NESTLED on the north-east side flank of the Blorenge like an oasis of calm, the Punchbowl has become a popular spot for ramblers looking to enjoy this unique hollow’s secluded stillness and rare charm.

Which makes its history as a hillside amphitheater where mountain fighters would brutally slug it out in illegal barefooted contests all the more savage and strange.

In Alexander Cordell’s The Proud and Savage Land, Hywel Mortymer fights the White Celt during a midnight ravenous at the Punchbowl.

As the Marquis of Abergavenny and the gathered dandies from Nevill Hall make wagers and cheer, Cordell describes how Mortymer and the White Celt slug it out in the mountain’s prize ring and tear chunks out of one another.

That fight was, of course, fictional but many others which weren’t took place in this high and lonely place.

In 1889 Nantyglo’s David Rees and Brynmawr’s William Williams went toe to toe and eyeball to eyeball in a bruising and bloody 42 rounds which lasted an hour and 42 minutes. The prize? £10

Yet perhaps the most notorious and illegal prize fight to take place in the local area happened far removed for the Blorenge’s guarded flanks and in a wide-open field at Nantyderry.

The year was 1872 the month was November, and at the break of day in the pale Winter sunlight, a certain Mr. Thomas Fletcher from Pontypool was preparing to fight a gypsy prizefighter named Daniel Desmond. The bare-fisted bout lasted two hours and a quarter but who was the last man standing?

Back in the day, the gypsy Desmond was known as the terror of the neighborhood, which was, in the words of Mr. Fletcher, as quoted in an old edition of the Abergavenny Chronicle, “A very rough shop in those days.”

Apparently, Desmond was the roughest of the rough and his favourite trick was to enter a pub and drink other people’s pints with the sort of savage glee particular to all psychopaths of a playful persuasion.

Because his reputation preceded him like a ten-ton sledgehammer, hardly anyone dared oppose old Dessie when he was in his cups, but if you prod enough bears with enough sticks eventually one will turn on you and rip the head clean off your shoulders. In Dessie’s case the bear happened to be Mr. Fletcher.

After taking Dessie to task for being a bully boy the gypsy immediately took offence and challenged our man to a scrap. Not one to start a fight, but nor the type to walk away from one either, a date with destiny was was set and the fight was on.

After putting in a night-shift at the colliery, (beat that Rocky!), Mr. Fletcher walked to the field in Nantyderry owned by a farmer named Probert for a start. As soon as it was light enough the two brawlers began to slug it out for a whopping 101 rounds.

A Chronicle report reads, “Fletcher, who broke his wrist, kept on until Desmond’s head was a big as a bushel. All the while Desmond was aiming to take away the use of his opponent’s sound arm.”

After over two hours of bare-knuckled savagery, the gathered assembled could take no more. A draw was declared and the fight was stopped. Face had been saved. The two men split the £10 purse and went their separate ways.

Years later Mr. Fletcher would often entertain pub-goers with the time he stood his ground with the gypsy Desmond, and he had the scars to prove it as well.

The have-a-go pugilist once told the Chronicle, “Although my right wrist was broken in the eight - I cannot bend it to this day - I gave Desmond more than he bargained for and he never picked a quarrel with me again. Publicans used to welcome me as a customer after that for they knew that when I was there people of Desmond’s sort would think twice before starting.”