by Leonard Gunning
Ballymena boxer Joe ‘Sugar’ Rea is handed the opportunity of a lifetime by being selected as one of the 8 fighters to compete in the SKY Sports phenomenon known as ‘Prizefighter’, which comes to Belfast for the first time this Saturday, May 5, with arguably the most intriguing line-up in its 24 edition history.
Eight of the best and most determined middleweights from across Ireland march towards the Kings Hall this weekend, all aiming to pick up the £32,000 cheque and title of ‘Prizefighter’ awarded to the last man standing in the exciting knockout competition that shot fighters such as Belfast’s Martin Rogan to stardom.
Joe is looking to turn around a number of recent setbacks in his career and with a new team behind him and massive local support he goes into the high profile contest with fresh hopes of getting back into title contention should things go his way on the night.
The other contenders that will be fighting for the top prize are Darren Cruise, Anthony Fitzgerald, Ciaran Healy, JJ McDonagh, Simon O’Donnell, Ryan Greene and Dungiven's unbeaten Commonwealth Gold medal star Eamonn O'Kane.
Joe began his boxing career as a fresh faced 10-year-old when he followed his cousin, the former world champion Eamonn Loughran, into the All Saint Boxing Club in Ballymena.
There he earned a number of national titles for the club before turning professional in America under the guidance of John Scully and the man who the Academy award winning film 'The Fighter' based on, Mickey Ward. Ward’s part being played by Mark Wahlberg.
However, the 28-year-old middleweight has struggled to find fights since returning home from the United States as an unbeaten seven fight prospect in 2008.
"We contacted every match maker in Britain and Ireland when there is fights coming up but they said my record was too dangerous. I went over a year without a fight and 8 different scheduled fights fell through. So I had to go on the road to fight world class opposition at short notice in their own backyards,” outlined a disgruntled Rea.
Rea didn’t hold a high enough ranking with any of the World title sanctioning bodies to warrant being brought in as a dangerous opponent and didn’t sell enough tickets at home to become a promoters favourite ‘House fighter’.
"The problem I had with shows at home in Belfast is that I wasn’t a big ticket seller, so it was hard for me to get on them bills," admitted Rea.
However, thing has recently changed for Rea when he moved training and managerial camps and his prospects are looking much brighter.
“I’ve moved camps over to train with Kevin Maree in Gisburn, Lancashire and since then I have gone from strength to strength.
“It’s just a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere but it’s ideal for a boxer who wants to get his head down and train. They have got me in amazing condition and brought in top class sparring that you simply couldn’t pay for.
“I’ve done countless rounds with Commonwealth Gold medallist Kenny Anderson, unbeaten prospect Liverpool Joe Selkirk and the current British Light Heavyweight champion Tony Bellew. It’s been a dream come true and I don’t think that many people will recognise me when I come back, even my close friends,” chuckled Rea.
“Since I have been away I have been spurred on by the wave of support I’ve gotten from home and it’s really driven me on to go that extra mile or do those extra rounds or punch that extra punch. I’ve simply been taken aback by it all.
“People have been following my progress on Facebook and Twitter and seen the strides I have taken from the pictures and videos I have posted. They’ve seen that I’ve put my all into this which maybe I haven’t in the past and they have really got behind me. I’ve sold over 200 tickets for it to people all around County Antrim and that support could well be crucial to me in the ring.”
“I’ve been boxing all these years and finally my big break has come, I realise what a massive opportunity this is and so do my fans. Nothing is going to get in my way this time and with a massive worldwide audience watching I am going to go there and become Prizefighter champion and bring the trophy home.”
Prizefighter draws one of SKY Sports largest viewing audiences for a boxing show and is expecting to have almost 400,000 viewers on the night across that UK and is also syndicated internationally across Europe, North America and Australia.
The bumper bill at the King’s Hall promises to be one of the best nights of boxing that Belfast has ever produced. As well as the Prizefighter event, spectators can witness the return of Belfast’s former British champion Martin Lindsay and see Dungiven’s world title challenger Paul ‘Dudey’ McCloskey work towards a world title.
Dudey’s scrap with former world title holder, DeMarcus Corely has taken on added significance for the Dungiven man after talks began with Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez, who is the current WBO interim champion, are progressing about a possible clash between the pair on July 14 at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas.
If you would like to sponsor Joe Rea for his upcoming fights or are looking for tickets to the Prizefighter event this weekend call Joe on 07748 753 437, or contact him direct on Facebook or Twitter @JoeReeaBoxer
Ticket prices start out at £30 and rise to £40, £60 and £100. Tickets are limited. It is advised that you don’t rely on paying on the night as you may be refused because the event is expected to be a sell out.