Callum Walsh’s fights air on UFC Fight Pass, UFC President Dana White is a regular visitor at ringside, and the Irishman has been known to train with longtime lightweight contender Tony Ferguson.
So, after Walsh made his way to the T-Mobile Arena earlier this month to take in UFC 285, where he met up with the likes of compatriots Conor McGregor and Ian Garry, as well as Octagon legend Don Frye, the question has to be asked: is he getting the itch to go over to the other side of the combat sports street?
“My whole life I grew up watching UFC,” he said. “I never watched boxing, really; I just watched UFC. But I'm good at boxing, so I'd say I'll just stick with that for now.”
Walsh laughs, and yeah, as a six-time Irish amateur champion who is currently 5-0 with four knockouts as a pro, it’s safe to say the 22-year-old junior middleweight is good at boxing and getting better as he heads into Boston for his first 10-rounder against 19-fight vet Wesley Tucker on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.
That’s almost a rite of passage for Irish and Irish-American fighters to get that gig, and despite his relative youth, Walsh knows just how important it is.
“That is a big deal for me going to Boston with the amount of Irish people over there and the Irish people that are going to be traveling to Boston for the fight. Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to putting on a show for all these people in Boston.”
So far, it’s very clear that the southpaw from Cork gets it. Sure, it’s nice having a fine Irish name like Callum Walsh, but to be accepted by some of the most fiercely loyal fight fans out there, you have to be able to fight and you have to be willing to take risks in the ring in pursuit of putting on an entertaining show. Having fight-ending power doesn’t hurt either. Neither does having Freddie Roach as your coach and Tom Loeffler as your promoter, and after doing the media rounds and making trips from California to Boston to promote the event, the headliner at Agganis Arena is probably the biggest fight featuring a 5-0 prospect that you’ve seen in a while.
But Walsh is handling it all like a seasoned pro, and considering this has been a lifelong goal, maybe he is more seasoned than his years and number of fights would indicate.
“This is something I've always wanted to do,” he said. “This is where I always knew I was going to be. I've pictured myself here in this position. I've pictured myself doing this. I've done it so much in my head already that I've pictured what I was going to do and how I was going to do it, so now that I am actually doing it, it just feels normal because I've pictured it for so long.”
Does that mean practicing interviews in the mirror when he was a kid back home?
“No, I actually didn't go there,” he laughs. “But I definitely knew this is where I wanted to be, and this is what I wanted to do and there was nothing else I wanted to do. I used to be at work, and I used to be just thinking about becoming successful and I just knew I was pulled here to do this. I was just given this boxing talent and I had to do something with it. I was never going to settle to be just a normal person.”
Fighting was going to be that path for Walsh; he just never knew the path would involve the big gloves and not four-ouncers. But in Ireland in the days before McGregor, mixed martial arts just wasn’t mainstream enough for gyms to be popping up everywhere.
“There wasn’t much back when I was a child, and it wasn’t as big as it is now,” said Walsh of MMA. “So I just got put into a boxing club and I got good at boxing and I just stuck.”
He’s not complaining, but he still loves the action taking place in the Octagon, and it was a trip for him when McGregor recognized him and approached him to say hello on fight night in Vegas, where he saw the kind of packed arena he hopes to headline one day.
“Every time I go to the UFC, it's unbelievable,” said Walsh. “The atmosphere and stuff inside there is crazy. And just to know all the fighters know that I've been there so much, everybody around there starting to know me when I walk in. I know everybody and it's unbelievable, and I can't wait until someday that’s me walking into an arena to fight with thousands of people.”
It’s not Las Vegas this Thursday, but I’m guessing the fans settling in at Agganis Arena will be loud enough to rival them as Walsh takes to the ring for a fight in which he will once again be the A-side, but also the one with a target on his back, because beating the “King” at this point can turn around a career for a fighter like Tucker, a late replacement for the injured Leonardo Di Stefano Ruiz. And though Tucker has lost four of his last five, Walsh knows his opponent is coming hard to put a mark in his loss column and dampen the hype.
“I want to be that fella that people want to beat,” said Walsh. “If you’re not the person that everybody wants to beat, you're doing something wrong. “That's the only way you can get to the top level, by being so good that everybody wants to beat you.”
If he keeps winning, everybody might want to beat Callum Walsh, but they won’t be willing to sign the contract to try him on for size. That’s okay, because when the stakes get higher, those big fights will happen, and Walsh isn’t shy about saying that he’s excited about that next step…sooner rather than later.
“I definitely feel like I am ready for the bigger fights,” he said. “I know myself and I know my ability and I know that I am ready for those fights but, at the end of the day, I trust Tom and I trust the boys to guide my career. But it doesn't matter to me. They just tell me when and where and I'll be there to fight. It could be anybody; it doesn't matter.”