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Former British boxing champion Des Rea dies aged 72

Former British light welterweight champion Des Rea has died at the age of 72, his family has announced.

Rea, born in Belfast but raised in Liverpool, became the first man to win the Lonsdale Belt in his weight category when he beat Vic Andreetti in 1968 and also fought for the European title.

The closest he got to a world title was when he was beaten in an eliminator in the United States by Jose Napoles of Cuba in 1968.

He shed an interesting light on his career years later when he revealed notorious East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray may have been involved in the management of some of his fights.

Rea, who turned professional at the age of 20 in 1964, met the Krays briefly in 1967 and they told him title opportunities would come.

"I didn't know who they were but they were all dressed up and I thought they had to be gentlemen," Rea told the Lancashire Telegraph in an interview in 2000.

"They predicted they would get me a British title fight, a European title fight and a world title eliminator."

All of those predictions came to pass with a British title eliminator against Micky Laud, which led to the Andreetti bout, being arranged within weeks. His European chance came against Italian Bruno Arcari in 1968 but he was stopped in the sixth round.

The Napoles fight came later the same year. Rea was stopped inside five rounds but earned his biggest pay packet of £3,500.

Rea said: "The Krays predicted I would get those fights when I met them and I did. They sent me a telegram before the Napoles and Arcari fights. I am sure they were behind me but whether they managed me I will never know."

Rea stepped up to welterweight and won the Irish title in 1970. He retired in 1974 with a record of 28 wins, 36 defeats and five draws.

"I had 69 fights and lost a lot, but that was because I went all around the world where angels feared to tread," said Rea, who later lived in Great Harwood, Lancashire.

A statement from his family read: "It is with the greatest regret and sadness that we announce the passing of Des Rea.

"To his fans he was the great champion who defeated Vic Andreetti in 1968 to become the first holder of the Lonsdale Belt for light welterweight fighters.

"But for us he was a champion in his personal life, as a great father, son, brother and uncle. The loss we feel can only be matched by the pride to have known a man of such integrity, character and decency. The British Isles have lost a true champion."

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