The last time Ismael Villarreal fought an unbeaten opponent in Villarreal’s hometown of New York, the Bronx native knocked out LeShawn Rodriguez in the sixth round of what was a competitive contest.
Villarreal expects another difficult fight against Callum Walsh on Thursday night. He is again very motivated, this time to knock the Irish southpaw off the fast track toward becoming a legitimate contender in the 154-pound division.
“This is not a easy fight,” Villarreal told BoxingScene.com. “It’s a hard fight, so kudos to him for taking this fight. Anything can happen. I can mess up a lotta plans. You know, so I’m going in there doing my job, what I have to do. I’m ready to fight.”
This 10-round junior middleweight match between Walsh (8-0, 7 KOs) and Villarreal (13-1, 9 KOs) will headline a seven-bout card that will be streamed by ufcfightpass.com from The Theater at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. EDT; $9.99 per month). Tom Loeffler, Walsh’s promoter, hopes to build the 22-year-old prospect into an attraction, first at The Theater and then the bigger venue upstairs, Madison Square Garden.
This is thus just the type of opportunity Villarreal realizes he needs to exploit if the full-time physical therapy rehabilitation technician wants to devote all of his time and energy to boxing training.
“That [Rodriguez] fight, coming in as the underdog, to be able to get that win was a big statement,” said Villarreal, who is promoted by Kathy Duva’s Main Events. “And it felt good being the underdog and people having doubts. It was a motivation, and this fight is no different. It’s basically the same thing. I’m coming in as the underdog against another undefeated fighter and I’m ready to fight.”
Villarreal dropped Rodriguez (then 13-0) twice before he won by sixth-round technical knockout in July 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Walsh, who is trained by International Boxing Hall-of-Famer Freddie Roach, is listed as a 5-1 favorite by DraftKings sportsbook. The 26-year-old Villarreal, however, is the most formidable full-fledged junior middleweight Walsh has been matched against since the decorated amateur made his pro debut in December 2021.
The powerful Walsh stopped Argentinean veteran Juan Jose Velasco after four one-sided rounds in his last fight, which occurred August 26 at The Commerce Casino & Hotel in Commerce, California. Velasco (24-5, 15 KOs) is 36, though, and has mostly competed as a junior welterweight and welterweight in nine years as a pro.
Villarreal’s lone loss was a 10-round split decision to undefeated Ardreal Holmes Jr. in a fight Showtime televised February 17 as part of its “ShoBox: The New Generation” prospect series from Stormont Vail Event Center in Topeka, Kansas. Holmes (14-0, 5 KOs), a southpaw from Flint, Michigan, defeated Villarreal on the scorecards of judges Nick Berens (96-94) and David Sutherland (97-93), but judge Karen Holderfield scored Villarreal a 96-94 winner.
Villarreal still feels he needs to do much more Thursday night to upset Walsh.
“I believe I lost,” Villarreal said of his fight with Holmes. “I know I could have performed better, but there was a lot of inconveniences going on before the fight. That’s something that I’ll keep with me, personally, but I definitely lost that fight. And there’s no shame in losing a fight. It’s just I learned from that fight and I keep moving forward.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.