Billy the Kid: the rising star of Manchester Boxing
Bilal Rehman has made the boxing ring his own wild west. While he isn’t the 19th century outlaw from which he gets his nickname, he is gaining a fierce reputation in his own right. The Rochdale man has made a name for himself against all the odds.
Despite a lifelong interest in the sport, Rehman did not start boxing until the age of 18. He decided to try out his local boxing club with a group of friends, where his high quality footwork immediately showed a sign of talent. It was not long before the coaches realised he could go on to become a top fighter.
“When I was little, I used to put on the Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis fight every day. However, I didn’t start boxing until after I left school. I didn’t have the fitness for boxing, I was gassed after about two press-ups, though my footwork was naturally there. When I started sparring, the coaches were surprised when I said that I had never boxed before.”
Now six fights into his professional career, ‘Billy the Kid’ is yet to suffer a loss. A huge win in his first pro fight – defeating unbeaten Glaswegian Barry Craig in his own back yard – has seen him go on to box on major Manchester fight cards, including televised fight nights at Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Trafford.
Rehman, however, who now trains in Northside, says that remaining unbeaten is not a massive issue, believing that too much is made of it at the highest level.
“People make too much of a big deal of being unbeaten. Some people avoid big fights to keep their zero, but I want to be in big fights. I don’t just want to be unbeaten and fighting easy fights.
“I’m here for money, to make as much money as I can,” the light-welterweight admits. “Obviously I’m concerned with being unbeaten, but I want to fight the big challenge. I love big challenges. If you’re not fighting the best out there then you’re not rated by anyone.”
The 24-year-old’s fighting style has seen him compared to that of the legendary Tommy Hearns. A world champion across five weight divisions, Hearns took part in arguably one of the greatest fights ever in his brutal bout with Marvin Hagler. While this may be flattering praise, Rehman admits he didn’t even know who ‘the Hitman’ was.
“People say I’m like Hearns in the way I box. I’m the same height as him and the same weight as him when he started. After my first fight, everyone was coming up to me saying ‘you’ve got the same style as Tommy Hearns’. Even my first amateur coach when I was just punching the bag said the same thing. I’d never even heard of Tommy Hearns then!”
Bilal’s fearless approach has seen him come to blows with some big names in Boxing, most notably Ohara Davies. Matchroom’s Davies hit out at Rehman after the Mancunian responded to his claims that he is the ‘most avoided fighter at light-welterweight’. Davies, who has 14 wins from as many fights, tweeted: ‘Shut your mouth you’ve had five fights. Don’t mention my name.’
“Ohara had posted that his opponent had pulled out of their fight. He’d just moved up from lightweight and he said that ‘no light-welterweight wants to fight me’ and Eddie Hearn repeated this in an interview. I read it and said that if nobody wants to fight you, I’ll step in.”
Rehman is approaching any potential bout with the Londoner realistically, saying that it will be at least a year before the two could meet.
“I think I’ll get the fight but I’m not ready for him yet in terms of pay and rounds,” he conceded. “He’s done 12 rounds a few times now and I’ve only done four. I don’t just want to get a payday and lose. I want to hype the fight up. After 11 or 12 fights I’ll be calling him out.”
Be the Apprentice
On the back of his latest performance, a convincing points victory over the highly experienced Dan Carr, Rehman plans to make the step up to a six round contest when he fights at Victoria Warehouse in February.
“I’m done with four rounds now. You get more time to settle in and you can hurt your opponent more over six rounds.
“I won’t be gassed out,” he insists. “I’m sparring 10 rounds right now with two different opponents. You’ve just got to step up in levels. I could do 8 rounds right now but my manager won’t let me. He says there’s no rush. Be the apprentice first with four rounds, six rounds. Then eight, 10 and then 12 by the end of next year.”