TikToks from the Docks to the Wild Card – Callum Walsh Gambles on Himself

This time last year Callum Walsh was working on the docks in Cork.

On Friday night he will make his professional debut in Hollywood, California, with the legendary Freddie Roach in his corner.

The light middleweight southpaw will trade leather at the fancy Quiet Cannon Country Club on one of Tom Loeffler’s ‘Hollywood Fight Nights’ cards. Not too shabby.

2021 has been a year of taking chances and grasping opportunities for Walsh which he has detailed in true Hollywood fashion on his TikTok account.

@kingwalsh921

 

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♬ Still Into You Drill – SHO

With 85,000 followers and over 1.5million views, the 20-year-old is, by far, the biggest Irish boxer on the relatively new social media platform.

Of course, while he is a boxer that is big on social media, Walsh is not a ‘social media boxer’. A European Junior [under-16] gold medallist in 2017, the Cobh youngster won six underage Irish titles and, in his final amateur fight, was defeated by Aidan Walsh in the 2020 Elite final. The Belfast slickster, of course, used this maiden Elite title win as a platform which sent him on his way to winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics during the summer.

But social media glitz and Hollywood glam wasn’t always the plan for young Callum who actually began the year hoping that he would be the Walsh that represented Ireland in Japan.

Walsh, whose father Ian Buckley lives in California, travelled out to Los Angeles, via Tijuana, alongside fellow Corkonian Tommy Hyde at the start of the year. The plan was to train unencumbered by Irish lockdown laws in preparation for the 2021 Elites which, at one stage, looked likely to take place in the Springtime and would potentially offer passage to the last-chance Olympic qualifiers.

Aidan Walsh after beating Callum Walsh in the 2020 Elite final

However, as the pandemic progressed, neither the Irish Elites nor the last-chance Olympic qualifiers took place so Walsh took a different route. Rather than return home, he took a Wild Card gamble.

Having blagged a spar in the world-famous Hollywood gym, Walsh potentially changed his life.

“In the Wild Card they don’t care who you are, you have to earn that respect,” he explains to Irish-Boxing.com a few days out from his pro debut.

“The first day I went to the Wild Card I sparred six rounds, my first ever day. I went in the door and Freddie just went to me – ‘we spar Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Today is Wednesday. You’re sparring’.

“I’d only two weeks done down in Tijuana, I’d done about four sparring sessions, max three rounds. I wasn’t even near my best, I was probably at about fifty percent going in there.”

It didn’t matter, though, as those six rounds with 15-0-1 pro Blair ‘The Flair’ Cobbs were enough to convince Hall of Famer Roach to take Walsh under his wing.

Walsh, his father, and Freddie Roach

“It was after the first time I’d sparred!” he recalls.

“Freddie had only 12 boxers in his stable, they had the whole rest of the Wild Card closed because of COVID. Marie [Spivey], which is Freddie’s personal assistant, she just let me come one day for sparring and, after I’d sparred, Freddie was just like ‘you can stay’.

“When I first came here I was only planning on coming for five weeks. I’ve been here 10 months now. I’m just waiting for my green card at the moment, whenever I get my documents for that I can come and go whenever I please. I’m nearly there now.”

In the time since linking up with Roach, Walsh has seen two debut dates fall through. First, in August, due to a licensing delay and then, in September, due to a fight week opponent withdrawal. While frustrating, it hasn’t been wasted time for the young Rebel who has had had quite the pro education.

@kingwalsh921

 

Very sorry to anyone who was looking forward to it ##boxing ##foryou ##viral

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“It’s sink or swim – and I feel better for it,” Walsh says of the dog-eat-dog gym.

“I was thrown straight in there, doing six rounds, and now I do six or eight rounds every week, three days a week. Right now I can do eight, ten rounds, no bother, but when I first got there it was just hard to try keep the pace up.

“You get thrown in with everybody. I’ve sparred with everybody in the Wild Card, from 147lbs all the way up to 200lbs, I’ve sparred with everyone. Just knowing that I can get in there with anyone and hold my own, do very well with bigger men, that’s great for my confidence.

“I’m ready to fight. I haven’t fought in two years but it’s not like I haven’t ‘fought’ because sparring in the Wild Card is like a fight. I’m fighting three times a week, really, when you think of it. It’s not easy sparring. One of my coaches who’s here, Marvin [Somodio], I was saying to him last week that I hadn’t fought in two years and he was like ‘you fight three times a week!’

@kingwalsh921

 

Will I post my training routine? ##foryou ##viral ##boxing

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“So I don’t think there’ll be any ring rust, to be honest. Maybe just in front of the crowd, maybe, that there’ll be a small bit of nerves, maybe. It’s an important fight, like, it’s my pro debut. I want everything to go well. I don’t usually get nervous before a fight. But as far as ring rust, I don’t think there’ll be any. I’m feeling in the best shape of my life, I’m just ready to fight. I’m very sharp as well, at the moment. Ten months training, I’d have to be. And it’s been flat out as well for ten months.”

Things move fast in the fight game and while turning pro on the West Coast has been his and his father’s plan for years, 2021 was never the plan and one thing in particular pains the now-former Riverstown boxer.

Walsh admits that “I didn’t expect to go this early but then, with COVID and when everything closed off… agh… I could have waited until 2024 and the Olympics, I suppose, I could have tried, but I didn’t want to wait that long either.

“I wanted to bring an Elite title to Riverstown, to Teddy and Brian Barry, just to have an Elite title in the club but it wasn’t to be.”

