How An Injury And Natural Disasters Led Brad Riddell To His Passion

From a young age, New Zealand’s Brad “Quake” Riddell always had the tools in the physical department.

After trying his hand at athletics, and then, like many other young Kiwis, spending his time on the rugby field, it was clear the full-contact game was more suited to his personality.

He was quite aggressive, so rugby allowed him to vent his energy on the field. It was liable to reach a boiling point at any moment, however. Perhaps he realized he needed a more elaborate avenue to channel his energy.

That is when kickboxing came to his attention.

When Riddell was 14, he searched for the “best Muay Thai athletes” on YouTube. Suddenly, videos of Buakaw Banchamek popped up on his computer screen.

The legendary Thai warrior’s style resonated with the New Zealand teenager – a come-forward, intense approach to combat that saw him less like other Muay Thai practitioners, and more aggressive, and honed, from his time as a K-1 World MAX Champion.

Buakaw became an inspiration to Riddell, and was the man that motivated him to step through the doors of his first gym.

Prior to that, his only exposure to the martial arts was the choreography he saw in the movies, and while it was a source of intrigue, it was not enough to change his course.

“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,” the 26-year-old Christchurch native recalls. “I was set on rugby. That is what was rolling though my mind until I was 15.”

Though he may have competed like a machine, Buakaw was human, and with a style that Riddell could relate to.

At first, “Quake” combined both sports side-by-side. He trained, and competed, around New Zealand’s South Island relatively casually, all while still pulling on his rugby jersey. It was a serious injury on the pitch that crystallized the thoughts of the Christchurch man, and made him realize what his heart really wanted.

“I was playing rugby, and a guy grass-cut me, and snapped my leg in half,” Riddell details of the life-changing moment. “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 injury would not stop him from pursuing his newfound passion once he was all healed. Just a few weeks out of a cast, Riddell was still limping around town, when he decided to join his friend on a trip to Thailand to pursue ‘the art of eight limbs’ with haste and diligence.

While there, he immersed himself in the culture, training three times a day, for as long as his money would last. However, upon his return to Christchurch, negative circumstances would again push him in a different direction.

The catastrophic earthquake of 2011 hit, and the city was in ruin. The only work opportunities that came up for Riddell were up in the country’s North Island in Auckland, and he jumped at a friend’s invitation to take up a job in a hotel.

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Although he enjoyed the initial excitement of a new city, “Quake” felt entirely rejuvenated at City Lee Gar gym.

The owner, Phillip Lam, essentially turned his residence into a Muay Thai gym, with only his own bedroom off limits. It was in these modest surroundings that Riddell found himself surrounded by greatness, but little did he know it would be strolling through the gym in underwear.

“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,” Riddell remembers.

“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.”

Although the City Lee Gar gym still holds a fond place in Riddell’s heart, with the world-class athletes and coaches there setting him on his way to becoming a world champion, he moved to City Kickboxing to obtain the full-time training he needed.

Now, he has the sport’s biggest names in his sights. “Quake” will make his ONE Super Series kickboxing debut on Friday, 20 April, in Manila, Philippines. As he prepares to meet Regian “The Immortal” Eersel at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, he can cite many pivotal factors to his success — his rugby injury, natural disasters, and a chance meetings with eccentric coaches in their underpants.

All have inspired him in some way or another, and it is clear Riddell has taken all of this on board, as he hopes his new signing with ONE Championship will help him to be recognized as the best in the world.

Image Credit: Jeff Sainlar

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