“That’s always been my goal and my dream. They are very big boots to fill, but I just honestly feel like I could be the man to do that. Every few years, someone comes around in Manchester that people really get behind, and I feel like there are some great fighters coming out of Manchester at the moment – but they’re calling out for somebody they can get behind. I feel like that can be me.”
The walls of St John’s Boxing Club are plastered in fight posters, flags, and memories. Little fighters posture and pose, admiring or critiquing their own technique, often glancing up at the promotional material that reminds them of some of Manchester’s biggest nights in the sport. The club provides them with a constructive outlet, but when the buzzer sounds to draw their sessions to a close, they return home after bleeding, sweating, and learning.
For St John’s star pupil, however, escaping those gruelling sessions and breaking the required discipline wasn’t quite as easy. Brad Rea (11-0, 4KOs) couldn’t turn his back on the amateur gym, because he’s the natural heir and son of its founder, Andy Rea. Boxing started as an obligation before it became a passion, though he tells Boxing Social the tables have well and truly turned: “The first time I went to a gym, I went before me’ dad opened St Johns, an old fashioned gym round the corner from us. I think the first session, I pretended to be ill or something! ‘This isn’t me at all: fat, little ginger kid,’ my head was falling off. But I kept going and I got into it, gained a little bit more confidence.”
“Eventually, me’ dad set up an amateur boxing club in Chorlton, where I’m from. It kind of took off from there. I grew up in the gym; I was in there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday. Every day from the age of seven or eight, right up to the age of 17, 18. I grew up there and it’s everything I’ve ever known really. Everything I do revolves around boxing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s hard. I’m not gonna say it was easy, cos it’s not. But I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Rea concludes, reflecting on the pressures of being the coach’s son.
“Growing up in that gym, I even got into the coaching side of things early on, I would help out and that would give me confidence as a 14, 15-year old kid teaching classes full of adults how to box. It’s a bit of a confidence booster for them to listen, and actually, I sit back and think, ‘I must know what I’m on about.’ I used to do a lot with the kids, then I’d do the keep-fit adult classes as well. When I was old enough, I got my coaching badges and I’d do the corners, you know. I enjoyed it, and it helped me look at boxing from a different perspective, from a coach’s point of view from outside of the ring. It bettered me as a boxer, as well.”
It’s a wonder that it’s taken Rea this long to stamp his authority on televised undercards given his grounding in the sport. Starting out on Steve Wood’s small hall shows, he was made to earn his place, despite an amateur career that spanned just under 100 bouts. The “fat, little ginger kid” stretched in stature after dedicating himself to the sport and admitted that he’d experienced some small wobbles during the transition to adulthood. But he prevailed, when friends opted for easier or more tempting paths.
For those first nine professional fights though, he worked the circuit, beating journeymen and learning on the job. It was only after the COVID-19 pandemic had started to subside that he was offered the chance of a lifetime, and to say he grabbed it with both hands would be an understatement.
Fighting Bournemouth’s Lee Cutler, also undefeated when the pair squared off, he was revisiting slightly familiar territory, as he reviewed his explosive first round stoppage victory: “Lee and I had sparred previously when him and his coach were in Manchester, and I could tell the way he was talking during fight week that he’d took a lot from that spar. That gave me a bit of a confidence boost because I knew how much I’d come on [since then]. Sparring is sparring at the end of the day. I thought I was gonna surprise him, shock him, and that’s what happened. I knew I was capable but I’m just so happy I showed everybody what I could do on that big stage.”
“I think a lot of people were like, ‘Who is this skinny, ginger kid now? Where’s he come from? Out of nowhere.’ A lot of the local lads from round Manchester and the North West were saying, ‘We knew. We know about him, we knew he could do that, that he was capable of that.’ I think that was the point when I reached that wider audience and people outside of Manchester started taking notice. On social media, I noticed that little bit. People were talking about me and a lot of it was positive. I just want to keep that going.”
After his fight with Cutler, Rea was keen to push on, and after an opponent fell through for his Boxxer debut, opportunity came knocking in the form of the always-game, and proven, Jez Smith. The pair agreed to the fight after a brief exchange on Twitter and a bout that many fans expected to catch fire threw up a blaze for eight rounds. Accepting the fight on just two weeks’ notice, Rea explained that once his name was called, he couldn’t decline Smith’s challenge: “It was tunnel vision; that’s just my mentality. I’m not gonna sit at home and let somebody come out and say they want to fight me when I’m in the position to go and fight him. That was it.”
