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Brad “Quake” Riddell on how he chose kickboxing over rugby

Kiwi kickboxer could have ended up a rugby player, but his reaction to a serious injury changed all that

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Stev Bonhage / ONE Championship

Kiwi kickboxer Brad “Quake” Riddell is ready to make some waves when he makes his debut in the ONE Super Series at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR on 20 April in Manila.

The 26-year-old started out as a youngster in athletics, then rugby, before finally finding kickboxing when he discovered videos of Muay Thai legend Muakaw Bangamek on YouTube.

“I watched martial arts films, and thought they were pretty cool, but it never crossed my mind as it would be something I could do,” he told ONE Championship.

“I was set on rugby. That is what was rolling though my mind until I was 15.”

For a while, Riddell competed in both rugby and kickboxing until a serious injury halted his progress in both sports and gave him time to ponder his athletic future.

“I was playing rugby, and a guy grass-cut me, and snapped my leg in half,” Riddell recalled.

“It was a week before a title bout. I was so gutted. All I could think about when I was laid in that hospital bed was competing [in kickboxing]. That made me hate rugby, because it took away my opportunity to win the belt.”

That pent-up frustration only served to motivate Riddell further. When he returned from injury he travelled to Thailand to learn the ways of Muay Thai.

He immersed himself in the culture and the training before returning home to Christchurch, just before a huge earthquake hit the island, levelling much of the city.

Riddell moved to Auckland on the North Island and took a hotel job to make ends meet. While there he found a new home at City Lee Gar gym, and a new mentor in its owner, Phillip Lam.

“I remember skipping at like five in the afternoon after work, then Phillip Lam, who owned the place, would just rock out in his undies. He had just woken up, said, ‘What’s up,’ and then go to the kitchen to make his breakfast, and I would just keep skipping,” he said.

“That was my life up there. I went from mucking around in the hotel to pretty much spending every spare second I had in the gym.

“Sifu [Lam] created my career. He was amazing. He was a little like Mr. Miyagi. In a year period, I had 12 or 13 bouts, and then he took me over to China. From there, he grew my career by making me well known in China, and stuff like that. He gave me the gift to compete full-time, which is hard to do out of New Zealand.”

The gym set Riddell back on the right path, and he eventually moved to City Kickboxing to get the full-time training he needed alongside world-class athletes.

And now he gets ready to make a name for himself in the ONE Super Series, where he’ll take on Regian “The Immortal” Eersel. Victory will go a long way to validating his journey, and the decision he made in his hospital bed to choose kickboxing over rugby.

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK's national media covering major sporting events including the FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Olympic Games, UFC world title fights, The Grand National and The FA Cup Final.

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