By Louis Evans

“‘YOU’RE going back, and you’ve got no choice. You’ve gotta be persistent with it,'” Brad Strand imitates his father’s firm stance during teenage years at Liverpool’s Kirkby ABC. “I kept going and eventually found me way. Happy I stuck at it now [laughs].”

Now, as a lesser-known member of Everton Red Triangle’s thriving stable – whose catalogue of contenders includes Nick Ball, Andrew Cain and brothers Peter and Joe McGrail – the once reluctant Strand plans to justify his father’s stern stance by stealing the shine from Maidstone hotshot Dennis ‘The Menace’ McCann.

Contrasting the bold and showy McCann, who has amassed an Instagram following that touches a quarter of a million, self-proclaimed ‘quiet kid’ Strand, 27, has slowly carved his rep on Queensberry undercards, peeling off a perfect 11-0 slate. And the likeable Liverpudlian understands a sizzling showing on Queensberry’s latest ‘Magnificent Seven’ bonanza would make a serious splash on the 122lb super bantamweight division.

A cool-headed technician, Strand insists he is unstirred by the boisterous Kent braggart but acknowledges the Resorts World Arena fight signifies steeply elevated competition.

“McCann’s just mouthy, ain’t he? He talks a lot, but I don’t think he’s as confident as he makes out,” claims the 5ft 8ins Strand, a former four-time national titlist, senior ABA champion and Tri-Nations winner. “On Instagram and Twitter, he’s dead loud, but there was a lot of mumbling at the press conference. I couldn’t understand him; he wasn’t speaking like someone who was dead confident. He’s a good talker; he’s good at selling fights. I’ll let him do that, let him get all the eyes on us – and then I’ll mop up!”

In a division littered with emerging talent, Strand has waited patiently for a marquee opponent to unleash his unquestionable talent. Coasting to a unanimous decision over Port Talbot’s Joshua John last December may have bolstered his cred on the domestic circuit, but with just three of his eleven career wins coming before the cards were required, the Liverpool FC fanatic understands he may have been undervalued until now.

McCann will also feel the gravity of the March 16 showdown. In his last outing, following a laceration to his baby face, courtesy of an accidental head clash, he preserved his unbeaten status with a fortuitous draw against relentless Romanian Ionut Baluta at the York Hall. Many believed the Maidstone man got the worse of the exchanges, with Baluta unlucky not to see his hand raised.

Nevertheless, Strand doesn’t see Baluta – a familiar foe to the ERT team, having scalped stablemate Andrew Cain in a 10-round split in March 2023 – as the blueprint for deconstructing daring Dennis. Buoyed by ERT sensei Paul Stevenson, Strand has full confidence his versatility and own munitions can contain McCann’s trademark wide southpaw stance and high-speed hands.

“I watched it [McCann-Baluta] live. I can only remember little bits of it,” admits Strand, who hustled the railways before pursuing a full-time boxing career. “I didn’t personally [have McCann level on the cards], but I wasn’t scoring it as I watched. And I didn’t look at anything Baluta did like, ‘I’m gonna do that.’  I know what I’ve got and am capable of, and it’s more than enough to beat Dennis.

“In my first few fights, I fought a couple of journeymen who were awkward like that – that proper wide stance. It can be hard to land your clean shots on them. I’m not comparing Dennis to a journeyman, but those fights on the come-up can prepare you for when you’re in these proper fights.

“Throughout the amateurs, I’ve fought every style you can imagine over the years. It’s nothing new to me; you’ve just got to adapt when you’re in there. He’s going to start fast. Probably under pressure to perform because he didn’t in his last fight, did he?”

Described as ‘the smart one’ by long-time friend Nick Ball – the two grew up together at north Liverpool’s Maghull High School before both joining the roster at Kirkby ABC (whose lineage includes ‘world champions’ John Conteh and Paul Hodkinson) – before turning pro with Stevenson at the ERT.

When this article goes to print, 5ft 2ins Ball may have dethroned the current WBC featherweight defender Rey Vargas on the March 8 Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou undercard – and become the first ERT man to win world honours. But despite their inseparability, Strand certainly won’t be playing Robin to anyone’s Batman. In a gym full of dynamic styles and personalities, studious Strand – who boasts two amateur triumphs over current British super-bantam champ Liam Davies – aims to carve his own path.

“I was sound in school. I didn’t get kicked out of anything, unlike Nick,” reflects Strand. “He was always ‘that’ kid. He wasn’t bad; he was just the one who’d always get caught causing trouble. In the end, they kicked him out in year nine or something. In Maghull High, we’d always been close, but since we’ve been boxing, it’s brought us closer together.

“He was the more ‘natural scrapper’ [laughs]. You can tell from the way he fights. But nothing too mad ever happened. I’ve been asked what it was like growing up a few times, but I had a sound childhood in Kirkby. Not many ‘mad’ things happened.”

“There’s so many different styles at our gym, but Paul would never make me box like Nick or make Nick box like me. He’s got a little tweak for everyone. He’s an unbelievable trainer, but in the corner, I’ve had people say about how calm he is. Sometimes, when you’re watching on the telly, you can see corners shouting; you can see how frantic it is, and they’re panicking. You’ll never see that in our corner. Paul’s always the coolest man in the room. He gets his instructions across straight away; everything is very clear.”

“This is a step up for me, but I haven’t had it hard in my pro career. I’ve won every fight comfortably and am ready for these step-ups. [At the ERT,] We’re all naturally cool-headed, but it’s how Paul is in the gym, too. He’s very cool, and that rubs off on us.

“I’ve been calling for a fight like this. Now that I’ve got it, I’ve got to seize it with both hands.”