Jake Peacock: ‘I hope people will be inspired and changed by my story’

Jake Peacock: ‘I hope people will be inspired and changed by my story’

Jake Peacock is the reigning Canadian welterweight and North American super welterweight muay thai champion. He has won eight of his nine professional fights and is renowned for his ability to knock out opponents clinically with accurate elbows and kicks. His first fight of real meaning had baying crowds around it, but it was far from the bright lights of the stadiums where he now competes. He was 11 years old at school in England, walking to the school field terrified to take on a physically bigger boy who had bullied him mercilessly. Peacock was born with one arm shorter than the other and was sick of the taunts. His decision to fight back that day defined the rest of his life.

“When the last bell rang for the end of school, I knew I had another option. I was walking out of the school and I knew I could keep going straight to the school field or I could turn and walk to my mum’s car 20 yards away and go home. It was a Friday. I could come back in on Monday and see what happens, but that wouldn’t be good. The bullying would just keep going and I knew it would never stop.

“When I walked on to the field, I was still trying to stop it, saying to the guy: ‘You have nothing to prove.’ He just said: ‘Put down your bags and let’s fight.’ People were circling us and it got to the point where he was working me backwards. I knew I had to do something. I just got it done with minimal force. After it was over, the school tried to get me suspended because I had thrown more than one punch. I couldn’t believe it, I had to defend myself. My dad was up to the school so quick and sorted it. I remember days later, the bully came up to me and apologised. That was it and we ended up becoming friends.”

Peacock spent the first 15 years of his life in England, living partly under the shadow of his father Gavin, the former Newcastle, Chelsea and QPR midfielder. It was hard to go to the supermarket without friendly locals wanting a picture or to chat about the good old days at Stamford Bridge or St James’ Park. Peacock played football for his school and local teams, but his passion was always for combat sports. He started competing in karate at the age of 11 and, when Gavin decided to leave his job in the media to start up a church ministry in Canada, Peacock knew he had to keep fighting. It had helped him to develop a hardened mindset, which drove him forward.

“Having a strong mindset was always there. Growing up with one hand really, really brought it out of me more. Everyone’s different, right? Some people can be crushed by different obstacles. I’m not saying it wasn’t tough, but it made me more resilient for sure. And honestly, not always in the best of ways. I was quite angry sometimes when I was younger. Lots of people staring at my arm and commenting on it gets old real quick. So I used to get really frustrated and angry when people would stop and stare. A lot of that wasn’t right but I didn’t need to be angry. People are curious or, even if they were making fun, at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. But definitely, I had a strong drive and perseverance from the start.”

In Canada, Peacock competed in Kyokushin karate, travelling to the Junior World Championships in Tokyo. Kyokushin is a full-contact discipline with bare knuckles hitting the body and shins connecting with the head. In karate, Peacock felt liberated by coaches who didn’t judge him by any perceived limitations but instead channelled his strengths. He trained relentlessly, went beyond perceived pain barriers and constantly aimed to improve. At 18, he started to investigate muay thai and how it could develop him further as a fighter.

“I wanted something more because in Kyokushin, it’s bare-knuckle. You can punch and kick everywhere, except you can’t punch to the face. You can kick to the head, but you can’t punch to the head. I needed something more. I had a few amateur fights in muay thai and the rest is history. It was the whole package really. I mean, there’s grappling involved in it with the clinch, there’s boxing which I love, and there’s kicking and that’s what I grew up doing. It’s been absolutely fantastic.”

When he was a teenager, Peacock used to pull down his jumper to hide his shorter arm. But as he developed as a fighter and thanks to his strong Christian faith, he started walking taller inside and outside of the ropes. Two years ago, he made the decision to become a professional fighter, while also running his own gym in Calgary.

He has won titles in the ring, but his greatest satisfaction comes from inspiring people who have been told they cannot do something. “I try to keep my head down, get to work and fight,” he says. “They don’t introduce me as ‘Jake Peacock the one-handed fighter’. There have been lots of times where I’ve read that in a headline. That used to annoy me a little bit as I knew I’m competing with the best fighters around. I’m just Jake Peacock, the fighter who happens to have one hand.

“But honestly, I get so many messages from so many different people – parents, young adults, older adults and children – who are encouraged by my story. People with cerebral palsy, people who are missing a limb, people with autism, or whatever it is. I get messages from all these people. And I realise that I don’t need to get annoyed with headlines anymore. There are lots of people that this story inspires. And if it inspires just one or two people, that’s great. So I don’t care how they announce me. I just get in there and do my job. And I hope people will be changed by my story. And I think lots of people have to, at this point so far.”

Peacock is hoping to fight again in November as he works his way to the highest level, ultimately the ONE Championship in Singapore, which brings bigger coverage and paydays for fighters. Right now, he has a full day of training ahead. Before he leaves I ask him what he would tell a young person who has been told they cannot do something they love because of a perceived disability.

“I’d ask them, who’s telling you that? Go find someone else to inspire you. Honestly, there’s always a way to do whatever you want to do. There’s always a way. You have to know: there are way greater things have been done by lesser people and you have to surround yourself with the right people, who will encourage and push you. Make sure you have a good support system around you and never ever give up. Always push on and think outside the box. And, if you want it bad enough, trust me, you will make it happen.”