My Story by Wayne Barker
Expelled from school and always in a scrape or a scrap, no-one knew what to do with 12 year old Salford tearaway Wayne Barker, but his dad had the solution, he gave him to the gypsies to rear as one of their own!! Life with the legendary “Big Just” King of the Gypsy’s, suited young Barker just fine and set him on the road which led to the dark and dangerous world of bare-knuckle fighting, professional boxing and eventually prison. Barker has emerged from his extraordinary adventures intact, his scarred face only telling part of his amazing story.
His journey began when he was handed over to Big Just whose seat of power was a humble gypsy encampment on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Partington.
Wayne commented: “I thought I was just a normal boy although most people thought I was abnormal. I liked a scrap like most kids around me at that time, but I was the only one expelled from school for it! My father was a notorious Salford hard man who no-one messed with, but not even he could control me so he and an old Manchester character call Curly Lowe took me to a gypsy man called Hughie Burton (Big Just) to see if he could break me”.
“I was just deposited there for the want of a better expression. I never went to school I just worked and was accepted into that culture. I grew up with it and saw an entirely different way of life to anything I had ever seen before – messing with horses and fighting became my way of life.”
A shock was in-store for Wayne when Big Just’s son Eugene told him that he was to have his first purse fight one day at the age of 14!! Wayne commented: “I will never forget that forty nine men paid £1 a piece to watch me fight. It was winner takes all and I fought a big Irishman called Jimmy who was in his mid-thirties. To be honest I was scared to death! On the morning of the fight I was sat on the grass wondering what I had gotten myself into, but I got into it. We had gloves on and in the 11th of the three-minute rounds I beat him to a standstill and won myself £49…… £49! I thought I was a millionaire”!! Wayne now considered himself a man.
In the early 70’s before he’d even reached the age of fifteen, he already owned a drove a Transit van and was earning more than his father at up to £150 a week.
“I was going all over the country to fight, even as far away as Phoenix Park and Smithfield’s Market in Ireland. Fighting became my way of life. I would be pit against a fighter roughly the same size and weight as myself and I’d bet £15, £20 £30, £50 – as much money as I could afford to lose”.
The authorities have always turned a blind eye to bare-knuckle fighting which has been a part of the traveling community’s way of life for centuries. Wayne also fought professionally out of Gus Demmy’s gym on Oldham Road in Manchester, he confessed it’s what he loved to do and considers it as the ultimate test of a mans strength, power and virility.
Wayne was always getting into scrapes with the law and in 1978 he was incarcerated for handling stolen goods. Whilst on remand in Strangeways Prison Manchester, a notorious child killer was placed in the same cell. As it turned out, this man had been remanded in custody for the murder of the 12 year old son of a West Indian family who used to feed Wayne when he was younger. With Wayne now being a father himself couldn’t restrain himself and in a fit of rage he completely annihilated the 36 year old cowardly child killer. He was promptly arrested in jail and charged with attempted murder which was later reduced to a Section 18 Causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent.
Wayne knew that two wrongs didn’t make a right, but he’d grown up in a world where he was governed by the law of the street and to this day he feels justified by his actions out of the love he had and the pain he felt for the family who looked after him when he was most in need and who had now tragically lost a son in a cowardly racist attack.
Whilst on remand for the two charges, Wayne feared his future was going to be a long and hard one whilst being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. During a visit from his father, Wayne told his Dad that he was innocent of the GBH charge and convinced him to stump up £12,000 for bail assurance and to help him escape the country. Wayne’s father was a hard but principled man, but once he was convinced of his son’s innocence, he came good with the money and arranged his son’s exit from the UK knowing he was kissing goodbye to a small fortune in the process.
Whilst on bail and planning his great escape, Wayne got wind that local boxing trainer Brian Hughes – who was unaware of Wayne’s trouble with the police – was taking a team of fighters to the States. As he went on to explain “I made sure I was on the team”! The party which included former British Light-Middle-Weight Champion Ensley “Bingo” Bingham went to the world famous Kronk Gym in Detroit to train and further their boxing education. The gym was run by the legendary Emmanuel Steward and was home to world multi-weight division boxing champion Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns.
Wayne had no intentions of returning to the UK to face the music. When the trip was over Wayne moved on to New York and joined Gleason’s Gym sparring for $15 a round. In the afternoon he would move on to Times Square for more of the same where he sparred with the likes of Wilfredo Benitez, the youngest man to win a recognised world title. And if he was still short of money, he would go to the Bronx Gym at night to make up his breadline quota for the day.
