By Richard Hubbard
The boxing bar is set high by Liam Walsh when he gets to work on his artistry on canvas, so much so that when Andrey Klimov couldn’t beat him up in their final eliminator back in October, he did a pretty good job of it himself.
In his own head, anyway.
Not happy with putting on a textbook demonstration of punching without absorbing anything in the way of return fire, Walsh was not a happy bunny when he plonked himself down on the ring apron to address the BoxNation viewers for the post-fight debrief.
Far from content with having secured himself a shot at the IBF world super featherweight title, the concerns of Walsh were closer to home.
To his mind and rationale, he had been involved in a boring and one-sided fight that wasn’t worthy of fans parting with their hard earned.
His work was perhaps an exhibition for the purists, but there were no groans in Harrow from the raucous Farmy Army who had made their way across from Norfolk.
Walsh acknowledged beforehand that a final eliminator carried semi-final connotations, so caution was probably the order of the night, but it was only in the following days that he eased up on himself.
After all, it takes two to tear-up.
“I was happier when I went back and watched on TV, to be honest,” admitted Walsh, still not displaying any great enthusiasm over his precise punch-picking. “The reason I was a bit annoyed on the night is because I was hyped for the fight, really pumped up and had got into the mentality that we’d have to really dig down and find something out about ourselves.
“That didn’t happen so I was a bit disappointed. I was also a little disappointed with him because he’s got to go for broke at some point – he was seven or eight rounds down and didn’t go for it.
“It made for soppy viewing really, but after watching it back, it was not too bad.”
Walsh had convinced himself that Klimov was going to present a formidable obstacle to him realising his ambitions, that his resolve and resilience would be extended to the absolute limit.
When, all said and done, he was simply too good for the rated Russian.
“I expected him to make me apply more pressure and expected more from him, but looking back I should have done more because if he wasn’t going to take me places then maybe I should have forced it myself.
“I was forever being urged to be sensible and keep doing what I was doing because I was winning comfortably.”
Walsh isn’t a gung-ho operator by trade, his game is to saturate the spirit of his opponent then take him out when carelessness inevitably sets in.
In October, he was being constantly harangued by his brothers Michael and Ryan, along with trainer Graham Everett, not to go for broke. They knew the game was up for Klimov and weren’t about to let him play his joker.
Walsh took the instructions on board and let his jab continue to do the talking, but he also reasoned that orders don’t always have to be obeyed. They just were on this occasion.
“It all lies with me really, doesn’t it? It definitely had an effect on my performance though and the way I went about it.
“From six or seven onwards, with no cornermen in there or if I was just getting a sip of water off somebody, I would’ve 100 per cent starting pushing on the gas. Probably from the knockdown (round 6) – ok, it was only a flash knockdown – but I was sort of getting my way from that point.
“I definitely understand and, looking back in hindsight, it probably was the right thing to do. But I would have liked to have made a big statement and tried to get him out of there.”
So Klimov made it to the cards and Walsh’s celebrated like a Norfolk Turkey who just realised December was looming.
“I don’t do myself any favours and come across as this little miserable arsehole,” he reflected, realising people might get him all wrong. “I am not that guy though, I’m alright, I’m sound and I’m happy every day almost.
“I love my job, I love fighting, but I do look back and think ‘what do I come across like?’.”
Walsh then took his seat in the world title waiting room, listening out for the call to come up against the champion, Jose Pedraza.
The wait was longer than he first imagined when news broke of the IBF granting Pedraza an interim voluntary defence against Floyd Mayweather jnr protégé, Gervonta Davis.
Queue jumping has always been considered anti-social and Walsh was naturally narked over being bypassed for the January date.
Pedraza, however, made a costly error in entertaining the challenge of a dangerous interloper.
‘Sniper’ Pedraza backfired and the Puerto Rican was gunned down in round seven at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
“Definitely, costly to his career, maybe not so much to his pocket!” added Walsh, trying to make sense of the defence. “Fair play to him, he’s got to do what’s right for him and he obviously felt that was the right decision taking on Gervonta.
“Ok, he will have got paid well, but that’s not to say he might have taken on Gervonta thinking it was the easier fight. He was relatively unknown, although people in the business knew about him, but he might have taken that fight thinking it would be easier than fighting myself. Style-wise he might have thought it suited him, I don’t know.”
Walsh does not dismiss the theory that Pedraza might have been cashing out at the weight, with rumours of him struggling to hit the 130lbs limit having been circulating for some time.
“Yeah, true, there are a lot of different opinions about why he took the fight or why he performed the way he did, but in this game you’ve just got to put your hands up and say you lost to the better man on the night and keep it all to yourself.
“For whatever reasons he didn’t perform well, it was his fault.”
Walsh, along with his promoter Frank Warren, is adamant that he too would have executed a similar demolition job on Pedraza, but that proposed catch can now be consigned to the ‘one that got away bin.
It did bug him for a bit, but he now gets to cast his net in the direction of a bigger fish from a bigger pond.