“I loved every second of it. I know it sounds mental, but they’re the kind of fights I’ve grown up watching on TV. I’ve always wanted to be involved in a fight like that, and I think it was more of a buzz for me that people were saying that was one of the best fights they’d seen, ‘fight of the night,’ they couldn’t remember seeing an eight-rounder like that. That was more of a buzz to me than actually getting the win. I think I’ve shown people what I can do, and people are gonna tune in again and watch me. Each time, I’ll just show a little bit more.”
Cue December 11th, and Rea’s next fight featuring on the undercard of the Chris Eubank Jnr v Liam Williams card in Cardiff. He plans to show a little extra yet again, giving new fans something to shout about in the lead up to Christmas, while establishing himself further amongst Britain’s top middleweights. The division is currently bubbling, with names like Rea, Luton’s Linus Udofia, Newquay’s Brad Pauls, and Stoke’s Nathan Heaney climbing the rankings.
Heaney, a fighter that some believe is overdue a stiff test, is one that Rea doesn’t believe he’ll ever get the chance to fight. “I know Del G made the Jake Paul versus Tommy Fury fight, but I think even he’s pissing in the wind with that one,” laughed Rea, referencing Twitter prankster Del G’s attempts at brokering a mega domestic fight between the rival Manchester and Stoke boxers, currently representing different networks. Rea and G’s blossoming online brotherhood has kept fans entertained, with the latter creating poems to taunt Heaney on Rea’s behalf, so far to no avail.
Discussing his peers at 160lbs, the Chorlton-native continued: “There’s so many good fights to be made, so many different styles, different lads from different cities. It’s a really exciting time for the middleweight division, and I’m happy to be in the mix now. I think a month or two ago, they’d have been looking at me like a backwards step. But I think a few of them will have their eyes open, and they’d have good reason to. There’s just so many good fights to make and I’ve shown in my last two fights that I’m not scared of anyone. I’ll put it on the line, I’ll take the risks and I want to be in these big, big fights.”
Despite getting carried away with the thought of handfuls of domestic clashes, Rea’s feet are firmly on the ground. He has far bigger aspirations and explained that the British title – which he’d like to win outright – is just the first realistic achievement he’d set himself. World titles are the end-state, and although he’s tiptoeing his way there, he only has to look at the achievements of former idols Ricky Hatton, Anthony Crolla and Scott Quigg for inspiration. Manchester has been waiting for the next wave, as he eludes to in his opening quote, and Rea thinks his time is coming.
“When I turned pro, I didn’t want to be full of shit. I was setting realistic targets, I wasn’t one of these who says they’re gonna win world titles. I said before, one of the things I wanna do is win the British title outright and I think I’ve got that in me. Another goal is to fight at a sold out Manchester Arena – I think I can do that. It’s baby steps, but each year we’re getting a bit closer to these goals. I’d like to be thought of as an entertaining fighter; I like being myself, a normal, down-to-earth kid, which is what I am.”
“I think that’s when people get behind you, like they did with Ricky [Hatton]. They do see through the bullshit. He was somebody the people got behind. They’d come out in thousands, there was always bums in seats for his fights, and if I can get close to that, I’d be more than happy. If I can sell out a few arenas and win a few titles along the way, then the job’s a good ‘un. I’m living my dream, I’m happy to be here and anything else is a bonus.”
The ‘Sting’ Rea describes his appreciation for his sponsors and for those who’ve continued buying tickets to his fights, explaining that fighters he knows – with enough talent to win titles at the top level – have hung their gloves up, with a need to put food on the table for their families. Boxing doesn’t let you ride its coattails or write IOUs with shaky, damaged hands. It wants paid in full. And while he’s been lucky enough to have that support thus far, he hasn’t let the serious, business element of the sport detract from the fact that he’s a fan at heart, living his dream.
“If I can enjoy meself’ and put a smile on my face, If I wasn’t a professional boxer, I’d still be on Twitter buzzing off Del and all of that stuff – I’m a boxing fan. I forget that, sometimes. Boxing is my passion and it’s what I enjoy; I’m just very lucky it’s also my job and it’s something I can do. I think it does get you out there, social media. It’s a really important part of sport now and some people believe that, and some people don’t.
“Sometimes you see people post something, but who gives a fuck if you’re eating avocados and all of that stuff? People genuinely wanna see what we do in a day in our lives. Boxing is nothing without supporters and you have to make time for those people and give it back – but I sit and buzz off it, too,” he laughs, almost in disbelief that it’s happening to him.
What does the future hold after boxing? A life of eating avocados for an adoring social media following?
He pauses, laughs, and responds, “… Not a fucking chance!” And that’s just how you’d want him; genuine, honest and just one of us, fighting for the fans.