If it seems like Ireland’s Callum Walsh is everywhere these days, your mind isn’t playing tricks on you.
Just 21 years old and three fights into a pro career that continues this Thursday at the Quiet Cannon Country Club in Montebello, California, Walsh has seen write-ups from around the boxing world, he’s fighting regularly on UFC Fight Pass, the MMA promoter’s streaming service, and he even had an open media workout recently.
Before his fourth fight.
Yet while such levels of attention this soon could rattle a young man far removed from his home and training in Hollywood or, at the very least, cause his ego to get overblown, Walsh is as cool as can be in the eye of the hurricane.
“I'm all right,” said Walsh. “This is all I've ever wanted since I was a child. This is where I wanted to be my whole life and now that I'm doing it, I love it, to be honest. I'm enjoying it.”
So no reading of his press clippings?
“I try to stay away from it,” he said. “All the interviews I do, I don't even read them or watch them back; I just concentrate on the fight. I just answer the phone in the morning and do these and I go train after.”
That kind of Spartan existence will serve any fighter well, but especially one with the upside of the Cork native, who went to California to visit his father and get some work in to aid with his quest to make a run at getting a spot on the Irish Olympic team. But after sparring on his first day in Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym, everything changed.
“I still had an amateur style, so I started off very fast and the first two rounds I was throwing a lot of punches and I got so tired,” recalled Walsh of that Wednesday of sparring. “And by the fifth and six rounds, I was dead. But when it was over, Freddie said, ‘If you want to stay, you can. I want to train you.’”
In this sport, when Freddie Roach talks, people listen. And just like that, Walsh was staying and deciding that the pros were a better fit for him than the amateurs. He made his debut last December, scoring the first of three opening round knockouts. On one hand, what a perfect way to start a career; on the other, is he getting the work he needs to take his career to the next level? Walsh believes he is.
“If I can just keep going in there and knocking people out in the first round and having easy fights and being able to just get straight back into training, that's what I'll keep doing,” he said. “I get enough sparring and enough rounds every week, and in the Wild Card I'm sparring with world champions, so I think if I can keep knocking people out in the first round that would be great.”
And there’s Roach, the wild card (pardon the pun) of the equation.
“His knowledge is crazy,” said Walsh of his coach. “It's unbelievable. When I first came here, I knew how to box, but I had a very amateur style compared to the pros. There was a lot of stuff that I needed to learn, and I couldn't ask for anyone better than Freddie Roach to be teaching me the ways of the professional style.”
Walsh, who recently sparred with rising star Vergil Ortiz, Jr., is even getting work in with a fighter respected in another form of combat sports, former interim UFC lightweight champion Tony Ferguson. And yes, “El Cucuy” has been showing Walsh some moves.
“We do train MMA, so he does teach me how to throw elbows and kicks and a little jiu-jitsu and stuff like that,” said Walsh. “It's always good to know it, just in case.”
Just in case he wants to cross the street in MMA?
“For now, boxing is my main priority, but maybe someday down the line, if the opportunity was there, maybe I would fight in the UFC,” Walsh said.
It’s an intriguing prospect, and one that could have crossover star-making implications for Walsh, who has been developing a fanbase not just in his chosen craft, but in MMA, thanks to his fights being aired on UFC Fight Pass and his friendship with Ferguson. Oh yeah, UFC President Dana White has taken a liking to the Irishman, who was brought to Las Vegas to meet White by Walsh’s promoter, Tom Loeffler.
“Dana really liked Callum and saw a lot of similarities between the success he had with Conor McGregor and the potential with Callum being only 21 years old and being trained by Freddie Roach, and naturally we're pushing him on the promotional side,” said Loeffler. “So that's when it fell into place when we went to Callum's first UFC event, and the fans embraced him there, and when I took him to Madison Square Garden for the Katie Taylor (vs Amanda Serrano) fight, and a lot of the Irish fans recognized him from the amateurs. When we went up to the weigh-in, a lot of people were calling his name, and so it's just kind of a natural blend between the UFC fan base and the boxing fan base, and that's what we want to capitalize on, now that he's fighting on Fight Pass and getting a lot of marketing and publicity support from the UFC social media - not just Fight Pass social media, but the main UFC social media is gonna be dedicated to Callum's fight on Thursday, and that's gonna give him exposure to a very broad fanbase in addition to all the boxing publicity that we're doing for him.”
All the pieces are seemingly in place for Callum Walsh to become a star in the coming years. So what does the “King” have to do?
Win. And that’s been the easy part, which tells you the potential the kid has.
“Fight night is the easiest part,” Walsh said. “The hard work is all done the weeks before. And I love it. I've always loved to fight, and when I'm in there, I know I have one job to do, and that's win, and after I land the first couple of shots, it's a good feeling. In my three fights, once I landed the shot, I knew straight away; I could see it in their eyes that I was hurting them and I knew it was gonna be an early night, and there's not much better than that, really.”