Brad Riddell: House on Fire

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International Kickboxer Magazine, Jan/Feb 2015

Brad Riddell’s first fight took place under unusual circumstances.

“I was supposed to fight a guy from Nelson [New Zealand’s southern island] but got a call from the guys from the gym the day of the weigh-in, saying he had been arrested and sent to gaol for trying to light his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire.”

Shortly after, disappointment set in.

“Luckily, the next day I was matched up with another guy and all the depression from the fight falling through turned to epic nerves and excitement.”

Brad’s memories of the fight itself are sketchy, but the outcome has become a regular feature of his Thai boxing career. “I don’t remember a whole lot from the actual fight [because] adrenaline took over, but I remember after my hand was raised for the unanimous points decision, the thrill took over and from then on, I was hooked on the fight drug.”

Brad had a distinguished career in more conventional sports before making a detour into Muay Thai.

“My sporting career started at age five with rugby and athletics. I represented

Canterbury in New Zealand and played representative rugby all through school and high school, and did the same with athletics. Those [sports] were my passions until I came across Muay Thai.”

Like many kids who discover a sport without any mainstream airplay or coverage, Brad’s first investigations were conducted with the help of Google.

“My brother was telling me about a friend of his who was learning Muay Thai, so I jumped on youtube to see what it was like. I typed in ‘the best Muay Thai fighter’ and it came up with Buakaw Por Pramuk.” Googling Buakaw is a bit like googling Tiger Woods; it’s a definition that exceeds the sport and slips over into genius.

“I watched this guy dominate and destroy everybody in the K-1 Max and became obsessed. I Googled the local gym, went down and signed up.”

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It’s been a successful partnership. Brad began training at the age of fifteen and in the last eight years, he has accumulated a total of thirty-nine fights for thirty-three wins, with nineteen of those victories coming by way of knockout.

“My gym was the first Muay Thai gym founded in New Zealand, ‘City Leegar.’ It was founded by Philip Lam, and [is] operated by Tony Angelov and Joe Hopkins.”

City Leegar has put a lot of time into developing Brad’s talent. His childhood success in both rugby and athletics provided a considerable basis of potential to work with.

“The first people who spent hours every day at the gym molding me were Daniel ‘The Hitman’ Hatch and Steve ‘Grievous Bodily’ Hahm. They are among NZ’s greatest fighters and trainers. Now, when I fight out of NZ, I train with Richie Hardcore.”

Brad’s sparring is varied and intense, with a range of committed partners.

“I have the best sparring partners I could ask for in NZ, starting with the guy who has punched me in the face the most and vice versa, Joe Hopkins. My other training and sparring partners are Slav Alexeichik, Steve Hahm, Jan Antolek, Tony Anglov, Dan Hatch, Harley Love, Tae Park and Ollie Le Leivre.”

Brad currently divides his time between City Leegar in New Zealand and Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand.

“I trained at Tiger Muay Thai when I was eighteen just to see where Muay Thai came from and how they run the show over there. I went over with a mate for a month and became hooked. I’ve been going back for four years,” he says. “They treat me and train me well; I have a great team there. No complaints.”

It would be difficult to find two more dramatically different environments for training. You would expect the intense, stifling humidity of Thailand would make for a difficult adjustment after chilly New Zealand weather.

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“Climate-wise, it’s an extreme change. Let’s just say I make weight a little easier, which allows me to extend my chocolate and ice cream diet! But quality of training, I have to say, it’s a very even match. I’m always getting fitter, faster and stronger with every training camp and every fight.”

Tiger Muay Thai has an outstanding reputation, having hosted UFC champion Georges Saint-Pierre.

“When I fight out of Tiger Muay Thai, I train with Don ‘Big Name’, Andrew Wood and James Mcsweeney.”

“Tiger lets me put all my energy and focus into my training with no distractions from work or fatigue from work,” says Brad. “They are really supportive and help with all aspects of my training. The biggest difference is the affordable life style, to be able to be a full-time professional fighter,” says Brad. “Also, there are a large number of fighters rolling through the camp all year round, so I have the advantage of learning from different people from all round the world.”

