From Mongolia to Manchester: Shinny Bayaar was labelled a traitor in his homeland for chasing the Lonsdale belt

“She was right – I was going to kill myself.”

And so Tsolmon, wife of the boxer known as Shinny Bayaar (real name Shinebayar Sukhbaatar) did not retreat with their children to Mongolia, and he was not given an opportunity to commit suicide.

Bayaar explains his mindset: “I had no money, couldn’t support my family, there were people who hated me, and my boxing career was over, my dreams ruined.

“As a man, when you can’t provide for your family… I just felt they would be better off without me. In Mongolia, they would have support.

“My wife read my mind, stuck with me and said: ‘I’m never going anywhere without you.’ Then I got back on my feet. I owe my life to my wife.”

It’s hard to imagine the smiling, enthusiastic man in front of me ever occupying such a low point, especially as he presides over Shinny’s Gym, a big and busy facility in Stockport, Greater Manchester, that is visibly his pride and joy. And with his fluent English, complete with Mancunian accent, it is also hard to imagine he’d ever lived anywhere else, much less grew up 6,000 miles away

Bayaar, 46, moved to England in 2001, travelling alone with only a rudimentary grasp of English but carrying an ambition that was, in some circles, frowned upon in both his native country and his host one: to become a professional boxing champion.

He did achieve that, as British flyweight king in 2009-2010, but like so many boxers it was in retirement he struggled. And perhaps it was even more difficult for him, having been called a “traitor” in his homeland for taking British citizenship, and facing xenophobic sentiment here when he held the championship of a country he was not born in.

“Some people said I shouldn’t be British champion because I was a foreigner,” he says. “Some of the things they said, they’d get in trouble if they said them today, but back then it was okay.

“Mongolians can’t have dual nationality, so I had to choose. In 2007, Jack [Doughty, manager] was asking me to apply for British citizenship. I said ‘no, I’m a proud Mongol’. I’d also seen some sumo wrestlers gave up [their Mongolian nationality] and the people hated them for that. I told Jack, ‘I can’t’. He said ‘but you can’t fight for the British, the European, the Commonwealth [championships], and you need to if you want to fight for the world title.

“In 2008, I went home and asked my dad about it. He said ‘don’t worry about us – go for it, if it can help you become world champ. I’d asked sponsors, I’d asked for funding, I said I can be a great boxer overseas, but they gave me nothing. People were calling me ‘traitor’, but if your own country doesn’t give you fuck-all…”

And so Bayaar returned to the UK and applied for citizenship, which was approved in May 2009. If he required validation of his decision, it came less than two months later.

“I’ll never forget July 8, 2009,” he says. “I had a British passport and my wife was pregnant, then the phone rings and Jack says ‘you’re gonna fight for the British title’. Then my wife goes to the shower, suddenly she’s in pain… oh, shit! Then we went to hospital and my son was born the same day.”

On October 23 that year, five months after becoming British, and three and a half months after becoming a dad, Bayaar took the flyweight title from Chris Edwards with a swashbuckling split decision. He posed with the belt around his waist and baby Avid in his arms. “That’s my boy. I won the precious belt for him,” he says. “I kissed his head and told him: ‘I will die for you’.”

14 May 2010: Shinny Bayaar suffers a cut during a drawn fight against Ashley Sexton (Gavin Ellis/TGSPHOTO/Shutterstock)

Two and half years later, as he sank into depression, Bayaar may have done exactly that, if not for his wife’s astuteness. By then, he was a father of two, but he was also both an ex-champion, and an ex-boxer too. He had thought beating Edwards would be a launchpad, but it would be the last time he won in a title fight.

Following a non-title win, Bayaar was held to a draw by Ashley Sexton in his first defence. He then lost the belt in his second defence in a heartbreaking twist of fate (more on that later), and then, in what would be his final fight, Edwards – by then champion again – would earn revenge. Given it was the third time in a row Bayaar felt hard done by, combined with an increasing tendency to cut, and an unwillingness on the part of any of those three men to fight him again, he hung up his gloves.

Of the Sexton draw, in May 2010, Bayaar says: “Joke, wasn’t it? I gave him a boxing lesson. He headbutted me; I got four cuts needing 24 stitches, and he elbowed me in the back of the head, the fucking bastard.

“I said I wanted a rematch, but Jack said ‘No, you won that, he doesn’t deserve it’.”

Instead, Bayaar next defended against Paul Edwards in what was, given its December 15, 2010, fixture, an ill-fated bit of scheduling. The British Boxing Board of Control had just decided to ditch their archaic rule that any boxer who suffered an injury and couldn’t continue would automatically lose, regardless of how the injury occurred. But, unfortunately for Bayaar, that wouldn’t be enacted until January 1, 2011. It was with horrible irony that on the last night a British championship would be contested under these conditions, Bayaar would be split open in the very first round and see his belt handed to a man who’d done the damage with his head. Had this happened 17 days later, the bout would have been ruled a no-contest.

“Straight away – bang! – the blood was pouring. The ref stepped in and took me to the doctor. The doctor’s jaw dropped and the ref said no without even looking,” says Bayaar.

“But I respected the other boxer and lifted his hand up. I said ‘keep my belt warm’ and he said I could have a rematch any time, but he never gave it me. I just thought ‘you chicken bastard – I gave [i]you[i] an opportunity’.”

While Bayaar healed, Paul Edwards lost the title to his namesake former champion Chris Edwards, who did give Shinny another shot, in December 2011. Again, Bayaar was cut in the first round.

