chested men throw punches at each other in a quiet residential street in Surrey, as young kids cheer them on.
But this is no street brawl – it’s an organised bout between two Gypsy families who have been locked in a bitter feud for five years.
Tony Giles looks on as two members of the warring families square upCredit: Firecracker Films
The fight – filmed for Channel 5’s Here Come the Gypsies, which airs on Wednesday – is the brainchild of champion cage fighter Tony ‘the Rhino’ Giles, who has become a ‘Fair Play Man’ for the Gypsy community in the South East, sorting out disputes and mediating between families.
Tony, 36, has been a mixed martial arts pro for 12 years and the first Gypsy to win a world title, and he says the culture encourages kids to fight.
“It’s in our blood, in our genes, fighting. You get brought up from an early age to protect yourself,” he says.
“In the Gypsy community, money comes second to fighting and honour. You’re a lot more respected being the roughest Gypsy than the richest.”
Tony is the first Gypsy to win a world title in MMACredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
Bare-knuckle fights at 16
The four-part show follows members of the Romany Gypsy community in Cardiff, Darlington and Surrey, as well as covering the annual Durham Horse Fair, which sees thousands of Gypsies from all over the UK gather to trade and socialise.
Tony – who was trained by his grandad and had his first bare-knuckle fight at 16 – earned the role of ‘Fair Play Man’ because of his fame throughout the community.
“I know a lot of the Gypsy community because a lot of them come and watch me fight,” he says. “They speak to me and say ‘look we wanna get this sorted out’.”
He underwent surgery in 2016 after being shot in the face when fighting broke out between rival families on the Virginia Water site in Surrey.
But he says sorting out disputes with bare-knuckle fights is a long-standing tradition.
“They meet up, they have a fight, they shake hands after and everyone carries on with their life,” he says. “There’s no police, no one gets hurt… often.”
Tony is a respected figure in the Gypsy communityCredit: Nick Obank – The Sun
The show follows the traders on horse drives where animals are showcased between pub stopsCredit: Firecracker Films
Secret location for final fight
Together with his cousin, Johnny Saunders, Tony organises a brawl to end a five year feud which began over a woman on a night out and has escalated into a war of words on social media.
“There have been untold cousins, brothers, women all having little disputes and arguments over the same thing,” he explains.
The families, who live within two miles of each other, are both living in fear of reprisals.
“We got approached to say this is getting out of control, they want to get together and finally sort this out once and for all, he says.
“A lot of the family are on lockdown so they don’t bump into members of the other family.
“They use the same shops, go to the same town, use the same restaurants so the sooner this fight happens the better.
“Because as soon as two or more of the families see each other, if it’s not sorted out, there’s going to be fireworks.”
Tony selects a plot of derelict land for the fight to take place – but it’s overlooked by houses, meaning the organisers have to park vans in around the perimeter to stop it being overlooked or “they’ll have the Old Bill here in seconds.”
Tony with ex-wife Danielle Mason after one of his prize fightsCredit: Alamy
The MMA champ now uses his status to play mediatorCredit: Rex
Fighters would ‘rather die’ than lose
On the day of the bout, the families are informed of the venue at the last minute, to reduce the risk of hundreds of spectators turning up.
“The worst outcome is a massacre and I’ve seen a few of those happen,” says Tony. “I’ve seen it erupt and everybody’s fighting. It’s not a very nice thing.”
Both men arrive with an entourage, which includes young children who film the fight on their phones.
The fighters would “rather die” than lose, says Tony, and being knocked out is their worst fear, as it would bring shame on the family.
“It’s all about loyalty, respect and the culture. If you’re a Gypsy, this is what you’ve got to do,” says Tony.
“It all ends today, all that pressure and worrying about five of them pulling up while you’re with your missus in Tesco.”
The two men, stripped to the waist, exchange punches to the face in a brutal showdown, before Tony stops the fight and declares a draw.
Tony acts as referee as the two men fightCredit: Firecracker Films
He then demands the men shake hands and put the feud behind them – or risk his anger.
“The normal public will be looking at this and saying they’re mad,” he says. “But when you think about the logic of it, a few punches can sort a lot of troubles out in our community.
“Shake hands, forget about it, no one’s going to get seriously hurt. It’s a good thing. It’s a bit medieval but if it’s not broke don’t fix it.”
‘We get drunk and anything goes’
The show also follows Welsh horse trader Jim ‘Beb Price, who says a crackdown on horse fairs by local councils has hit his business hard.
He organises a horse drive – which sees over 80 carriages racing up the main roads and stopping at pubs to trade.
“Like people look forward to Christmas and birthdays we look forward to horse drives,” he says. “We get drunk and anything goes.”
Jim ‘Beb’ Price is confronted by police officers during the boozy horse driveCredit: Firecracker Films
The horse drive races carriages along main roadsCredit: Firecracker Films
Darlington fortune teller Linda tells the show that councils are trying to squeeze out Gypsies and Travellers who have traditionally traded in the town centre.
“Twenty years ago travellers were accepted in the community, going round the doors but now, no, they won’t allow them,” she says.
“You have to have a permit for this and a permit for that.
“The council don’t like travelling people on markets. They try and beat travelling people, but they won’t beat people like me.”
Fortune teller Linda has seen her income dropCredit: Firecracker Films
The series highlights the fight to keep Gypsy traditions alive amid growing hostility in the UK, and also reveals the close family bonds that travelling communities have, with parents, children and grandchildren all living and working together.
“I’m proud to be a Gypsy,” says Tony, simply. “I like that as Gypsies we stick together.”
Here Come the Gypsies airs on Channel 5 on Wednesday at 9pm
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