“I used to drive these men mad asking for fights. When there was no work, I would head for the East Side to the meat packing warehouses. It was no life, but it was my life. I was a young man and I was living it and enjoying it strange though it may seem”.
In 1979 his quest to survive took him to an Indian reservation in the North-Western territories of Canada near the little town of Yellowknife.
Wayne comments “Over there you couldn’t buy booze on a Sunday so on a Saturday me and this other guy used to go out and buy as much of it as we could. We bought cheap wine which tasted like anti-freeze, actually that’s doing a disservice to anti-freeze, and the cheapest rum and whiskey we could find. We would load up a Volvo estate car and on the Sunday and go up to the reservation and sell it all.
There were guys up there who would have a glass of beer, feel like ten men and want to fight the world. They were easy to fight and it was easy money, so it made the trips more than worth my while.”
“On August 17th 1981 I walked into old man Gleason’s Gym and he said “Hey kid, dya wanna fight?” I said yes and he said “Go get your passport and your kit; you’re going away for a week.” Looking back on it, I must have been dribbling mad! I got my luggage; Gleason gave me $100 and an airline ticket and said I was fighting in Caracas, Venezuela!! I never even asked who I was fighting.”
“On the plane I got talking to a geezer next to me, he was from the British Embassy in Caracas. We got to Venezuela and when I got to the top of the aeroplane steps there were TV cameras, photographers and reporters everywhere! I said to the Embassy bloke, there must be someone famous on the plane.” He replied, “This is all for you, you’re fighting the national hero, the Central American Middle Weight Champion!!
Wayne’s opponent was the feared Venezuelan ace Fulgencio Obelmejias (Fully Obel) who had just suffered his first professional defeat in a world title super fight seven months earlier against “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler!! Hagler had blitzed him in 8 brutal rounds and Wayne was the sacrificial lamb being served up as Obel’s comeback opponent!! The fight lasted two painful rounds with a predictable outcome. Obel was to face Hagler again the following year in Italy but this time Obel was written-off in 5 rounds, but at least Wayne was paid for his sacrificial pain – Job done, lesson learned!
Back in the States Wayne entered the first of his three marriages. His first marriage was one of convenience purely so he could stay in the US. His wife was older than he was but she was a stunner. She used to hang around the boxing circuit looking for a dream match-up with a potential world champion. To her Wayne fitted the bill perfectly, to him she was good to have on his arm and more importantly she could keep him out of the clutches of the UK authorities who had an international warrant out for his arrest after absconding from Manchester…..A marriage made in America, an accident waiting to happen!
Wayne continued to fight and spar with or without gloves to earn a crust. But on bonfire night 1981 in Atlantic City in front of the world’s cameras, he got his big break fighting crowd favourite and fellow scrapper, Teddy “The Irish” Mann. Wayne sparred with future light-heavyweight champion Bobby Czyz to prepare for the fight knowing this could be his one and only chance to really hit the big time.
Wayne reflected: “There I was, this kid from Marchant’s Gym in Lower Broughton, with the world’s cameras watching me and I was a contender!” This was the stuff Rocky movies were made of……not!!
He continued: “Mann was a tricky customer, the gloves didn’t have attached thumbs then and every time he jabbed me, his thumb would poke me in the eyes. He slashed the skin on my eyelids, the sweat was running in, it was really stinging and my vision was blurred. After 3 rounds of this I went to the referee, the legendary Joe Cortez and told him the guy was thumbing. I was sent back to the corner by Cortez and my dad who had come over for the fight was getting really worked up!”
“I told my old man, don’t worry, the fight’s over in this round. I pumped myself up for one last round of Herculean testosterone fuelled scrapping. As the bell went I set myself in the middle of the ring, I drew every last ounce of strength I had from my boots up to my head and BANG!!!!!…….I nutted him! He went down like a sack of spuds, the whole arena was stunned. I knew I’d be disqualified and wouldn’t be paid, so I didn’t even hang around for the verdict. I headed straight for the dressing rooms; collected my wages from the woman sat at the desk grabbed my gear and was off in the elevator. The promoters and matchmaker were going nuts banging on the lift doors. I just walked out of the hotel and was gone, just like that.”
Wayne beat a hasty retreat to Florida and then on to New Orleans. Wayne explained: “I liked New Orleans because it was like a part of me, I didn’t have to train to fight I would just walk into a fruit packing warehouse and get a few fights and make a few dollars. I ended up in Orlando and set myself up with a profitable little hustle. I had Puerto Rican contacts in New York who used to deliver high quality dresses to the fashion houses around Times Square.”
