But few will know his best kept secret – that he was once a kick boxer of some potential, who trained at the same gym as UFC legend, Michael Bisping.
McBreen had started doing martial arts such as karate at the age of nine, working his way through the various belts as a junior – more for confidence than anything else. But it was when he moved to England as an 18 year-old that the kick boxing bug bit.
“I was training with the Rochdale youth team in 1996 – and just to do some extra fitness, I joined the Black Nights Gym in Burnley – which was my cousin’s gym - and started to do some sparring. Then, Alan Clark and the gym owner said they thought I had some potential, and asked me if I wanted to have a fight. It started from there” says McBreen.
The fight was scheduled soon after in Burnley, which meant McBreen had plenty of support from family and friends ringside.
“I’ve no idea what my opponent’s name was. It was in the 68kg class – which is about 30kg less than I am now! I was really tall and skinny – and it was a fight on the undercard of my cousin, who was then working his way up. He ended up having a European title fight” he adds.
McBreen had arrived in the UK with long blond surfie hair down to his shoulders – but he had quickly traded that for a buzz cut to fit the image, and adopted a new moniker too.
“I was the Aussie Wonder from Down Under” laughs McBreen.
“I used to walk out to Rolf Harris’s Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport…probably not something you would want to come out to now. I wore one of those Aussie hats with the corks dangling from the brim – and a young fella walking in front of me waving a kangaroo in the air. I was very cocky, I had my arms in the air, dancing to the music” he says.
That cockiness was not misplaced in that first fight.
“I was a bit nervous – but once I got in there, I was fine. My cousin and I used to have a joke where he would ask me my prediction. I said I would feel out my opponent in the first-round, and knock him out in the second. That’s what I did” laughs McBreen.
A couple of weeks later, McBreen made it two wins from two – again correctly predicting a second-round knockout to his cousin.
“I was due to come home to Australia at that point – I had been in the UK for a year, and my stay was coming to an end. Alan Clark tried to persuade me to stay – he thought I had the potential to fight for the English title. I got on the phone to mum and dad to have the chat, but they told me in no uncertain terms to get my backside on the plane home” says McBreen.
Once he returned to Australia, McBreen tried to resume his martial arts career – but without his friends and family around him in the gym, it didn’t quite have the same vibe he’d experienced while in the UK. He decided to concentrate on his football.
But he still has some of the trophies & photos to remind him of his days in the ring – and of his friendship with former UFC Middleweight Champion, Michael Bisping.
“Michael is from Colne, right next door to Burnley – so he was in that gym as well. Michael and my cousin used to spar together. They were head and shoulders above everyone else. My cousin drew his European title fight but later dropped out of the sport, because there was no money. That’s around the same time when UFC started to kick off and Michael went into that – the rest is history” says McBreen.
McBreen went on to have a twenty-year career in football, playing in the UK, Romania, China and here in Australia, where he added the Golden Boot and Joe Marston Medal to his A-League championship in 2013.
But could it have been different for the “Aussie Wonder from Down Under” had he pursued that martial arts career?
“I won a couple of trophies. I enjoyed it. It was about confidence, then fitness – and I took it seriously for a while. But I don’t look back with any regrets – I didn’t want to get my head kicked in for a living. It was bad enough the centre-backs trying to get me”! laughs McBreen.
- Simon Hill
Catch Daniel McBreen and the rest of the Network 10/Paramount+ Football team across all the matches in the Isuzu UTE A-League Mens and Liberty A-League Womens competitions