A serious Thai sponsor would suggest Brad has a preference for fighting under Full Thai Rules, but he says either/or suits him fine.

“I think [the ratio is] about fifty/fifty for the fights; half were Thai and half were K1. I enjoy either just as much as the other. However, I did originally start with traditional Muay Thai. I don’t have a preference; whether it be K1 [rules] or Muay Thai, I just love a good throw-down. Lately, though, most of my fights have been K1. My last Full Thai fight was [against] JWP.”

‘John’ Wayne Parr, one of the best Australian Thai fighters in the game, is a pretty major shark to share the tank with.

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“He is definitely a seasoned customer and lives up to his reputation. That fight was offered to me through Greg Nesbit and Alice Wilson who are close friends and also sponsor me with Boon equipment. They called me two days before – pretty much yelling down the phone with excitement – that I might be able to fight JWP.

“I said yes without hesitating. It was the opportunity I was waiting for. I also owe credit to Jason Suttie for [the opportunity].”

After thirty-something fights, facing off against a former S1 champion and K1 Max regular, the learning curve was going to be steep. Brad managed to stay the course however and emerge intact, somewhat wiser for the experience.

“I came out of this fight unscathed; just my pride was damaged,” he says. “After the first round I realized I had the skill and ability to win, I ran out of gas a little and I think I was a little star-struck.” Brad has quickly adjusted to the pressure of fighting at the top tier. “I wont make the same mistake again, that’s for sure.”

“I first saw Brad when he fought my boy, Aaron Goodson,” says Joe Nader, trainer and promoter behind Victorian stalwart, Powerplay Promotions. “[Brad] won that fight, and made an impression on me.”

Nader had slated Cosmo Alexandre to fight Parr and when Alexandre couldn’t make it, Nader had to cast his net to look for a replacement.

“I sent out an email and got a few replies; the one that got me was [from] Greg Nisbett from New Zealand. He emailed me, then called, saying Brad was in Thailand, training hard and was ready to go. With Greg’s permission I spoke with Brad and asked him to pack his stuff and be ready for my phone call to go straight to the airport.

“I had forty-eight hours to go and had to make a decision, so I called Brad and told him to be at the airport in four hours to catch his flight. The next morning he landed here in Melbourne, ready to fight.”

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That sort of break-neck lead-up may have been the best kind, given that Parr had more than one-hundred fight’s worth of experience ahead of Riddell. That’s not something a young fighter wants to sit around thinking about for weeks at a time.

“His performance shocked everyone – including Parr,” says Nader. “[Brad] took the fight to JWP and pushed him back as much as anyone could… he had an answer for everything JWP threw at him. There were a couple of times [that] Brad shook Parr up and we all thought, ‘This was going to be the first time we [would] see JWP beaten [in Australia] in the last ten years.”

While Brad may not have won the contest, he had made a major impression – not least of all on Parr himself. When it came time to choose the fighters for the four-man eliminator on Powerplay 25, Joe knew who to call.

“Brad had nothing to lose in the JWP fight so he gave it his all. As for the four-man, it’s more strategic because you have to face two fighters out of three to win the $10,000 cash prize. Not knowing who you’ll be facing it makes it harder… [Brad] also had to fight a smart fight where he couldn’t afford to get any major injuries if he was to move on to the main event.

“[Brad] faced Michael Badato in his first bout and was careful; he made sure he did enough to get the win. He then faced Maseh Nuristani in the final. That was a ripper… with both fighters giving it [their] all. I thought it was a draw and should have gone one more round, but the judges thought different and awarded Brad the win.”

Riddell’s string of outstanding performances have attracted all the right attention.

“Stan Longinidis was commentating [that night]. He said it was one of the best main events he had seen.”

It appears we have witnessed the rise of another outstanding Oceania fighter, poised on the brink of making an international impact.

“My number one goal is to make the Glory fight circuit and I’ll fight anyone to get there,” says Brad.

Watching those fights will be a win-win proposition for fight fans globally.

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