‘Hardly anyone in boxing thinks I’m going to win so I am in the perfect position. I’d say I’ve got nothing to lose, but I hate that saying because I’ve got a career to lose, I’ve got my teeth to lose – of course I’ve got something to lose’
“A little bit, but if I had then this fight might not have happened. I always fancied the Pedraza fight – so did Frank – and that is why we pursued it so much.
“A little bit of me was down that I didn’t fight for the title then, but I’m still getting the shot and, realistically, it couldn’t have gone any better.
“I wanted Pedraza to win, but now I’m thinking I must’ve been crazy because I’m fighting the No.1 American and there is something special about that.
“Hardly anyone in boxing thinks I’m going to win so I am in the perfect position. I’d say I’ve got nothing to lose, but I hate that saying because I’ve got a career to lose, I’ve got my teeth to lose – of course I’ve got something to lose.
“What I have got from people thinking I’ve got no chance whatsoever is that it makes training easier for me, it makes everything easier for me because there is no pressure, that’s for sure, only the pressure I put on myself.
“The fact that they are talking so highly of him takes the pressure off – I’m happy about that.”
Pedraza-Davis co-headlined on James DeGale’s unification clash against Badou Jack and was broadcast on Sky Sports. The ever-excitable commentary team and assorted pundits quickly embraced the new dawn in the division.
Walsh suspects the hyperbole is too much, too soon.
“I think he looks to have star quality and he could still be the future of boxing, but I am going to win this fight. I will win it and then he can go and be the star of boxing after that.
“I agree, people are getting way too excited. The star of boxing? What about Andre Ward? He has beaten Abraham, Kessler, Froch, Kovelev – is he not the star of boxing?
“They have jumped the gun way too quick and that is Sky getting over excited. They have gone over the top, but that is brilliant for me – I might get some props for beating him!
“I probably won’t, then they will say he is young and inexperienced after the event, but I will be happy with that anyway.”
With a marker put down in such emphatic style, Walsh feared his date with Davis might be all the trickier to get over the line. He certainly imagined it would be he and not the Money Team crossing the Atlantic.
Money talks, however, and Davis along with his mentor Mayweather, will be rocking up at the Copper Box Arena on May 20 for a fight that Walsh insists ‘can’t fail to deliver’.
“I definitely did, I thought it would be a problem and didn’t think we’d be able to get him here.
“I can’t thank Frank enough for that. Time and time again over the last 30-odd years he has brought world champions to Britain for the fans and doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for that.
“There are not many promoters who keep churning over the champions and bringing over the best for us to see live.
“So Frank has done the business, he’s dug deep into his pocket and got him over here. Originally I thought ‘I’m definitely going to America’ and I would’ve travelled as I said from day one.”
The backstory of Davis provides a fascinating narrative, with the boy from the back streets of Baltimore ultimately making good in the hurt business.
The 22-year-old might believe he has seen it all, but Walsh is pretty sure he won’t have encountered such a deeply driven individual as himself before.
“No and that is a fact. Look through his record and look at the fighters on YouTube, he hasn’t fought anyone with my style, he hasn’t fought anyone with my ambition or my desire.
“All my great strengths are hidden, you can’t see them and I don’t want to start letting the cat out of the bag, but he is going to find this out on the night.
“I used to have ‘Destiny’ on my shorts as a young fighter because I genuinely believed it was my destiny to become world champion.
“That hasn’t changed whatsoever, but the shorts changed a few fights ago and, because I’m not big-time at all, I’ve only had about three pairs of shorts in my whole career!
“I changed the design of my shorts, but the belief is still the same.”
Mayweather can be relied upon to make a noise come fight week, perhaps compensating for his softly-spoken charge who lets his fists do the talking.
The Money Man won’t have it all his own way though and can expect some fiery backchat from the eldest Walsh brother if he starts speaking out of turn.
As a sub-plot, this meeting of minds could be combustible. There is even a bit of previous between Michael and the Mayweather family.
“I don’t know if it is going to be possible to keep them two quiet but, if we can, it would be helpful because otherwise it will get stupid,” said Walsh with a sigh.
“It’s funny, with Michael we went over to watch Ricky Hatton against Mayweather and Michael had a blazing row with Roger for about half an hour in the lobby of the hotel.
“Michael and Roger crossed paths with me stood there and they got on to what was going to happen and Michael started telling him how Hatton was going to beat him.
“Roger then started telling Michael how he is a ‘dumb arsed mother f**ker’, then Michael replied with ‘who you calling mother f**ker?’ and they were almost head to head.
“It was funny, but now with Mayweather about it brings the glitz, but this is about Gervonta Davis and me really. Let’s hope it is left that way, I doubt if it will be possible, but we don’t want it like it was at the DeGale-Jack fight recently.
“I hope it is not the Floyd Mayweather show and it is the Gervonta Davis and Liam Walsh show.
“We’ll see, but I’m not fussed and I won’t be rattled at all by anything.”
And he includes Tank Davis in that.