By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
Three fights without defeat in the paid ranks, Brad Rea has made a lightning start to his professional career with that number of fights coming over the course of as many months. The 20 year old signed with Steve Wood in the first half last year having had 97 amateur contests and he started off our conversation by explaining how he got started with boxing.
“To be honest Ollie, I carried a bit of weight and I was a fat kid. Not many people believe that, actually, and I just went to the gym to try and shed the weight, get some fitness. I got hit in the face a few times, when I was there, and thought ‘do you know what, I fancy a bit of this.’
Didn’t think much of it until I went down to Hatton’s and started doing routines with Blain. If I’m honest that’s when it clicked, for me, and even though I am still 20 it was a slow process. I started mixing it with the pro’s that were there and when I got to 18, it seemed a lot more real than the amateurs, if that makes sense.”
A recurring theme with Brad, despite gaining such experience as an amateur, was the desire to challenge himself. The first challenge was just to lose a bit of weight, then his first amateur fight, his first spar with a professional and so on but none more decisive than turning professional at such a tender age.
“I’ve always been told my style would be suited better to the pros and, especially in the last year of the amateur’s, I thought things weren’t going my way. Decisions weren’t going my way, scoring seemed to be getting worse, and it was frustrating.
The opportunity to sign with Steve was one I couldn’t turn down. He’s round my area and Victoria Warehouse is literally walking distance from my house so, as a kid, I’d go to the shows he had up there. A lot of my friends from the amateurs had already signed with him and he ticked all the boxes so it was a bit of a no brainer.”
That feeling, the buzz, was another reason why I turned over
Rattle forward to September 15th and Rea’s debut against, notoriously durable, Jordan Grannum. A comfortable points victory, 40-36, but for such a notable occasion, Brad told me he remembered relatively little from it –
“It was a day I’ll never forget but the fight itself, I can’t remember too much detail, beforehand I was telling myself to take a step back and enjoy it. I did enjoy it, I really did try to but I can’t remember the ring walk, can’t remember getting into the ring, can’t remember much from the fight. It was the atmosphere and the occasion I remember. That feeling, the buzz, was another reason why I turned over because I hadn’t had that feeling for years.”
The Stretford middleweight was honest in his admission that he’s an unfinished product but has been pleased with the offerings of his first three counterparts.
“They’ve all offered something different, it’s hard when you first turn professional, you’ve gone from mixing it with top level amateurs and then you’re in with, no disrespect, these journeyman. I’ve been well matched, they’ve come for a fight and made me work through different tactics. I want that to keep going, I’ll fight whoever, front-foot, back-foot, southpaw, it doesn’t bother me.
It would be nice to get stoppages but it’s not a priority and the guys I’m fighting have got 10 years on me. I’ve yet to grow into my man strength, that’ll come with time, so I’ve got no issues about that.
I think this time next year I’ll be looking at Central Area titles, knocking on the door, I’m not going to rush into anything with a silly head. Not many people have the privilege of time on their hands, I have, so I’ve got to make sure I use it.”
A key figure in the corner of Rea is Blain Younis, Rea’s trainer, who turned towards coaching in 2011 after an injury forced short his own boxing career. That relationship, Rea says, has been a breath of fresh air.
“Blain is class, he’s like a mate, but there’s a switch. When we’re in that gym we bite down and crack on but, when it’s over, we have a laugh and joke. It keeps me going because it’s a serious enough sport and it could easily run you down if you didn’t have that positivity. I think (him fighting as a southpaw) has helped because the way he broke it down made it sound really simple. If you are a southpaw they probably are simple things but from an orthodox fighter you do overthink it. I think, more so, he’s helped with me switching stances during the fight because I can learn so much from his experience.”
Gladiator, I watch it the night before a fight
As talk often does with professional boxers, the inevitable T word came up – tickets.
“Honestly I was taken back by how well I’d done. I wasn’t worried but I was anxious at the beginning, didn’t really have any idea how many I’d do. I think I did 280 for my debut which I was buzzing with, I can’t lie, the second fight I did about 160 and I said to myself that if I did 80 each fight then I’d be happy. The last fight was obviously a dinner show, bit different, but I did six tables for that and Steve’s happy, I’m happy. That will have an impact on how often I fight this year, I think if I have four or five fights then I’ll be able to keep ticket sales at a solid level.”
Training at Hatton’s Gym, with Blain, as part of an ever-growing stable has been an eye-opening experience but, for more reasons than you might first expect.
“Training there is surreal, not just getting some top quality sparring and obviously being with Blain but, when I was a kid, Ricky was my favourite fighter to watch and it’s mad that he’s no longer some man I watched on the TV. He’s Rick, we go to his birthday parties, I train in his gym, I message him, I still have to pinch myself. The first pair of boxing shorts I got, from Suzi Wong, were a replica Hatton!
Obviously though being able to mix it with seasoned fighters, as I have, reminds you that there’s still a good way to go. I’ve been in with Liam Smith and (Mark) Heffron, I’ll get caught with a shot and I’ll beat myself up about it. But Liam’s been in with Canelo and that’s crazy, I’m always learning from these guys and I’m just soaking it up.”
As conversation progressed, a shocking revelation came to the fore when talk turned to films.
“I’ve not seen The Greatest Showman, I will give it a crack and let you know but I’m not really one for the music. For me, the Gladiator, I watch it the night before a fight but anything from Quentin Tarantino is gold, for me”.
In all seriousness though, Rea came across as someone who had fallen back in love with the sport of boxing over the past 12 months. The passion with which he spoke was audible, you could hear him relax when we spoke about the progress he had made. It is progress he recognises, too, and, he told me, that was down to working with Blain.
“The way we work, together, we’ll pick up things in training, put it into practice in sparring or on the pads and we’ll work on a couple things, before each fight, and look to showcase them on the night. I’ve been able to take that into the fights nicely, my switch-hitting has developed loads. I experimented with it as an amateur but when I switch stances now, I feel comfortable, it looks natural and that’s what we worked on for the Goodridge fight. A lot of people picked up on that and it’s good to know that other people are recognising my development.”
I decided to end our conversation with an ambiguously deep question, without meaning to, I asked Brad if he was happy, as simple as that, and his response was characteristically thankful.
“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t think you can do it, who have second guessed you, and it’s nice to start to prove them wrong. I’m loving life, I’m getting paid to do something young and I’m still only 20. A lot of my mates are at uni or working in call centres, they’ve got great futures don’t get me wrong, but I can see it in front of me. I’m doing what I dreamed of and I cannot complain about that. It’s my life, it’s all I do, I’ll be in boxing for a long time, Ollie, it will always be a part of my life. Even when I’ve stopped fighting I’ll be wanting to give back, training some new guys – for fitness or as a professional.
I love it, mate, I absolutely love it.”