“Because the traffic was always gridlocked, it was easier for them to push rails of expensive designer gear through the streets. I used to pay the Puerto Ricans a small amount to lift a few from the rails and I’d sell them door to door to the women of Orlando. The women were always suspicious when I called, but because of my English accent and rugged charm, they were like putty in my hands and I was making a pile of money every day.”
“Life was good, but this is not what my wife had signed up for, she wanted a world champion for a husband, not a bare knuckle boxer who sold women’s frocks as a sideline. I had bared my soul to her about my past in England and she used this to get rid of me. I couldn’t believe it when at 2am one morning; the police took my apartment door off the hinges and arrested me because she’d informed them that I was on the run from the British police over a serious charge.”
“They hauled me away to Snapper Creek Jail in Dade County Miami to await extradition proceedings. To say I was gutted was an understatement!! Anyway I decided to keep my head down and accept my plight as my fate was now in the lap of the gods.”
One day Wayne ventured out in the exercise yard which had an open sided shed with weights and a boxing ring. Wayne had been training for a fight before he was arrested, so he was super fit and had just done 30 laps of the prison baseball field.
He explained: “I walked into the shed and donned an old pair of boxing gloves and started sparring with this guy who was six foot two and weighed seventeen stone. I didn’t know it, but this guy was the daddy of the jail and used to bully and batter people. He hadn’t a clue about boxing, so I set about him, tied him up and made him look stupid. When I got out of the ring an old guy sidled up to me and told me I was in big trouble because the fella I’d just made an ass of ran the gaff!! I didn’t need telling twice, I approached a guard and told him that I wanted to be placed in solitary confinement where I stayed for nine weeks until my case was due to be heard.”
“As it turned out the US authorities couldn’t deport me because I was married to an American national, had paid taxes and had committed no crimes over there. Before my release, I found that my wife had done one but not before she withdrew all my money from our bank account and cleaned out our apartment. It left me potless and back where I’d started, broke, alone and three thousand miles away from home. At that point Strangeways Prison in Manchester seemed like paradise in comparison.
“I called my mum and got her to pay for a ticket back to the UK for me. The US authorities escorted me to Miami airport with my arms shackled and my legs manacled together as if I was Hannibal Lecture!!” When I got back to Manchester, I pleaded guilty to the assault charge which ended with me doing a two stretch. But at least I had paid my debt to society and on my release I was free and still young enough to resume my life much the wiser for my experiences.”
“The term I served is the only violence I have on my record. In fact I don’t consider myself a violent man, I’m not the kind of guy who goes out and gets drunk and starts stupid fights. I fought for a living because I liked to fight, I fought men who were willing and capable of fighting and who like me, fought as a test of their manhood if that makes sense.”
Wayne spent the next few years making a living in the seedy world of bare-knuckle boxing and cage fighting. He also ran a number of businesses which began to become the main focus of his life over and above fighting.
Wayne commented: “I regret not taking my legal boxing career more seriously as I seriously believe I could have got to a British, European or Commonwealth Championship level. Looking back at my career, I would describe myself as a crowd pleaser albeit the world’s boxing commentators tagged me as the “Ultimate Slugger”!! I knew all there was to know about the Queensberry rules art of boxing, but I just loved to fight, an artisan I certainly wasn’t! The sound of the punters egging me on gave me the biggest head rush you could ever imagine!”
Wayne unofficially retired from boxing in his mid-thirties, but on reaching his fortieth birthday he had what he described as a classic mid-life crisis. “My kids had grown up; I had become a boxing trainer and started the gym I now run, I was a successful businessman and my life was now on a proper footing for the first time. I started to take stock of my life so far and to be honest I got scared. I was thinking that being forty was the beginning of the end of my life so after nearly five years out of the ring; I announced my comeback to a shocked boxing world. I just felt the need to prove myself as a man all over again.”
Wayne fought at the highest UK level and had five successful fights before deciding that he’d achieved enough to prove to himself that he was still man enough to stand toe to toe with the best. The self realisation that he was now more interested in nurturing the talented fighters he had in his ever growing stable than being in the ring himself, made the decision to quit seem more of a natural progression than enforced retirement.
The Wayne Barker story still continues. Believe it or not this overview of this extraordinary man only scratches the surface. Negotiations are ongoing for the publication of Wayne Barker’s full autobiography and you never know the motion picture may just follow, so just watch this space………..
Whatever the future holds for Wayne Barker we can all be safe in the knowledge that there will never be a dull moment!!
Truth without fear. Wayne Barker – This is my side of the story