Sometime in the spring of 2011 – maybe early May – Quontez McRath wandered into the Belleville Boxing Club looking for a fresh start.
He was 19, had lost his mother six years earlier, never knew his father, and had already spent a year in prison for breaking a stranger’s jaw in a fight.
“He was really a troubled kid,” said Gina Bozza-Reilly, who established the non-profit club with her husband, Ken Reilly. “But he came to the boxing club and he just kept coming back.”
McRath got the fresh start he was after and a whole lot more.
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Ken Reilly, a general contractor by trade, took McRath both under his roof and under his wing and has guided him to five Golden Glove boxing championships.
On Friday at the New Ambassador Hotel in St. Louis, the East St. Louis native and Belleville West graduate will try to run his professional boxing record to 6-0 against 2-1 Lavelle Hadley, a super welterweight out of Youngstown, Ohio.
Reilly will be in McRath’s corner, just as he has been the last seven years both in the ring and in life. Together, they’re shooting for the top.
“I’ve worked with a lot of boxers and have made some progress with many of them, but Quontez has something special,” Reilly said. “I believe with all my heart that he will become a world champion.
“I’ll bet my house on it.”
Coach Ken isn't just my coach, he's my best friend. He's a good man and the type of guy you're lucky to have in your corner.
Quontez McRath, professional welterweight prospect
Tina McRath put her son onto boxing when he was just 3-years-old. When she died from the effects of Lupus on Valentine’s Day of 2005, McRath vowed never to lace up a pair of gloves again.
He saved his fighting for the streets.
“I was getting in fights all the time. It was all just kid’s stuff,” said McRath, now 24. “Somebody starts messing with your friends and you know you’re a good fighter, so I’d end up getting involved. I was always taking up for somebody else.”
McGrath has been arrested six times on misdemeanor charges ranging from resisting an officer to disorderly conduct and mob action.
But in 2009, he landed a punch to the jaw of an unnamed man from O’Fallon. The felony aggravated battery conviction got him a year in prison, three years of probation and scheduled restitution payments that he just recently completed.
It was the jail time that led McRath to two important realizations. First, he never wanted to go to prison again. Second, he needed the direction and discipline that boxing gave him.
Quontez “King Moo” McRath will be at the Belleville Boxing Club to meet with local fans Thursday at 6 p.m. Tickets to his sixth professional fight, which will be held Friday at the Ambassador Hotel in St. Louis, will be available for $25 or $40 for a VIP ticket. The first 40 tickets purchased will come with a “King Moo” visor.
“All the struggles I’ve been through in life has led me into boxing. It’s who I am,” he said. “I was living on 40th street in Belleville and was out sparring with a friend in the street – just messing around. A lady stopped her car and told us about the Belleville Boxing Club, which was just a couple blocks away.
“It felt like going there was what I should do.”
That’s how he ended up and in the hands of Ken Reilly. According to St. Clair County Circuit Court records, McRath hasn’t been cited for anything more serious than not wearing his seat belt since.
“I met Coach Ken and we were really good friends almost right away,” McRath said. “That’s where things really turned around for me. He has given me so much and has changed my life.
“It’s like a movie, really.”
’Where it turned around’
Reilly didn’t have much growing up, either. His mother died young and his alcoholic father was mostly absent.
Boxing kept him out of trouble.
“I was an amateur boxer out of Belleville in the late 70s and was able to do it for free,” Reilly said. “I tell people all the time that if I would have had to pay $5 a month for a membership, I never would have boxed.”
Reilly went on to become the owner of his own general contracting business, Bill Reilly Construction in Belleville. He reinvested his personal business success into wayward youth by introducing them to the sport he says gave him drive and purpose.
With his wife, Gina, Reilly purchased the old Remmick Hardware building in Bellevue Park Plaza, at the intersection of North Belt West and West Main Street, and established the Belleville Boxing Club.
The club currently is managed by Ernie Kitterman, a Belleville native and former boxing and kick boxing champion. It survives solely on donations – there are no membership dues.
“Boxing is a poor-man’s sport so when I had the means, I wanted to make it available to troubled youth,” Reilly said.
Reilly has trained many young fighters, including several Golden Glove champions. But, few were as troubled as McRath and none were as talented in the ring.
Boxing is a poor-man's sport so when I had the means, I wanted to make it available to troubled youth.
Ken Reilly, founder of the Belleville Boxing Club
McRath was living with with his aunt, Genese McRath, with whom he still keeps in daily contact. At the Belleville Boxing Club, he found purpose, and in Ken Reilly, McRath found a best friend and mentor.
The pair made an immediate attachment.
“Where we come from you have to grow up on your own and you have to discover your own identity,” Reilly said. “You have to learn things about fending for yourself, and solving problems, and how to love without all those things that parents are supposed to teach you.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Moo Moo, not just because of the wins, but because of the person he is and the man he is becoming.”
McRath spent most of his free time either at the boxing club or with the Reillys.
The bond produced St. Louis Golden Glove championships three consecutive years. McRath also won the Ringside Tournament, the largest single international amateur boxing tournament in the world held annually in Kansas City.
But in 2013, the Reillys were forced to move to Las Vegas so they could tend to Gina’s mother, who has since died after a struggle with cancer. McRath made the move, too, making himself a more permanent part of the family.
“It just happens that Las Vegas is the boxing capital of the world, too,” Gina Reilly said. “It’s really strange how things work out sometimes.”
After winning Las Vegas and regional Golden Gloves championships, McRath advanced to the national title bout. He lost a 3-2 decision to Sammy “the Hurricane” Valentin Jr., who currently is 7-0 as a professional welterweight.
Despite the loss, McRath’s fast ascent through the Golden Glove ranks crystallized McGrath and Reilly’s future together in boxing.
“The kids he beat in Las Vegas and in the regionals were the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked boxers in the country,” Reilly said. “It wasn’t his physical ability that cost him in the the championship, it’s just that he was out-bouted. The other kid had 100 more fights under his belt.
“I told ‘Moo Moo’ if he could dedicate himself and if he really wanted it, we could go pro.”
I've worked with a lot of boxers and have made some progress with many of them, but Quontez has something special. I believe with all my heart that he will become a world champion.
A sure thing?
McGrath – known as “King Moo” in the ring, just “Moo Moo” to his adoptive family – made his professional boxing debut on Sept. 20, 2014. He’s undefeated in five fights, winning two by knockout, and ranked No. 715 out of 1,564 welterweights in the world by BoxRec.
His training regamen includes some strict household rules. He’s got a curfew and is allowed to go out on the town on Saturday nights only. Reilly prepares his meals, takes him to the gym, and manages the workouts.
McRath also is picking up fight experience by sparring with some of the world’s best, including Rances Barthelemy, the undefeated IBF lightweight champion.
“My goal is to get him to 147 pounds,” Reilly said. “If he was there now, I would put him against Bradley tomorrow.”
Reilly is referring to Timothy Bradley, a five-time world champion in two weight classes and currently ranked third in the world as a welterweight.
“I’m not going to mention any names because I don’t want to get anybody’s feelings hurt, but Moo Moo has been sparring with some world champions and has been beating them up,” Reilly said. “I had another trainer come up to me and say ‘I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it, but he just won an eight-round unanimous decision.’”
The next step is Friday’s bout in St. Louis.
McRath says he’s driven forward by three things: Providing for his three daughters, earning the means to someday establish his own nonprofit gym in East St. Louis, and rewarding Reilly for the faith he invested in a troubled young boxer.
“Coach Ken isn’t just my coach, he’s my best friend,” McRath said. “He’s a good man and the type of guy you’re lucky to have in your corner.”