THE BIG INTERVIEW - LIAM WALSH
By Richard Hubbard
Family will always come first for the Walsh brothers, but Liam will happily knock his twin, the resurgent Ryan, down a peg or two now he is back firing on all cylinders with the prospect of a world title final eliminator looming.
There is a busy and hopefully bountiful period ahead for the Walsh pack, with Liam up first in Harrow on October 8 in a shootout for a shot at the IBF world super featherweight title against Andrey Klimov, before the clan travel to Denmark the following week where Ryan will contest the vacant EBU featherweight championship against home fighter Dennis Ceylan. The driving force behind the twins, older brother Michael – the unbeaten but currently inactive featherweight – currently pulls the strings in the background alongside trainer Graham Everett.
This is the second time Liam has been steeling himself for a punch-off with the prize of a mandatory spot at the top table. Nigh on a year ago he was putting in the hard yards at his Tenerife training base when a harsh reality kicked in. A troublesome hand needed sorting out once and for all.
A final eliminator against Petr Petrov at lightweight was aborted and one of his two key tools of the trade was subjected to the surgeon’s scalpel. Ryan subsequently became the man about the house, emerging from the boxing wilderness to claim the British title and make two successful defences, resulting in the reward of a shot at European honours.
With his brother in bandages, the older twin by a few minutes was finally scooping the accolades, with his phone constantly buzzing with congratulatory messages.
Liam also dispatched a mobile missive to the man of the moment.
“It was funny because I sent him a message after he beat (Darren) Traynor and he was getting mobbed with messages saying he could be the best of us,” revealed the Cromer-based 20-0 now former British champion after recently relinquishing his title. “I sent him a message saying ‘you just wait, I’m coming back hard!’
“Although I want him to do better than me, it is also about bragging rights in our house over who is the best. I’m gutted that I haven’t won a European because he’s gonna win that and when we’re old men he will be sat there with his British and European and, at the moment, I will be sat there with nothing!
“I think everything happens for a reason, whether or not you ever find out what it is. I’ve been so happy Ryan has had his breakthrough fights, he has put himself in the picture now.
“Ryan, for me, has always been technically the best out of all of us, he just never had the chance to break through and shine. My dad always used to say to us ‘you haven’t even seen Ryan yet’ and I used to wonder what he was on about. I know where he was at now because he knew how good his own son was, yet when we used to watch him my dad was his biggest critic.
“I am like a broken record with what I am going to say here, but if Ryan can transfer what he does in the gym to the ring, he will be a world champion. He has to transfer it and I know fighters have this problem.
“He is going in the right direction now, he is out of the wilderness and it might have been because I was out of the way and he got his chance to step up and put his chest out.”
The family are back fighting on two fronts now with Liam’s hand in full working order, as demonstrated in his dismantling of the game Troy James at the Copper Box at the back end of April.
Putting his hand in for a full service and MOT was always a case of when rather than if and it was an impromptu spot of sparring that forced the issue and pressed the pause button on his world title aspirations.
“It was only three or four weeks before the fight when I was actually sparring Ricky Boylan because he was getting ready for his fight with Cassius Connor. He came in the gym asking if there was any rounds and I said I had a fight coming up and had sparring coming over, but I would happily do some rounds.
“I caught it sparring him, although I had caught it many times before in that period, but I thought it would be fine even though it swelled up massively. I gave it a bit of time off and started touching the bag about three or four days later. With 16oz gloves and massive padding I was getting pain every time I touched it.
“I thought I had come too far with it, I had been trying to get around the injury for two or three years because I didn’t want to stall my career. I should’ve had it done straight away when the fights weren’t as big, although I’ve been in biggish fights since my ninth so there was never a perfect time to do it.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t even prepare for fights with the hand so I had to get it done.”
Time – and surgery – is a great healer and Liam will be back packing a punch in just under two weeks against an opponent who has only been defeated by the cream of the crop.
The Russian Klimov, 19-2, in the opinion of keen boxing student Liam, could be described as a Jack of all trades fighter and perhaps master or none – a solid all-rounder without obvious strengths or weaknesses.
His two defeats came against the current IBF title holder Jose Pedraza last time out and in October 2013 when he was behind on the cards after ten rounds with one Terence Crawford.
“If you look at the Pedraza fight he got his nose broke in the fourth or fifth round and fights on for another seven or eight rounds with a busted nose,” said Liam, with no shortage of admiration. “At the end of the fight you saw all the swelling coming out and he took a real bad hiding in that fight, but he showed guts, even in the last couple of rounds he pushed the fight.
“He will be the best opponent I’ve fought by a mile and we’ll find out how good I am, so I’m really excited.
“I watch him and think he doesn’t do anything brilliant, but he does everything decent, everything good. His jab, his formation, it doesn’t waver or decline during the fight, it is solid the whole way through.
