If Callum Walsh walked into the Wild Card Gym on a Tuesday, we might not be talking about the junior middleweight prospect right about now.
But Wednesday it was, and as he met Freddie Roach, he found out that he wasn’t just going to be hitting the heavy bag.
“I showed and I thought I was just gonna go train, and Freddie was like, 'We spar Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and today is Wednesday, so you're sparring,'” Walsh laughs.
Some in his position would have tried to get out of this trial by fire, or maybe even walk right back out the door. But they don’t call them “the fighting Irish” just for kicks, so the Cork native strapped on his gloves and got his rounds in.
“There was a small bit of nerves, but it wasn't too bad,” he said. “I think I did six rounds my first day and I had never done six rounds before in my life. I was used to the amateur sparring, just doing three rounds, and I got thrown in for six on my first day, so it was a big change.”
It was a change in more ways than one. Originally in Los Angeles to visit his father and get in some boxing work in the hopes of earning a spot on the Irish Olympic team, Walsh instead impressed Roach enough that the renowned trainer suggested he stick around and turn pro.
“I was considering going back home for a while,” Walsh said. “I was trying to qualify for the Olympics, still. I came over here because all the boxing clubs were closed back in Ireland because of COVID. I came over to visit my dad and train for a couple weeks just in case - I was trying to get a box-off for the place for the Olympics. That's when I just showed up to the Wild Card and Freddie made me spar on the first day. He wanted me to stay there and train. I liked the idea of turning pro more, so I just stayed and decided to turn pro.”
In December of last year, Walsh made his debut, blasting out Earl Henry in less than two minutes. And if you’re going by the buzz generated by that fight and the crowd that showed up for it, a star was born in Montebello.
“We're really excited about working with Callum,” said 360 Promotions boss Tom Loeffler, who will have Walsh’s second pro bout against Gael Ibarra on Thursday featured on UFC FIGHT PASS. “The splash that he made in his pro debut really was something to behold. Having Irish fans flying over to LA for his pro debut was something that really impressed and surprised me.”
That support was clearly appreciated by the 21-year-old southpaw, who isn’t fazed by the attention he’s receiving.
“Even at my last fight, the crowd that showed up just for me, maybe a normal person would have been very nervous to be performing in front of all the fans and friends, but I loved it,” he said. “They actually made me feel a lot better. When I came out to the ring and I could see a hundred people on my side along, just screaming for me and singing, it gave me a boost and I was buzzing going into the ring.”
One minute and 37 second later, Walsh had taken care of business, and soon he was meeting with UFC President Dana White. But don’t worry, boxing fans, he isn’t joining countryman Conor McGregor on the UFC roster.
“Definitely not yet,” he laughs.
What he is doing is fighting on Saint Patrick’s Day, a rite of passage for so many Irish fighters, past and present, and while one would think that all of this just adds to the pressure on a young man’s shoulders, it isn’t. That comes with sparring with some of the best in the game in the Wild Card, as well as being in the sport for most of his life.
“Mentally, it gives a very big edge over my opponents because I know that I've been in there with the best boxers in the world,” he said. “Experience wise, they have a lot of experience in the pro game and they show me little tricks and tell me little things and it helps me a lot.”
As for the rest, Walsh says, “I am very committed to boxing. I've been boxing since I was six years old, it's all I know and it's all I want to do. I just want to be the best, so that helps me to stay disciplined. And I don't feel that pressure. This is what I want to do. I want to make noise, I want people to be talking about me. So I don't feel that as pressure; I love it and I enjoy that.”
So what’s the plan for Mr. Walsh?
“We're looking to get him as much exposure as possible,” said Loeffler, who knows more than most about moving a fighter properly. "We had a media training session at Freddie's gym on Saturday and they all loved Callum. Callum loves the camera, he's a natural in the ring and outside the ring, and I think it's a tremendous combination. I've done well with big punchers and Callum is along those same lines. He's very aggressive, a big puncher and he fits perfectly into Freddie's training program, so I think we'll see a lot of excitement in the ring from Callum.”
Ah, to be 21 and have world domination within reach. It must be nice to be Callum Walsh.
“I've been doing this since I was six years old, and I suppose I'm good enough at it, so I might as well just stay with it,” he laughs. “But I do love it. I've always wanted to be the best, and I've always wanted to be a world champion, so that's my dream.”
To watch Callum Walsh’s second pro bout on Thursday, March 17, sign up for UFC FIGHT PASS now!