Having a famous family member is tough enough in sport. Kasper had Peter, Venus has Serena and Eubank Jr followed in the footsteps of his father in the ring, but what if you were a boxer, and your grandfather was Muhammad Ali? That is the position Nico Ali Walsh finds himself in and having recorded a victory on his professional debut last week, hype is now growing around the middleweight.
That hype was more than justified in his opening bout as he proved that the blood of ‘The Greatest’ runs through his veins. The US fighter sealed victory over Jordan Weeks within the first 70 seconds of the fight, and after the win, the 21-year-old caught up with The Sportsman.
“My goal is to take one fight at a time and be the best version of myself that I can and that is a tremendous goal in itself because I hold myself in such high regard and people have a lot of expectations for me,” he said. “I’m not trying to meet everybody’s expectations. I’m just trying to be the greatest fighter I can be and that’s all I can ask for."
Ali Walsh wore shorts handed down to him by his grandfather for the fight against Weeks and they were a good omen for him, as the crowd chanted his family name.
I feel that that whole fight, a lot of the stuff leading into it was destiny. I wasn’t even supposed to wear my grandfather’s trunks.
"I had my own trunks that were supposed to have been made but I brought my grandfather’s trunks just in case they weren’t made. It wasn’t until the day before that I realised that I’m going to have to wear my grandfather’s trunks – so that was destiny right there.
“In the fashion that I won the fight, in the trunks, was pretty amazing, I brought my grandfather back to life that night, I felt it. And the chants were amazing.”
The connection between Ali Walsh and his grandfather is obvious, but the young fighter doesn’t shirk the responsibility that comes with his name, and is open to discussing some of his grandfather’s best bits.
“My favourite fight of his [Ali] is the Rumble in the Jungle just because the hype was amazing leading up to it,” he says. “That was a fight I would watch with him a lot. Just me and him would watch it so that fight is very special to me.
“The quote that I’ve constantly been thinking about with my fight was when my grandfather said: ‘The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights’.
“I posted that on Instagram because that is exactly what I was thinking, I love that quote.”
The US fighter revealed that immediately after his victory, promoter Bob Arum told him the next step in his pro journey. “The first thing he said to me was ‘next stop Atlanta’” - he smiles. “I then got word after the fight that I’m going to be fighting on October 23 in Atlanta so that is the next thing in mind for me now.”
Legendary Top Rank CEO and founder Arum has been a part of the boxing world for decades and he even played his part in promoting some of Muhammad Ali’s biggest fights and the young boxer was overwhelmed by working with someone who worked closely with his grandfather.
“It’s amazing,” he explains. “It’s history repeating itself, I truly believe that. He actually told me some stories about him and my grandfather in that they would always travel to the UK together.”
“Something that I respect so much about the UK is the same reason my grandfather loved the UK was because they never gave him the cold shoulder. During the 60s, during the draft stuff, the world hated him but the UK never gave him the cold shoulder and that’s what Arum was telling me.”
The big names in boxing just keep coming when it comes to Ali Walsh. He is trained by SugarHill Steward, the man behind the success of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and he has helped develop the young prodigy’s style.
“With the help of my new trainer SugarHill, I would say my style is more aggressive, it’s very calculated. SugarHill really knows what he’s doing and he’s forging a new style for me, something that I’m not used to and I’m really excited to see where this style takes me.
SugarHill is renowned for working with his fighters’ footwork and Ali Walsh considers that his biggest strength.
“Right now, the bounce he’s [SugarHill] given me, is pretty amazing,” he explains. “My grandfather was huge on footwork, I loved my grandfather’s footwork, and I would love to emulate that at what little capacity I can. And through that bounce, first of all, it looks beautiful. I was watching Tyson Fury do the bounce, it’s amazing. So if I can emulate Tyson Fury, that would be pretty amazing too.”
When asked about the training methods that Steward uses, and if he is trained in the same way as Fury, Ali Walsh said that the boxing trainer works no other way.
“That’s the special thing about Sugar, it is the same sort of training whether you are literally the heavyweight champion of the world or someone in my position who hadn’t even had a professional fight, it’s similar training. And that’s what I love about Sugar, he treats everyone the same. Obviously, Tyson Fury has a lifetime's worth of more information than I do about boxing, his boxing IQ is through the roof, but it’s all the same methods and it all stems from the same tree,” the young boxer explained.
Ali Walsh then disclosed a discussion he once had when he met Tyson Fury. He said: “The day I signed with Top Rank I was talking to Tyson Fury for a brief moment and that was the first time I met him, and he found out about my grandfather, and he said what a fan he was, and I thought wow, that’s awesome.
“I told him that I had a little bit of amateur experience, I wish I had more and that I wished I had as many fights as my grandfather did. And he said he had something around 30 amateur fights. He said amateur experience is great but it’s not absolutely necessary to be a great fighter. He says if you can fight, you can fight no matter what.”
He may only be starting on his journey to boxing superstardom, but surrounded by some of the biggest names in the business, and with boxing blood coarsing through his veins, Ali Walsh’s career is certainly one to keep a close eye on.