A British grandad has become a Thai boxing sensation – after landing a knock-out blow on a fighter half his age to clinch an international championship.
Steve Reilly, 61, flew out to central Thailand to take on his much younger opponent, known by his fighting name “Oot”, in the Hua Hin Thai Boxing competition last month.
And after taking down the experienced fighter – in his 30s – in just three rounds, he brought his title-winning belt back home to show his delighted five grandkids.
Steve, who both manages a martial arts gym and works as a fireman, has won four British Thai boxing titles and a European title during his 40-year career.
But the veteran spent ten years out of the ring before returning to Thailand during his late 50s, where he went on to qualify for the ‘winner takes’ bout in March.
Super middleweight Steve, who has fought 64 competitive fights in total, said he had “KO’d” his formidable Thai opponent after first catching him with a body blow.
He said: “It was a knockout, so I stopped him.”
“I caught him in the body with a punch, and then I got him with a knee in the body as well, and as he doubled up, I hit him with a few punches in the face.
“He dropped on the floor, and he didn’t beat the count, so it was a technical knockout, or a knockout, whichever you want to call it.”
Steve, from Bolton, Grtr Manchester, said he had begun Thai boxing, also known as Muay Thai, in the early 1980s, when he was in his late teens.
The martial art is similar to kickboxing but also allows fighters to use their fists, elbows and knees to defeat their opponent.
He said: “Thai boxing was pretty new at the time, and I was brought up watching Bruce Lee movies and all that sort of thing.
“The only other martial art was Judo, and I wasn’t really drawn to that, but as soon as I saw Thai boxing, I was drawn to it.
“It combined everything – you use your hands, your elbows, your knees, your feet – and for me, it just clicked, and I just liked it.”
Steve said he had struggled to turn professional, as fighters at that time had to rely mostly on sponsors for financial backing.
But after he began winning British national titles, he opened a boxing gym in 1993, in Horwich, near Bolton, where he mastered his craft while also working as a firefighter.
He said: “The only reason I opened my own gym was so I didn’t have to pay for training.
“I started working as a firefighter around that time. But as we’ve also got a gym at work, it has allowed me to keep fit, so they both worked well together.”
In 2000, Steve started making yearly trips to Thailand, where he honed his craft against many of the country’s fearsome fighters.
He said: “I started going virtually every year, at least once a year, and I’ve trained all over Thailand.
“They’re like professionals from being children.
“You get ten and 11-year-olds fighting in Thailand, and they have a huge amount of experience – some fighters have had 3-400 fights.”
After Steve beat Frenchman Maxime Jacquille to become European Champion in 2006, he then took a ten-year break from competitive fighting.
But he was drawn back into the ring during his late fifties, after receiving three consecutive offers to fight in Thailand between 2017 and 2019.
He said: “I wanted to fight – and I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve never fought in Thailand.”
“I went to this other gym, and they got me a fight – and I won that fight, and they had two more at the same gym, and then I won those as well.
“They then asked me if I wanted to fight for a title, and I said, “Yeah, I’ll come back next year.” But then Covid turned up, so my plan was put on hold for two years.”
Steve said he wasn’t fazed about taking on a man nearly half his age in the championship fight.
He said: “The lad I fought – he’d had 80 fights, so it wasn’t a bad match. I’ve now had 64 in total.
“He was from Northeast Thailand. He was in his late 30s, I would say. It was just one fight, and whoever won it got the belt.”
Steve said large crowds were prohibited from attending his March 18 championship title fight due to strict covid regulations in Thailand.
But on returning to the UK, he said his five grandkids – Maddison, 10, Milo, 9, Oliver, 8, Leny, 6, and Tommy, 4 – were thrilled with his incredible achievement.
Now back in the UK, Steve hopes to help the next generation of Thai boxing champions reach their full potential.
“I’ve trained quite a lot of champions myself. I’ve had a lot of junior titles and a few seniors as well.
“I’ve got three good lads at the moment. They’ve not won a title yet, but they’re up-and-coming prospects.”