“It was just one of those situations where everything goes wrong,” he says. “There was pressure in the dressing room, the Board inspector kept coming in, the atmosphere was horrible, I walked to the ring and they played the wrong music. I stopped and I had this big fat bastard bouncer pushing me, saying ‘come on, we’re on a tight schedule’. Stuff like that stresses you out.

“As soon as the fight started, he [Edwards] headbutted me. I was cut again and the ref said it was from a clean shot. I can’t remember the first four rounds. I watched it back and saw I was a back-foot fighter, and I never do that.

“Rounds five and six, I started pushing him back, then he headbutted me again, there were low blows, elbows… Coming out for round 12, I said to myself ‘I’ve lost this’. We touched gloves and I said to him: ‘You can’t knock me out – you’re shit’. And he couldn’t.”

It was a last bit of defiance in not only the fight but in his career. He could have fought on, but that run of three fights, all blood-soaked and bad-tempered, sapped his enthusiasm.

“When I have to fight not only an opponent but also the referee, the judges and the fans, how can I win?” he asks, rhetorically.

“My second son [Mergen] had just been born and I had fuck-all in my bank account. It [retiring from boxing] was heartbreaking, but I couldn’t feed my family.”

Bayaar took part-time work as a fitness instructor at a couple of chain gyms, which at least gave him some income, even if it was no antidote for a bleak mood that would soon turn suicidal. His status as a former champion didn’t assuage him either, given his reign was characterised more by frustration than elation, even if winning the title did help repair the “traitor” tag he’d earned by pursuing it in the first place.

“Oh, they like me now,” says Bayaar of his fellow Mongolians. “I was the first Mongol to win a British title, so they celebrated that. People are a lot more open-minded now; people like it [pro boxing] now, they understand it.”

When Bayaar left in 2001, Mongolia was barely a decade removed from communism, and socialist sentiment remained ingrained in many people, particularly with regards to professional sports.

“Lakva Sim upset everyone by turning pro before the [1996] Olympics, going off to Korea,” he says of the man who remains the only Mongolian to win major ‘world’ belts. “It was the same with me.”

Bayaar did, however, turn pro at home. Boxrec lists his first paid bout, in February 2000, as taking place there, though he says he had won four bouts prior to that which Boxrec has not recorded. But pro boxing has never been more than occasional in Mongolia, even since the end of communism.

Bayaar hopes to change that. Despite upsetting some by turning pro and migrating, his eventual successes saw him regain the respect he’d earned as a decorated amateur, and a changing of attitudes as Mongolia’s market economy has grown has made the country more responsive to professional sport. Bayaar hopes to tap into this.

“I went back [in November] and opened Shin Promotions,” he says. “Shin means ‘new’ in Mongolian, like my name [Shinebayar] means ‘new happiness’ or ‘new celebration’.

“I’m looking to put on my first show there soon and then make it a monthly competition, with amateur and pro boxing, maybe some MMA. The idea is to build their records there, and then bring them here for good opportunities.

“I’ve learned it all about boxing, from club shows to international level. What I’ve learned, I can take back to my country and help the young fighters there become champions.”

Bayaar will likely wish there had been someone like him here when he came to the UK. He arrived on a six-month tourist visa, with the intent of seeking boxing opportunities. While a “tourist”, he took the sort of low-paid, cash-in-hand jobs available to foreigners without paperwork. At the same time, he toured the boxing gyms of northern England, and routine trips to the late Jack Doughty’s Tara Gym in Shaw convinced Doughty to sign Bayaar.

“I came to Britain to learn European-style boxing,” he says. “I also wanted to learn about a different culture and to learn English. I got my head down, studied, got some money. I was working my arse off as a tree planter, in a hotel as a cleaner, a porter, in the bar and restaurant, in the kitchen, at the same time as training. It was good. I like that this country has good human rights and people are very open-minded. The only thing I don’t like is the cold!”

This comes as a surprise from someone from Ulaanbaatar, the world’s coldest capital.

“Mongolia is very cold, but it’s dry cold,” he explains. “Here it’s wet cold and it just sinks in. Especially here in Manchester, where it’s always raining. It’s horrible!

“In Mongolia, it came be minus 40, but if you’re wrapped up well, it’s better than minus five here. Also, we have horse meat – it keeps you warm. I miss that and fermented horse milk – our traditional beer! It’s just milk and yeast, no chemicals, so no hangover!”

Bayaar’s UK campaign started typically for a foreign boxer without an existing fan base or major promotional backing. He had just four low-key fights in the first year and a half, and only won two of them, but he refused to be a journeyman and would find his form. He then went 13-1, including the British title win, before the final, frustrating three-fight sequence.

“I became more mature,” he says of how he turned his in-ring fortunes around. “I had always wanted to knock people out instead of using my boxing skill. I have a good boxing IQ, so I learned a lot from Jack’s English boxers and learned to be more controlled. I became a good blend of English and Asian styles.”

Bayaar is now putting that IQ to good use as a coach. He has an active amateur stable, plenty of fitness clients, and a couple of pros. But this successful venture – and what may follow in the Far East – only came to be during those dark days that followed his retirement.

“One of my [fitness] clients was the owner of this building,” he says. “I wanted to set up my own gym but the rates were too expensive. He said ‘go and take a look at my space’.”

He did, he liked what he saw, and more importantly could afford it, and set up the gym that gave him new purpose, a higher income, and, with the emotional support of his wife, something to live for.

Now, some 10 years later, he wants to pay that forward.

“Everybody comes here,” he says. “Young and old, less privileged kids, you’ve got coppers training next to criminals.

“Boxing helps people to lose weight, stop drinking, it stops kids running around the streets. Sports gave me my life, so I want kids to know sports. They can learn how to be a good human being and hopefully that will be my legacy for future generations.”

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