By Richard Hubbard
Pro-file: Ryan Walsh
Born: Rochdale (resides Cromer)
Bouts: 21 (19 wins, 8 KOs)
Trainer: Graham Everett
Asked to choose a word that sums his current mindset and emotions, Scrabble-addict and new British featherweight champion Ryan Walsh, after a little consideration, plumped for ‘excited’.
The rationale behind the selection is he is excited at the thought of defending his newly won strap, but perhaps more so the prospect of becoming an active champion. Walsh reliably informs that the word scores a healthy 17 points on the board game, but it was scoring of a different nature that was the cause of a little angst among the Walsh clan in the wake of his title triumph at Wembley.
The 29-year-old was the dominant force in the contest against Samir Mouneimne, the come-forward aggressor who appeared more than largely in control, particularly when dropping the Hull man in the fifth round. He made little attempt to hide his dismay when Mouneimne raised his hands in anticipation of becoming his city’s first British champion moments after the final bell.
Walsh’s own convictions were backed up by the scoring of four and five round margins by two of the judges, but the first card to be bellowed by the MC favoured Mouneimne by a single round. It was a bolt from the blue corner for Walsh before confirmation arrived of history being made, with twins holding British titles at the same time – brother Liam being the holder of the super-featherweight belt.
Walsh later discovered the TV commentators viewed the fight in a different light to two of the judges, perhaps stylistically favouring his opponent, and were calling a Mouneimne victory from their ringside position – opinions out of sync with the analysts, including the studious middleweight world champion Andy Lee.
It brought to the fore a theory that perhaps the boxing authorities should take note of – and one with a very simple remedy. The judge who viewed the fight in a completely different light to his colleagues was stationed right alongside the commentary positions and could he have been unknowingly influenced by their calling of the shots?
“There are only three judges and four sides to the ring, so maybe put the commentators where they aren’t,” suggested Walsh, who has previously experienced brother Liam being similarly aggrieved in a Commonwealth title contest against Joe Murray in 2013 . “It is twice it has happened now, we had a draw from Howard Foster in the Murray fight and it was very similar.
“That was another frustrating thing, listening back to the commentary, I landed the best body shot of the fight and heard him wince. I got really excited, did my combination, and it was as if it didn’t happen. I feel sorry for the people back at home watching because it is misleading.
“He (co-commentator Barry Jones) asked me on Twitter if he should be biased towards the home fighter and I said no, he should be neutral and just say what you see.”
Despite initial frustrations over the scoring being a bit askew, Walsh has realised a dream and claimed a title he first challenged for against now world champion Lee Selby two years ago.
The points defeat to the Welshman led to a soul-destroying stint in the boxing wilderness for the Cromer-based fighter. His performance on the night at the 02 was sufficiently impressive to stifle his rebuilding process, opponents that would provide a pathway towards title redemption did not want to know and Walsh was reduced to just two low-key bouts in the two-period between contesting the Lonsdale Belt.
This is maybe why the injustice of a split decision pained him more than it perhaps should have done at the time, but this man of words now takes a more philosophical standpoint as he reflects on his two years of torment.
“My initial thought was ‘why can’t anything go smoothly?’, but I am starting to realise that I thrive on bumpiness,” he pondered, although whether ‘bumpiness’ will score well against his brother in their next Scrabble duel is questionable. “It has been a bumpy two years, but not in a bad way, one which makes you grow and become better.
“The last two years of my career have been disgusting. To fight someone as good as Lee Selby and then everyone (potential opponents) going ‘nah, too good for his own good’, too dangerous, not worth the risk. I’m happy that the Board did eventually make me mandatory, it took a while, I had to get a few wins, had to box in Tenerife. It was a long, bumpy road and, on the night, it seemed to go the same way.
“We forgot to give them my ring music when we got there so the music I came out to wasn’t mine. The best way to learn about growth is to be in a position where you wouldn’t have liked it before. Two years ago, if it had happened against Selby, I probably wouldn’t have walked out for the fight. I’d have made a big thing of it.
“This time it was far easier, it was like ‘no, it doesn’t matter, it’s irrelevant’. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned. It all squeezes down to all the hours of training, all the things that we’ve done, I started when I was 14 so we’ve had a good 15 years of preparation for a fight that will last 47 minutes. A 30 second ring walk? I don’t care. That is where I think I’ve grown.
“Initially, when they said the decision, I was annoyed and a little bit with myself because I didn’t get him out of there and a lot of my friends and family had put money on me to finish him.
