Kickboxer Champ First Speaker in Parish Series
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
July 7, 2022
ROCKFORD—Holy Family parishioner Brad Hefton exemplifies the qualities of fortitude and endurance head to toe, heart and soul. Humility is also evident within his 6’ 3” famous frame. 
It was more than a year before Holy Family pastor, Father Phillip Kaim, convinced the former kickboxer Hefton to sit down with him on June 27 and talk about his career. Hefton’s aunt, Joan Lowery, says that her nephew thought it would be just him and her and their pastor in an empty room that evening.
But friends and fans showed up to occupy nearly every table in St. Gabriel Hall, many enjoying a trip down memory lane with “Bad Brad.” 
Hefton was a Professional Karate Association (PKA) World Super Heavyweight kickboxing champion, named the “face of ESPN kickboxing” in the 1980s. ESPN named him the “Fighter of the Year” in 1985. In 2014, he and his trainer, John Monczak, were inducted into the Illinois Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
Interestingly, about halfway through Hefton’s career, which ran for 15 years, Monczak complained that he “just ain’t a fighter,” which left Hefton mystified because, he said, by that time he had two titles and “already beat up pretty much everybody.”
However, he adds, “I had a tendency to let people go … I couldn’t finish some people off. It was like the Lord telling me ‘Don’t kill this guy.’” 
Hefton says he struggled more than once with the sport, wondering before each match exactly what to pray for as he continued on.
Hefton is a lifelong Catholic, and all these years has been a steady, weekly presence at Mass at Holy Family Church. He is often sighted in the parish adoration chapel, silent before the Eucharist. One woman that evening told Lowery that she won’t watch videos of Hefton’s fights online because she only wants to picture him there in the chapel.
But kickboxing was Hefton’s life for many years. He matured from being a kid picked on by bullies after school to become a man asked by those former bullies if he would get them front row seats to his hometown matches.
During his talk, Hefton admitted making those arrangements for his former nemeses, shrugging his shoulders and telling his audience that, hey, those guys were willing to pay $25 to see the match.
As Hefton shared details of his toughest fights, he included the most heart-wrenching one when he was matched with a friend, Kerry Roop, who had always been a light heavyweight fighter and thus did not compete against him. To Hefton’s chagrin, Roop moved up to the heavyweight class. 
Hefton clobbered him in the ring. When it was over, he went over to Roop’s corner to see how he was. Roop’s young daughters were there and screamed at Hefton that they hated him. “It put tears in my eyes,” he said. 
A few weeks later, Roop had his daughters call Hefton to apologize. His face filled with regret, he says he told them, “I’m sorry, it’s the sport we’re in.”
A man doesn’t earn a fifth-degree black belt in Karate, or kickboxing world titles in the Heavyweight and Super Heavyweight classes (PKA, PKC, ISKA, BKC) without a lot of training and sacrifice, neither of which came automatically to this champ.
With a laugh, Hefton shared that as a kid in class, he and his buddy would start a required run, duck behind some handy bushes and wait until close to the end of the run to slide out and pretend they’d run the whole thing. 
Only at age 19, when Monczak suggested kickboxing, did Hefton accept serious training. He ran six miles a day, six days a week … for 15 years. He did 500 kicks each day … per leg. That and “all the other stuff” paid off in the ring. He is well-known for his amazing roundhouse kicks still featured online with comments that say such a big guy shouldn’t be able to move that fast and with that range of motion. 
In his talk, Hefton laughed again as he admitted that, hard as the training was, the worst thing at age 19 was that he was not allowed to party for weeks on end!
But he stuck with it, and during the question-and-answer part of his talk, Hefton was asked for his win/loss record — 63 wins and four losses, with 37 knockouts and a draw. Fights could go 1-2 rounds or up to 12, depending on his opponent. When he hit someone with a good hit and the guy was still standing there, he knew it would be a long night, he said.
But what most fascinated his recent audience were Hefton’s descriptions of his injuries. He went into every fight knowing he’d be hurt, he said. Noting the more common injuries such as a busted nose, toe, and ribs, “I always knew it could be me” who would lose a fight, he said.
Later in his career, around 1994, his arm was broken in a fight in the fourth round — and he continued for eight more rounds with that broken arm. 
His jaw was hit in a second round in another fight, and he went seven more rounds to the finish. He said he ate afterwards with his hand pushed up on his jaw, not realizing until later that it was broken. 
The injury suffered in his final fight in 1998 was even more significant. He was 30 years old by then, and he threw a kick that ripped all the tendons in his foot. He went another three rounds even as the pain was killing him. And that was that.
Hefton “is still regarded as one of the most fearless fighters in the history of the sport,” says one website comment. 
Perhaps it comes down to the quality of courage — along with fortitude, endurance and a grounded humility — for a guy to become a world champion even if he “just ain’t a fighter.”
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