Promoters see Callum Walsh as heir to St. Patrick’s Day crown in New York City
From the likes of John Duddy to Irish Olympic hero Michael Conlan, Madison Square Garden has a long history of inviting Irish boxing stars to top the bill at the world’s most famous arena on or around St. Patrick’s Day, satisfying fans who like to sprinkle in some boxing with the usual revelry surrounding one of the most iconic days on New York City’s calendar.
Promoter Tom Loeffler and executives at The Garden, alongside none other than UFC President Dana White, believe 22-year-old Callum Walsh is the man who will reign over this holiday for the next decade to come.
Walsh (8-0, 7 knockouts) from Cork, Ireland, and now living and training out of Hollywood, California, will face Ismael Villarreal as the main event at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden on November 9. The date is significant because it is two days before the UFC takes over New York for the blockbuster Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic heavyweight title fight in the big room at The Garden. The UFC Fight Pass streaming service will carry Walsh’s bout as well as a bevy of cross-promotional material during fight week for both events. White’s Howler Head whiskey is also a sponsor of Walsh, as White has personally taken an interest in developing the Irishman into not only a champion but also a household name in combat sports.
“I believe I can be the new face of Irish boxing,” Walsh told The Ring this week at a small gathering in New York, alongside Duddy and Gerry Cooney and the FDNY boxing team that came to support Walsh the day after he visited the 9/11 memorial and a nearby firehouse that lost members that day.
“The time is now to fight in New York City, because many people are following me now and they know I take real fights,” Walsh added. “Look at my opponents. No one with my record or age would fight these guys, and I am not only fighting them, I am also knocking them out.”
Walsh’s arrival in America resembles another one of Loeffler’s fighters who kicked the door open upon arriving Stateside and found superstardom. Similar to Gennady Golovkin, who arrived at Abel Sanchez’s gym with one bag looking for a coach, Walsh innocently walked up to the famed Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, knocked on the door and told Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach that he needed a gym to train at.
“Freddie said, ‘OK, but you have to spar right now,’” Walsh recalled. “After that, he said, ‘OK, you can come back tomorrow.’” That sparring session was with veteran Blair Cobbs. Since then, Walsh and Roach have been inseparable, and Roach took the youngster to Loeffler and asked for a spot on one of his popular 360 Promotions cards in California.
“I loved everything I saw with Callum,” Loeffler said. “I knew he had something and his fighting style would make him a crowd favorite immediately. When Freddie said this is one of the best young fighters he ever worked with, that’s all we really needed to know.”
Loefller and Roach took Walsh to White, who has some experience building Irish fighters into superstars, such as Conor McGregor. A partnership was formed to feature Walsh prominently on UFC Fight Pass and give him the brightest exposure possible.
“The plan is not only to have Callum headline The Garden every St. Patrick’s Day, but also to have him fight here multiple times throughout the year,” Loeffler added.
“Dana is very excited about it, and once we knew UFC was coming to New York in November, we circled this date on the calendar. MSG is ready for another Irish star, so it seems everything is coming together for the November date. Callum is ready to carry the flag for Ireland, especially here.”
Loeffler believes Walsh’s level of competition has him further along than other junior middleweight prospects such as Xander Zayas, and the possibility of matching them up in the future is mouthwatering.
“I have done a lot of work with Top Rank and respect the work they did to build Xander, and I am confident if we keep building both their profiles, we can have a blockbuster main event in the future at MSG,” Loeffler said excitedly.
All but one of Walsh’s professional bouts have been in California, with the lone exception being this past St. Patrick’s Day in Boston. In August, Walsh and Loeffler were both in Boston to witness Sean O’Malley knock out Aljamain Sterling to capture the UFC bantamweight title.
“That was the loudest I heard any crowd, ever,” Walsh said. “Since then, I cannot stop thinking about what would happen if I get a win like that and they all cheer for me.”
Most recently, Walsh looked very impressive forcing Juan Jose Velasco to quit after the fourth round of their bout this past August at the Commerce Casino in California.
“Every time I get in the ring with someone, I am trying to hurt them,” Walsh said emphatically. “It’s either them or me. I pictured the ring as a coliseum and we as Roman gladiators. I watch Troy and Gladiator before my fights, because I feel it is like life or death in there.”