“I watched it again today and every time we were swinging he always ended up going backwards ready to clinch again. It was very negative. The way I look at it is – this is the philosophical bit – imagine if I was British champion before and those were the tactics he employed to come and take the title off of me? Yes it was a vacant title, but I don’t know if I agree with those type of tactics. His corner really made that loss far worse for him because if they were honest with him he couldn’t have been really upset.
“My corner are honest with me, we score it throughout the fights and are very honest. Another thing with me, I’ve gone 12 rounds and had the feeling of being a loser. Against Selby, my brothers didn’t chair me in the air after, Michael did try but I said ‘no Michael, I’ve lost’, I’m not going to try and fake it. I don’t need judges to tell me, I know.
“I couldn’t believe it when he raised his hands.”
As ever in the modern era, it did not take long for the internet dating to kick off, with online provocateur Mitchell Smith quickly on the keypad to dismiss the new champion as a threat to his own ambitions and offer himself as a future punch partner.
It resulted in some entertaining Twitter-tattle between the pair but Walsh admits some regret over becoming embroiled in a cyberspace spat.
“Ah he started!” sighed Walsh with a roll of the eyes. “I wouldn’t mind, but I’d gone nine months without biting. Last year somebody said something and I can’t help but express my opinion. Liam advised me, ‘stop biting, that’s what people want’. I said fair enough and didn’t do anything for nine months, so I was so disappointed with myself because I took personally when he started as I was with my friends and was reading it to them.
“If it was just me I probably would’ve just left it. It’s a very powerful tool, Twitter, because it can build fights and do positive things, but it was very clever on his part because no-one was talking about him. I can only pray he can make nine stone because if he can I get what I want. He’s never made it before though, but he’s doing his job, he’s keeping himself relevant.”
Walsh took solace during his post-Selby setback in the success of twin Liam, something that means as much – if not more – to him than any personal recognition. The unity of the three fighting brothers – older sibling Michael an unbeaten featherweight – is rooted in the boxing-mad environment created by their late father John, who passed away three years ago.
Mother Michelle revealed she was watching championship boxing with John from the age of 15, so it is little surprise to learn the boys were gloved up from when they were old enough to walk. There were also extremely sound and practical reasons for John insisting on padding the hands of three brothers of a similar age.
“I am very, very lucky because I had Liam’s success. My favourite bit of watching back the fight isn’t winning, it is the reaction of Liam and Michael, that is all I wanted. I do believe my happiness lies with theirs and vice-versa.
“The pictures capture a moment and the thing with these pictures and these moments, I think are highlighted so strongly with us because of my dad. He isn’t here to enjoy them so we are enjoying them for him.
“I think on a personal level that I could feel his pride, as such, and I was bouncing about that. It is something deeper for me.
“From babies we’ve always boxed. The reason my dad put gloves on us was because he didn’t want us hitting each other with bare hands. A hundred per cent, with three boys, you are going to fight, so have the respect to put the gloves on, get it off your chest and that has happened throughout our lives.
“We have done that and it always finishes the same way. No problem. It is such a wise thing to do, my dad had five brothers himself and I don’t think his dad did it with him. I think it is brilliant, I say to my children now that if there is a problem and there is no other way around it, put the gloves on.
“It worked for us and there are no two people I respect more than my brothers,” he stated before recalling a time when his father was tickled pink by a comparison between his son and an all-time favourite.
“It’s the reason we are here, it’s the sport he chose and he loved Leonard and Hagler. Once in the Boxing News they likened my style to that of Hagler because I can switch a little bit and he loved that because Hagler is special.”
Special for the Walsh twins now would be the opportunity to showcase their talents on home turf – in front of what has now become known as the ‘Farmy Army’. If Liam, who was set for a world title final eliminator before suffering a hand fracture, secures a shot at the top and Ryan climbs onwards and upwards, then the dream is for a ring to be placed in the centre circle at Carrow Road, home of Norwich City.
“It’s a massive ground and there is potential because the Norwich fans are something else,” he predicted, having previously experienced a short pitch battle. “We’d need their backing and get a good percentage of them to want to come and watch boxing.
“It’s got a chance, definitely. Everyone is buzzing about it and asking. It is about time because Norwich is a big city. Me and Liam were lucky enough to box on the West Ham show, but my fight only lasted 49 seconds – the ringwalk took longer!
“Liam is in a very good position because there are not too many people who could fight for world titles at two different weights. He could take the title at both.”
There is a chance that the twins could be strutting their stuff at Carrow Road outside of the ring, with a trophy as opposed to a belt at stake.
“I used to love football and honestly thought I was going to do alright, but I peaked at county level,” reflected Ryan. “We’re in a tournament at the moment and if we get to the final we play at Carrow Road, so we really want to try and do it this year.”
Either way, you have to suspect they are in with a punchers’ chance of making it happen.