If there was a boxing radar, Ryan Walsh’s career would have flown under it. 

He’s one of the most under-appreciated British fighters of the generation, a legitimate talent who has been short on big opportunities and big moments.

It’s a crying shame because the 35-year-old talent is a student of the sport, an intelligent chap who is an absolute handful with skills, power and fitness at his disposal. He’s 27-3-2 (12) and on Saturday he gets something rare, a chance to prove himself.

He fights Leeds star Maxi Hughes at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Hughes has already lost to one Walsh, Ryan’s brother Liam, back in 2019, but he’s a man in real form, with wins over Jono Carroll, Patrick Hyland and Jovanni Straffon in three of his last four fights. 

He’s clearly confident, too, as he’s chosen Walsh to defend his lightweight belt against.

As a consequence, Walsh doesn’t know whether he should thank him or be insulted.

“I rate Maxi,” said the challenger. “He’s not great at anything, but he’s not bad at anything either. He’s well-schooled, he’s on the crest of a wave and it’s my job to make sure I crash the party. They picked me, they obviously had their reasons and it’s a great insult to have because it’s motivating, they’re saying I’m getting old, which is rubbish. I’m 35 years young, I’m not 35 years old. I don’t accept that terminology. Especially when you get older and you start working smarter. The game’s changed. You could have six, seven, 10 fights a year and that’s one of the refreshing things about Canelo – who’s been pushing for four or five fights –  but in the era of Mayweather you’d get one, two if you were lucky, big occasions, big events. I feel I’m more of an old school fighter.”

He’s also had hard times like many good fighters have in the past. Too good for his own good, some might contend. He was stripped of his British featherweight title when he entered a tournament that saw contests fought only over 10 rounds rather than 12 and his two losses have been close affairs, a split decision defeat on the road to Dennis Ceylan in Denmark and a points reverse to quality Jazza Dickens over 10 rounds in 2020.

“When you lose, you’re quickly thrown away,” Walsh went on. “I was never a big enough name and I’ve always been in the Who Needs Me Club, so when I lost, it made it easy. That’s why I held on to the British title like my life depended on it but in the process of doing that, I ended up beating myself more than I ended up being beaten by anyone else and that’s why, now up at lightweight, I’ve never felt so confident, never felt so happy, never felt so comfortable – compared to what I was.”

Activity has been one of Walsh’s biggest enemies. There was one fight in 2017, two in 2018, two in 2019, two a year later and just the one in 2021, a six-round points victory over Ronnie Clarke in December.  

“With Covid and what happened, I started off being really grateful that I got a fight during those times, and from getting that fight and fighting Ronnie Clark just before Christmas, things started to piss me off because I was asking for everybody, that’s all you can do,” Walsh explained. “I listened to a message from one of my people in management saying, ‘Ryan, no one’s asking for you.’ I just thought, ‘Well we knew that was going to happen.’ It took me moving up two weights to get an opportunity.”

And his brother’s victory over Hughes has given him confidence. While he insists he rates Maxi, the favourite, highly, he says he knows what he needs to do. 

“To be honest, of all the people’s Liam’s fought he’s probably the one I’ve had my eye on the least because I was so confident in Liam and when I watched the fight, I had every right to be,” Walsh went on. “Maxi Hughes can’t beat Liam, ever, it’s so true that styles make fights. Look at Maidana and Mayweather. Who would ever think that of all the world champions he [Floyd] fought, one of his toughest fights would have been Marcos Maidana? De La Hoya was the one I thought was the closest [to beating Mayweather] but styles make fights and Maidana was proof of that. He was a cracking fighter, Mayweather was a modern day great and you’d think he’d be able to deal with that style easy, but whoever coined that old adage that styles make fights, it’s so true.”

It’s been a long journey for Walsh, who turned over in 2008. He had around 30 amateur fights and somehow even then had it tough, boxing future stars like Jamie McDonnell, TJ Doheny and Luke Campbell.

“I had two brothers [Liam and Michael] who were very good [boxers],” Walsh added. “I didn’t have the wealth of amateur experience but I always had good sparring and fought good fighters. Same in the pros, I haven’t had a weathered career, I haven’t been beat up, I’ve been beaten on points but never beaten up in sparring or anything. I’ve had spars where other people have done well, but I think my best asset is my defence. That’s why I’m calling Maxi to come and fight me, because I know I’ve got a better defence than him. But he’s not going to fight me, he’s going to do what they all do and get in there, their instincts are going to take over and they’re going to try and outbox me, use the fact that he’s the champion to his advantage and win on the judges’ scorecards. I can’t allow that. I’ve been in this position before and I have to learn from it.”

Walsh could have more than the odd excuse to be bitter. Things have never been easy for him but he’s not complaining. He’s feeling positive against Hughes and maybe it’s the night when everything clicks for him.  

“I can’t grumble at anything and I’m grateful for it all. Maybe that time has helped me become a lightweight, because I was struggling to be a super-feather,” he concluded. “I’m grateful to be where I’m at and be doing what I’m doing and I’m hungry to succeed even now. I’ve had domestic success and now is the time to take that next step and I do believe in my heart that I should have had European success [against Ceylan], but that’s not what was written for me at that time so I’ve got to be grateful and I am. I took up a philosophy not long ago of living day to day. You’re best off living day to day, trying to make that day the best you can and not look too much into the future, because I think that’ll stress you. That’s how I do it. Doors will open from this fight, but I’m not even thinking about those doors. I don’t want to think too far ahead but it’s exciting. The lightweight division is an absolute shark tank and it’s the best, most competitive and unpredictable division in boxing.”