By Richard Hubbard
You can’t keep a good man down, so popular wisdom dictates, but the boxing gods had a good go at it where Ryan Walsh is concerned, rendering him a frustrated onlooker on the featherweight sidelines until he finally got to swap the shackles for belts.
The reason for his inertia, it seems, was in the single defeat on his 23-fight card – against now IBF world champion Lee Selby back in October 2013 – he gave too good account of himself in coming second. What should have cemented him as a live contender and opened doors, instead resulted in him being placed at the top of the unwanted list.
It plonked a promising career in cold storage before he was eventually able to thaw out nearly two years later when he was granted a shot at the vacant British title against Samir Mouneimne at Wembley Arena.
Two successful defences later and he is now fully defrosted and cooking on gas, preparing for a tilt at the vacant EBU title against Denmark’s Dennis Ceylan in Frederikshavn on October 15.
No longer a slow burner now opportunity has finally knocked, Walsh is now reaping the rewards for patience as well as perseverance, becoming the active fighter he always wanted to be.
“I’ve had eight years now and this is the most active I’ve been since the start of my career,” he reflected with an air of professional contentment. “Within the space of 13 months I will have had four championship fights – what more could I ask for?
“Liam (twin brother, who fights in a final eliminator for the IBF super featherweight world title in Harrow on Saturday) hit the nail on the head saying I would be better with activity and it is no surprise that I am.
“You need to be under the lights where it counts and it is a case of transferring at least half of what you do in the gym to the ring.
“The worst thing I did is fight Selby and not read the script. If I’d fought him and got knocked out, every man and his dog would have wanted me,” he reasoned, citing a recent potential parallel with Richard Commey, who dropped a split decision to Robert Easter jnr in a world lightweight title challenge last month . “A fighter on the world stage has just done the same in Commey – who is going to touch him or give him a voluntary?
“I became the same domestically, became a bad business fight. I didn’t have a promoter at the time and only got the Selby fight through my own doing. I had to put myself forward.”
Walsh is now a genuine force to be reckoned with, with his eyes firmly affixed in the direction of the featherweight top table, where he is utterly convinced he has what it takes to reserve a seat.
First though, he has a date in Denmark to contend with. A grafter on the football pitch as well as in the ring, Walsh knows full well the added satisfaction venturing onto someone else’s home patch and grabbing a win can bring.
The 27-year-old Ceylan is the holder of a presentable 17-0-1 record with eight KOs, but he hasn’t previously encountered anyone possessing the threat of redoubtable Ryan.
“I would agree with that,” he unsurprisingly concurred. “I am getting this one, it may be a 1,000 miles or something from home, but I am looking forward to it, I am looking forward to going into hostile territory and I think it will make it all the better.
“There is something sweeter about it. It will be a big thing, all the pressure is on him, there is none on me, I am the away fighter and the only pressure I ever get is from myself. I put too much on me because I like pressure.”
Despite occupying the away corner, Walsh is not anticipating too much in the way of verbals from the home support, who he suspects might just be drowned out by his own vociferous Norfolk following, with many having shelled out double bubble on tickets to support Liam the week before.
“No, I think the Danish fans are quite quiet, so the hundred or so Farmy Army we are taking with us will change all that. It is a phenomenal response we’ve had, considering it is a week after Liam’s fight.
“Liam has run out of tickets and cannot get enough, so loads are jumping onto mine. Since it got announced the buzz for it has been unbelievable and it’s not as if it is the most exotic place. I think it will bring good memories though and I am looking forward to the journey back because I will be with our fans. It should be brilliant.”
Walsh is now able to adopt a philosophical viewpoint of when he was Frustrated from Cromer, a time when his twin was on a ticket to ride, while he was in serious need of a kickstart.
What he wasn’t prepared to do was become the fodder to ignite the careers of others by accepting offers that put him on a hiding to nothing. If he was going to fight he was going to do it properly with prescribed preparation time.
“One hundred per cent I was in the wilderness. It took a long time to get that fight (vs Mouneimne) to happen as well and during that time I was probably the most disciplined I’d been in my whole life as I was around 10st 2lbs for over a year in anticipation of a date.
“Most fighters nowadays, when you are in that wilderness, you don’t get the preparation and get a three-weeks’ notice job. There’s nothing worse. I don’t think that should be allowed in boxing, although I know some fighters have done really well and turned it on.
“Unless I am preparing for a fight, that is never going to be an option for me because, although I do train all the time, there are two different weights for me. I need time to prepare and I like the time because this is a professional business and you want to give yourself the best chance.
“For that fight I was always ready, it was made three or four times and wherever I went – I even went to Vegas – I was training and it worked out well.”
Fate saw Walsh dealt the trump card of a British title after a hard-fought slog against a retreating Mouneimne. That it came via a split decision was hard on the aggressor and conductor of the contest, but perhaps it was par for the course after his two years of torment that he did not receive due credit for his efforts from all quarters.
Had he not played his cards right in the ring on that Wembley night, Walsh is pretty sure he would’ve gone bust in terms of further career opportunities at title level.
