When you are the grandson of Muhammad Ali, they are out to get you. In sparring, in contests, boxers want to make a point when they lay their gloves on you.
Nico Ali Walsh has not been mollycoddled as a fighter just because his grandfather was the legendary Muhammad Ali. Quite the reverse.
“My first sparring match ever I got totally beat up because they knew who I was. I never said who I was. Word travels somehow and it’s quick,” Ali Walsh told Sky Sports.
“Everyone wants to knock out an Ali. So I felt that, like I said, my first time ever sparring in a boxing gym. I felt that, so I’m used to it at this point.
“Everyone I face, especially in a professional ring, I face the best versions of themselves. Every one of my opponents so far, I’ve seen their tape before the fight and then I watch their tape in my fight after we fight. I’m like that’s their best version of themselves.
“That’s how it is every single time, they just prepare because they want to be able to beat an Ali, I guess. So I’m prepared for that and it’s funny how that works. But I’m ready.”
He never let that dissuade him though. “When I first went into boxing I already had that pressure. I already had that harder road, I would say. So I never saw what the easy road was,” Ali Walsh said.
“I’ve never had that easy road. I’ve never had it in the gym where people are going easy on me because of my grandfather. They’re always going harder. So I’ve had that hard road the whole time so I think it’s just made me strong.”
He expects the same when he fights Billy Wagner on the undercard of Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Jamaine Ortiz at the Madison Square Garden Theater, live on Sky Sports in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“I believe everyone has the potential to be dangerous but at the level that I’m working at training-wise no one that I fight right now will be able to put up with what I’m training with,” Ali Walsh warned.
“I really believe that how you train is how you fight. I’m training for Mike Tyson right now. I’m going to need that level of ferocity on fight night and if I don’t see it, it’s going to be an easy night.”
His heritage of course brings opportunity and profile. The legacy of his grandfather is something Ali Walsh thinks deeply about. He has also learned to embrace it.
“It’s so important to me. No one will fully understand what it means to me. It’s such an important legacy,” he said.
“A lot of people mention compartmentalising and stuff like that helps them, for me it’s the opposite. I think about the legacy and that motivates me. I think about the added pressure of course. All the pressure, everything that comes with the legacy, the expectation, all that. It actually motivates me and it sets a fire in me. When I’m not thinking about it. I feel like I have no guide. That’s my guide in boxing. That’s my light that I’m going towards so it really does motivate me.
Live Fight Night International
Sunday 30th October 1:00am
“Since my pro debut I’ve really worked towards just embracing the name, the legacy and everything that comes with it. I need to keep doing that because I tried running from it before and it doesn’t work. You can’t run from what you’re destined to do.”
In his own way Ali Walsh wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. He has boxed in Atlanta, where famously Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame. This weekend he returns to Madison Square Garden, where Ali began his epic trilogy with Joe Frazier. He wants his journey through boxing to take him to Britain in the near future as well.
“You will definitely be seeing me fight in the UK and I want to say soon, hopefully it’ll be next year. It’s got to be. Because the UK was so important to my grandfather,” he said. “I’d love to recreate history in a way.
“I would not be able to follow in his footsteps if I don’t fight in the UK,” he added. “Everyone knows this in the world – the UK’s got the best boxing fans in the world so I’d love to feel that energy.”
Nico Ali Walsh boxes on the Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Jamaine Ortiz undercard, live on Sky Sports Arena at 1am on Sunday morning.