“He is hard to nail flush as you saw in the Crawford and Pedraza fights, nobody gets many big shots off on him. He comes back as well and I think he is good across the board, he is one of those fighters who you watch and think ‘how is he up at that level?’, but there are a lot of world champions in this country who don’t do anything great, but they are consistent.
“I think when you get up the levels that is a big part of your game, you have to be consistent – with your shape, with your defence and even your attack. He’s good and he’s got my attention, big time.”
One thing Liam does know full well is that the Russians do not export too many duff operators when it comes to fighting – either in the ring or on the streets.
“No, not at all! They even send their best boys over for the football tournaments! They don’t mess about, so I don’t think for a second he will be coming to make the numbers up.”
Liam suspects his customary patience will be key repelling Russian advances on the night. Going gung-ho is not really his game and he points out that adopting such an approach amounts to overplaying your hand and leaving yourself open to the counter.
“First and foremost, don’t get hit, that is always my plan – until they chin me, then we’re on! I need to curb that and I’m trying to.
“I believe we train as hard as any other fighters, I really do. To go out and declare war on someone in the early rounds, I feel, is like giving them a chance. Alright, I might be stretching their engine and mental capacity and will catch them later, but I feel as long as I’m smart early and really pressing late, I should come out on top because I think I am fitter than everyone I fight.
“It might happen in that I could have to go for broke early, if I am dropped in the first or something crazy.
“If you look through my career, if I can take them out in one round I will, but I would rather break them down because when you go up levels everyone is tough. They don’t just go off the first clean shot, or first body shot, you have to break them, break them, break them.
“If you look at all the good fighters that is how they work, you’ve got to break people down.”
The executor of 14 KOs across his pro career acknowledges that the tag ‘final eliminator’ has echoes of the more general sporting term ‘semi-final’, that butterfly-inducing last step before getting to strut your stuff on the big platform.
Semi-final heartbreak is something the Walsh twins have bitter personal experience of in the round ball game.
“Yeah definitely, it has hasn’t it? They are horrible normally and we just lost in one last season in our football team. If we had won it we would have played at Carrow Road in the final, so it was like a big thing for our little village.
“We’ve never got anywhere near winning this tournament before and it was a killer when we lost. It took me weeks to get over that – in fact I’m not even over it now!
“This has definitely got that feel to it and I’m really excited by it. I never thought this day was going to come when I would be put in a position to fight for a world title. I’ve always dreamt about being a world champion and you’ve got to believe in yourself to do it.
“I’ve always really believed in myself and thought I can do it. It is a bit surreal now we are nearly there. Once I am in that position I will have more power in negotiation, everything really, but you need to get in that position first.
“The IBF are a good governing body for challengers as the champions have to take on their mandatories. I am happy it is with the IBF.”
Liam is ranked at super featherweight by the IBF and at lightweight by the WBO. If he was following this path under the sanction of the WBO, he would be fighting for the right to fight Vasyl Lomachenko, although he insists he would not go out of his way to avoid such a scenario.
“Oh yeah! Although give me the right money and I’d love to go in with him,” he mused with genuine enthusiasm, before joking that his WBO listing is in case he is ever needed off the subs bench at short notice.
“That is for Terry Flanagan really. If he ever has a fight fall out of bed at two weeks notice, I’m there!”
Liam’s eyes are on the prize of the IBF champion Pedraza, who he sincerely hopes sticks around at super feather long enough to defend against him, amid murmurs of a move up to lightweight. The Puerto Rican, 22-0, defeated Liverpool’s Stephen Smith in his last defence back in April.
“I rate Pedraza, but as the days go by I am tight at the weight, while he is seriously tight,” he reflected. “Before he fought Klimov two years ago he said straight after he would be going up to 135.
“I really want it to be Pedraza, if I have to fight for a vacant title I will because I really want to win one, but I want to beat a champion. I want respect, I don’t want fight nobodies. I’m here now, I’m 30-years-old, I’ve been a professional eight years – I want to fight people.
“You’ve just mentioned Lomachenko and people might laugh at me saying I would be killed in a round or whatever. Give me a contract, I’ll go, I’ll fight him – I want to fight all the best super featherweights.
“I don’t want to finish my career and say ‘what if’, I don’t want to do that. I’d love to fight him with a title and get some decent money out of it because it would deserve decent money.
“You’ve got to say Lomachenko is the best at the weight after his last performance and I would thrive off that, people saying Liam’s getting killed in a round, I would thrive off that so much.
“I’m not going to start forcing the argument for any other fight apart from this one, but I do want to fight all the best fighters. Why wouldn’t I? If I didn’t there would be something wrong.”
This is one inhabitant of Cromer not about to make any sideways moves.
Tomorrow: Catch up with Alan Hubbard’s Punchlines.