WHILE lightweight Ryan Walsh has never been one to fight on emotion, he concedes it is considerably easier preparing to punch the face of someone he dislikes than it is preparing to punch the face of someone he likes.
This reality hit home when meeting his next opponent, Maxi Hughes, at the press conference to announce their March 26 fight in Leeds. But, of course, the erudite Walsh knew it already.
“It’s always easier fighting someone you have genuine animosity towards,” he told Boxing News. “If you thought the person was a nob, it’s easier to deal with what you have to train to do. But Maxi isn’t a nob. He’s actually one of the most likeable lads in boxing. Anyone who wasn’t happy when he won his (IBO lightweight) title against (Jovanni) Straffon, doesn’t understand boxing and isn’t a very nice person.”
Very much a case of needs must, Walsh, at 35, knows his fight against Hughes next month could be his last shot on the big stage. It is for this reason he can – and will – look past any sentiment.
“It won’t be difficult because the prize is so good,” he said. “But it’s definitely easier training for someone who has been disrespectful to you. The last time I had that was probably [Isaac] Lowe, but even then, when it came to the fight, I didn’t fight on emotion or anything. I’m just not like that. I just think, in the end, it’s nicer punching someone you don’t like than it is punching someone you really like.”
What also makes Hughes vs Walsh such a compelling fight, in domestic terms, is the fact that Walsh has not only sparred Hughes in the past but has also watched, from the corner, his twin brother, Liam, outbox Hughes in 2019.
“His rise from that fall has been phenomenal,” Walsh said. “I saw him in the carpark after the fight – there were only about 10 of us there – and he had pretty much retired. But then he turned it all around and you’ve got to admire that. That shows a remarkable level of persistence and resilience. Fair play to him. He has definitely improved since Liam’s fight, more mentally than anything.”
Recalling that 10-rounder between Hughes and his brother, Ryan struggles to explain why Liam found it so straightforward. Ultimately, though, he feels it probably came down to talent.
“Liam was two years out of the ring [2017 to 2019] and had only had a warm-up fight against a guy [Reynaldo Cajina] who threw himself over,” he said. “It was just a talent thing in the end. Liam Walsh is the most talented boxer to come out of Norfolk, hands down. I’m not saying he’s the most successful, we’ll give that to Herbie [Hide], and I’m not saying he’s the most loved, we’ll give that to Jon [Thaxton]. But, in terms of talent alone, no one comes close to Liam Walsh.”
The next Hughes vs Walsh fight will no doubt be different, of course. After all, Ryan, despite many similarities, is not his brother, Liam, nor for that matter is Maxi Hughes the same Maxi Hughes who came up short in 2019.
“He went into the fight with Liam knowing Liam was better than him, whereas he goes into this fight thinking he’s better than me,” Walsh said. “That’s the difference. He has a different mind frame, he’s on a winning streak, and he is in a completely different place this time around.”
Having watched him both up close and from afar, Walsh, 27-3-2 (12), remains as good a judge of Hughes as anybody.
“He doesn’t do a lot bad,” he said. “He’s really well-rounded and he’s getting better. His jab’s very good, he can change a little bit, and he can move. But talent is one of those things you can’t really teach. It comes down to speed and IQ. He hasn’t got the greatest talent to look at, but for all-round skill, if you compare where he was in that fight with Liam to where he is now, you have to give a lot of credit to Maxi and also his trainer, Sean O’Hagan. Whatever they’ve been doing, it’s working.”
It has been working up to now, that is. In facing another Walsh brother, however, Hughes will be only too aware that his latest five-fight winning run is in danger of being remembered for starting following a loss to a Walsh and then ending with a loss to a Walsh.
“Undoubtedly my experience, speed and IQ will play their part,” Walsh said. “But the biggest thing in this fight is mentality. Maxi has been the B-side fighter his whole career and this is the first time he’s been the A-side fighter. He wasn’t meant to be here. He wasn’t meant to do this. One minute he’s working on a [building] site, the next he’s winning titles, which is lovely to hear, but I’ve been possessed by this sport for 21 years. That will be the difference.
“I’m not just hoping to win this fight, I’m expecting to win this fight. If you work hard enough at anything, you’ll be successful. It’s beyond hope. It’s inevitable. Hard work conquers all. Water isn’t stronger than a rock, it breaks it because of its persistence. I’ve been very persistent in my career and I know how hard I’m still working. A lot of things make me confident beyond hope. It’s written as well. This is no accident.”