“Definitely, for my career, I agree. I do talk to my brothers a lot about things like that and I am lucky as far as opinions go, my brothers will give it to me straight and are the best people to have around me.
“An opinion is only worth how much you respect it, what you can draw from it. Having two brothers who are both fighters and good people, I draw from them – and vice-versa.
“It helps in situations where you don’t get the props or whatever. It is a tough business anyway and you’ve got to strive and just do your best.”
Strapping that Lonsdale belt around his waist seems to have had a similar effect on Walsh as a superhero donning his cape. The 30-year-old now carries the aura of a champion, he exudes confidence and has since displayed huge authority in the ring.
Darren Traynor had no defence to Walsh’s new found force in the champion’s first defence at York Hall in January, where he also enjoyed the kudos of being the headline act.
“I believe so, especially on that night because it was my first ever time being top of the bill. For me it was vindication, for everything I worked for, everything I do.
“I was champion and I should act like a champion. It definitely gave me confidence and you could see the result. I came into boxing to be the best, simple as that, I couldn’t be in it for anything else so these little steps helped me.
“It was a long time since I won a title, I think 2010 I won my English title, so it took me five years.
“It definitely had a psychological effect too and a physical effect in the sense that ‘everyone is here to see me, I’m the champ’ and that comes out in your training as well. I saw it with Liam from his Commonwealth to his British, I watched him get better.”
You get the sense from Walsh that he has no intention of ever doing anything easy. Perhaps as a result of his upbringing battling for supremacy as one of three ultra-competitive brothers or maybe the fact that nothing in his professional life has been presented to him on a plate, Walsh is accustomed to tough love and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Should he realise his ambition of becoming a world champion, he wants to defeat a top champion and not have the easiest avenue mapped out for him. To Walsh’s mind, too many world title routes are contrived and negotiated, as opposed to the becoming the man by beating the man.
“I chose the fights I’ve had because if you want to be a champion you want to beat the best. You can get away with it and be a world champion without beating the best – I don’t like that. I want to beat the best and know where I stand, I’d never be happy to say I was champion otherwise.
“In modern boxing you can be a world champion but don’t have to be the best. I don’t really get that and people have been found wanting recently in British boxing and just in general. I want to see the best fight the best, I want to fight the best and that is my whole thing.
“Being a world champion used to be a big thing because of how hard it was to get there. You don’t have to be the best now and therein lies the problem. I know for a fact with me and Liam, when it comes to fighting for a world title, we’ll have to fight the best.
“Sign me up. I will fight the best world champion because at the end of this career you want to look back and be proud.
“I’ve looked at my record recently and the start of it was all the normal and how can I be proud of that? In my title fights I’m happy and proud of it because in every one of them my opponent has got a big plus winning record.”
In his most recent defence, many were tipping a possible changing of the guard when Walsh squared up to his mandatory challenger, the Belfast banger James Tennyson. The 23-year-old ‘Assassin’ had clocked up 13 KO’s in his 16 wins and was viewed as the heir to the featherweight throne – by one bookmaker, at least.
“For a little bit he was! Paddy Power came out and made him favourite and I know a lot of people who made out of that!
“He was an unknown quantity because until they fight real fighters you never know how good they are. I was well, well prepared for Tennyson because I have sparred my older brother all my life and Michael was telling me things about that mentality and I understood the mentality of people who punch hard.
“So for me the biggest danger was the unknown, but with Michael the second you get in with him he is looking to take you out and I always sparred very well against that mentality.
“If you are coming to take my head off I am happy with that. I said to Michael that thanks to him I have been dealing with a banger my whole life.”
Ultimately, Tennyson had no answer to the seasoned stealth of the champion, who sent him to the canvas three times, with body shots proving the most potent weapon in bringing about a fifth round stoppage.
“I think there was a big gulf in experience. You can fight at a level against people and do what you want with them, but there are levels and stages and the jump between people who go backwards when you punch them and people who are still going to want to come and meet you is big.
“As much as I’m a counter-puncher, I’m not an out and out counter-puncher. I don’t mind going first to make something else happen.
“I am happy with the styles I’ve dealt with in my last few fights. With Samir, he’s gone on his back foot and tried to nick a British title going backwards. Then I’ve gone to two lads who wanted to knock my block off.
“You have to give him (Tennyson) his props as when it comes to a British title you want to be fighting the best. He was very, very confident and I read things prior to it. His trainer definitely underestimated me, saying I was an average British champion and Tennyson himself said I would be looking up at the stars.
“I remember using it as fuel and I would be a very hard person to knock out anyway because I don’t get hit that often because my whole focus is about making them miss.
“We’re all human and can get knocked out, but I have never even been down.”
One more defence and Walsh will get his treasured British belt for keeps, but for now it is about raising the British flag in European circles once more.
“As long as I do the job properly, I will be ranked across the board and will be able to start looking towards my dream, which is to become world champion. I like the way it is panning out with the little steps and the European is the next step.”
Brexit can wait for now, at least until a fierce trade in leather is completed in Denmark on October 15 and an EBU belt is exported to an address in Cromer.