Walsh and the Barrys

While he knows hypotheticals mean nothing, Walsh feels he would have won the most recent Elites which played out in October just gone, noting how he stopped the eventual 2021 champion in the 2020 edition.

“I watched the Elites and I think it was three of the finalists I was after beating.

“I beat Eugene McKeever, Luke Maguire, and I boxed Brandon McCarthy when I was Boy 2 or something. So there was a lot of the finalists that I was after having wins over. I thought I could have won an Elite title handy enough but I’m happy over here as a professional.”

While he now finds himself working with one of the biggest brains in boxing in Roach, it hasn’t been a case of forgetting the skills he learnt under the Barrys at Riverstown.

“I’ve adjusted to the pro style very well but I try to mix it up,” Walsh describes. “I try to bring my amateur style into it.

“I change it up all the time, even when I’m sparring, I’ll box four rounds on my toes, boxing and moving, and then I’ll try the next four rounds just standing down, working on that sort of stuff. I have adapted to it really well, though, because I had no other choice, I was just thrown in.

“Freddie’s a very good coach, he’s helped me adapt to the pro style as well, he’s helped a lot.”

Most notably Walsh was chief sparring partner for Gabe Rosado ahead of the Philly veteran’s win over Bektemir Melikuziev – both a KO and Upset of the Year contender.

Post-Pacquiao, the Wild Card is in transition with a number of rising talents looking to make their names. For Walsh it means there’s been plenty of work with the likes of Cobbs, Ivan Redkach, Eimantas Stanionis, Elvis Rodriguez, Raul Curiel, and even UFC star Tony Ferguson.

“There is a lot of prospects and I think I’m the youngest fighter that Freddie has,” Walsh outlines. “There’s a lot of competition, we’re all pushing each other. It’s good for that. We’re all trying to keep up with each other.

“Committing to being a full-time athlete time helps a lot. You just have time to train three times a day. You wake up in the morning, you train, you come home, you train again, you can train as much as you want, pretty much.

“I’ve Freddie and then I’ve a strength and conditioning coach. There’s like five different coaches there [at the Wild Card] that I can do different things with. It’s all in-house. We’ve everything in the Wild Card, they’ve a full gym set-up there. We’ve all the personal trainers, the gear, it’s ideal, to be honest.”

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Callum 🇮🇪 (@callum_walsh1)

While he was a noted puncher in the amateurs, Walsh believes he will be a different animal once he steps in the pro ring.

“It’s two years since I last fought – and I was knocking people out two years ago,” he points out. “I’m a twenty-year-old grown man now. I’m feeling very strong, the strongest I’ve ever felt in my life.

“Even when I was hitting pads, I was hitting the pads last Wednesday with Freddie, and he said to me after ‘you’re hitting very hard’ and he said to my strength and conditioning coach, he was laughing, saying ‘he’s hitting very hard. For Friday, for his last spar, we’re going to have to tie up his left hand!’ I’m hurting people sparring, and that’s with 14oz gloves.”

Along with his power, Walsh’s popularity is growing, too. Most notably on TikTok.

He laughs when this is put to him and notes how “at the moment I’m the biggest Irish boxer on TikTok but I’m trying to get bigger. I’ve friends over here in Hollywood and they’ve crazy amounts of followers. One of my good friends here has 20 million followers or something. It’s crazy. It’s like their job, just posting videos. They’re making a lot of money.”

@kingwalsh921

 

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“Like, to be honest, when I first started, I just started it as a joke, I just started it messing around. Then I started gaining followers and I was like ‘shit, I better just start posting about boxing on this’ because I was just posting random stuff and then I changed to just posting boxing stuff.”

“I want to be known as a professional boxer and I want to get these followers to start following me for boxing. Since I started doing that I’ve actually gained followers, I’m on something like 85 thousand now or something. There’s like a billion people on it.”

“It helps with sponsorship, if you’ve a lot of followers, a lot of people looking at your stuff, companies will want you to promote them. I’m actually learning a lot out here about marketing myself.”

Marketing himself is exactly what Walsh will have to do. While there have been a couple of big players sniffing around, the Munster youngster starts his pro career under the guidance of his father.

With Tom Loeffler

While he’s been rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest in the game, Walsh won’t have anything handed to him – and that’s exactly what he wants.

“I’m not signing with anybody yet,” he explains. “I’m just going to try to build my record and myself.”

“I’m not in a rush to sign. I could sign with someone now and get a shitty contract whereas if I just take my time, build my own record – I won’t have anyone funding me and I won’t be making proper money – but if I just take that risk and build to 10-0, I could get a very good contract off somebody else.”

“You have to just grind, that’s what I’m going to try and do and that’s what I want to do, build my record and get a better deal.”

It all starts this Friday night, with local journeyman Earl Henry [0-4(2)-1] the first in line.

At the Quiet Canon Country Club Walsh will weigh-in in swanky Kill Crew gear he has received via TikTok, Freddie Roach will be in the corner, Wild Card fighters will be in the crowd cheering but, when the fight is over and done with, there won’t be much money changing hands.

There’s some glamour but, for the moment, like a lot of Hollywood, it’s largely superficial.

So, why are Walsh and his father investing all this in the most precarious of sports?

Simple.

“I just know what I’m capable of and what I can do.”

Callum Walsh is sponsored by Edenavow Construction & Design, Smarttech247, and West Capital Lending

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie