GROWING up in Montego Bay, Jamaica, surrounded by a troop of fellow young males with energy to burn, Nicholas Walters was always going to have opportunities to try out his boxing skills from an early age. Add to this the fact that his father, Job Walters, was a professional boxer, and you begin to realise that it was almost predestined that he would go on to become a fighter.
“There were 10 boys in our household, so there were a lot of fights!” Walters remembers with a chuckle. “I had my two brothers and lots of male cousins, so I’d often put the gloves on and punch with them. We weren’t the wealthiest, but we had a lot of love in our family, so I had a great time as a kid.
“I remember my dad doing his boxing training – his skipping and shadow-boxing. From a very young age, I wanted to learn how he skipped and performed these movements. When I saw him in the ring, it interested me and I wanted to do the same. That’s where it all started for me.”
Walters’ father carved out a solid pro career in the mid-80s and early 90s, fighting predominantly in the Jamaican capital Kingston, and on America’s East Coast. Competing in the featherweight division as his son does now, Job shared a ring with John John Molina twice, Rafael Ruelas and Kevin Kelley, who would all go on to win world crowns. Additionally, he also registered a victory over Bernardo Pinango, who had previously reigned as WBA king at bantamweight and super-bantam.
As well as looking up to his father as a role model in the squared circle, Nicholas also appreciated the pugilistic exploits of other Jamaican fighters who were active when he was breaking into the fight game as a youngster.
“Boxing was more prevalent back then in Jamaica than it is today, as there were more promoters in the country in those days,” Walters recalls in his percussive Caribbean lilt. “I admired guys like [former Commonwealth flyweight champion and WBC title challenger] Richard ‘Shrimpy’ Clarke and [three-weight world titlist] Mike McCallum when I was growing up. As I got older and became more involved in boxing, I started watching the likes of [two-division world ruler] Simon Brown and [ex-IBF light-heavyweight belt-holder] Glen Johnson, who has since become a close friend of mine.”
The current dearth of Jamaican promotional companies to which Walters refers served as the reason why many of his cousins who originally took part in the sport eventually chose to pursue other vocations – something which Nicholas considers a real shame.
“I used to have a number of cousins who boxed, but as there aren’t many managers or promoters in the country, a lot of fighters tend to stray away from the ring, which is a pity for Jamaican boxing as a whole,” Walters opines. “I have a brother [also named Nicholas Walters] who used to fight, but he’s stopped now too. Thankfully, my other brother [Oraine Walters] is currently a good amateur boxer in Jamaica. He’s very talented and he’s thinking of going pro this year. My cousin, [7-2-3 flyweight] Rudolph Hedge, is already a professional.”
Despite the lack of chances available to fighters based in Jamaica, Walters was nonetheless still able to enjoy a fruitful amateur career, albeit one where he did not see action as often as he would have liked. “I spent a number of years as an amateur but only had around 59 fights,” the 28-year-old points out. “As an amateur in Jamaica, bouts don’t come as frequently as they do elsewhere in the world. An amateur in a lot of other countries will probably have around three or four fights per month, maybe even two per week, but in Jamaica, it’s more like two per year. I still managed to gain some good experience, though.
“I fought in most of the major international competitions. The only big event that I didn’t compete in was the Olympics. I went to the 2007 World championships in Chicago and I was a bronze medallist along with [former IBF and WBA Super world feather boss] Yuriorkis Gamboa at the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia. I earned a gold medal [by defeating current interim WBA 126lb title-holder Jesus Cuellar] at the 2007 Pan American Games qualifiers in Trinidad and Tobago, which allowed me to participate at the Pan Am finals in Brazil later that year, where I lost to the Cuban [Idel Torriente], who was the eventual gold medallist. I also boxed at the 2006 Commonwealths in Australia.”
Upon deciding to turn pro in early 2008, Walters was advised by his manager, Jacques Deschamps, to base himself in Panama – a renowned boxing hotbed where all-time greats such as Nicaragua’s Alexis Arguello and Puerto Rican Wilfredo Gomez had trained for periods during the early stages of their careers. Not only did the move massively increase the options available to Walters in the fight business, it also enabled him to sample top-quality training and sparring, which helped him to enhance his technique and broaden his all-round arsenal.
“Training in Panama was a very good choice for me, because there are a lot of top fighters in and around my weight division in the country,” Walters states. “I’ve sparred quality boxers like Anselmo Moreno, Celestino Caballero, Ricardo Cordoba, Vicente Mosquera and Rafael Concepcion. Panama has produced around 30 world champions – it’s a great school for boxing. You only have to look at the likes of Hall of Famer Roberto Duran to realise that.
I immediately had to adapt to the Panamanian style, which helped me improve my game.”
Working under the stewardship of renowned Panamanian coach Celso Chavez at the Pedro Alcazar Gym in Curundú, a district of Panama City, Walters has added finesse and poise to his God-given physical attributes, such as his significant size and reach at featherweight. In addition to the fearsome power he carries in both fists, the rangy boxer-puncher launches accurate and composed combinations. He possesses speed, technical proficiency, an effective jab and a killer instinct, plus the patience to adhere to a specific game plan. He demonstrated these qualities perfectly on a landmark night in Kingston just over two years ago, when he became the first ever Jamaican to win a world title on home soil. Nicholas scored three knockdowns and stopped Daulis Prescott in the seventh round to claim the vacant WBA world featherweight championship.
“There were a few Jamaican fighters before me who tried to make history [by securing a world strap in their native land], but they weren’t able to do it,” Walters remarks. “The added pressure of fighting at home wasn’t an issue. In fact, I didn’t feel any pressure, as I knew that I’d worked really hard for the fight, and when you put the hard work in, you’re going to see success.
“It was great to have all the crowd behind me, as I usually fight on the road [the bout – his most recent in Jamaica – was only his second pro contest in the country, with most of his outings being held in Panama]. I wanted to give my people a historic event. I not only wanted to give them a victory, I also wanted to give them a knockout or stoppage, so the fans would go home and say, ‘Not only is he a champion, but he also produces excitement.’ It was the same thing in the Nonito Donaire fight [just under two years later]. I knew that if I was able to stop him, it would be something that my countrymen could talk about for years to come. No one had ever dropped Nonito, let alone stopped him, but I managed to do both.”
Heading into the Donaire clash which Walters mentions, the “Axe Man” had made two eye-catching defences of his WBA belt against Alberto Garza (rsf 4) and dangerous two-weight world champ Vic Darchinyan (ko 5). Nevertheless, Nonito represented a considerable leap up in class for Nicholas. However, Walters’ belief in himself never faltered, even after being rocked by a clean left hook at the end of the second round. He responded in emphatic style by forcing Donaire to the canvas with a flush right uppercut in the next session, before capping a breakout performance with another knockdown following a crisp right hand in the sixth, which led the referee to halt proceedings.
“Going into the fight, Nonito was the WBA Super world featherweight champion, and he’d held world titles in three other weight categories also,” Walters specifies. “He had a lot more experience than me and many big-name opponents under his belt. I was aware that it wasn’t going to be easy, but there was no doubt in my mind that I could beat him. I knew I was going to be the bigger man physically on the night, but being the more intelligent man was the most important thing. I’m very confident in my team. We worked out a smart game plan, I stuck to it and got the stoppage.”
After toppling Donaire in such devastating fashion to move to 25-0 (21) and cement his position as the WBA’s premier featherweight, Walters immediately found himself with a huge target on his chest – it is a fact of life that when you are at the top, you are there to be shot at.
“The other featherweights all want what I’ve got [the WBA Super world crown], but I’m here to stay,” Walters declares. “I’m not a champion who’s going to just put my belt in my house and look at it like a souvenir. I’m a champion who’s ready to put my title on the line against anyone.
“I don’t like sitting around – I like fighting. I want to give the fans entertaining performances. A lot of guys want the opportunity to fight me, but I’m not afraid to give them that opportunity. I’m open and willing to face whoever feels like they can take the ‘Axe Man’.”
Considering WBO leader Vasyl Lomachenko and IBF chief Evgeny Gradovich both share a promoter with Walters in American powerhouse Top Rank, Nicholas could well receive the chance to unify titles at 126lbs this year, although he is setting himself even loftier goals than this.
“I think I’m the best featherweight in the world, but I want to make everyone else believe that too,” says Walters. “I want to dominate the division and then move up to a higher weight class and dominate there also. At the end of my career, I want people to remember me as one of the all-time greats. I’m in this sport to fight the best and beat the best.”