Where would ‘Waldo’ be? Lamenting the early retirement of Irish boxing’s Eric Cantona

Just like French footballing legend Eric Cantona, most argue Dee Walsh said ‘au revoir’ too soon.

Like the footballer that wore the Manchester United crest on a famously pushed out chest, the Belfast fighter exited his sport young and after securing domestic dominance.

However, the comparisons between ‘Waldo’ and ‘King Eric’ don’t end there.

Walsh’s first Cantona connections came when he entered the ring to fight Terry Maughan in a unique gown with a flicked up collar before producing a performance that had a lot in common with the mercurial French footballing genius’ displays.

Like Cantona, Walsh was the perfect mix of spite and flair as he claimed the Irish light middleweight title in just his tenth pro fight – and did so while displaying that kind of captivating arrogance that made King Eric famous.

In truth, the St James’s fighter was always expected to beat Maughan, but the manner in which he did it cemented his status as a unique prospect.

It was panache and power, confidence with class and so stylish it made the Devenish Complex ring look like a Paris catwalk.

Misreading the Boxrec dates we wrongly believed Walsh was turning 30 today [he actually turned 30 in January] and, as a result, began to think what might have been.

At 30, the stylist should be hitting his boxing peak, basking in an abundance of success and eyeing up a big exit strategy, but rather he is an emerging coach of humble means.

READ: ALL OUT OF LOVE – Dee Walsh reveals retirement reasons

There are plenty who would love to see a comeback. Social media cries for a return often fall on deaf ears and those made in person are batted away with a soft smile and a playful rolling of the eyes.

There are more who will tell you ‘Waldo’, if he hadn’t retired back in January of 2016 , wouldn’t be hard to find when looking through the top end of the current ratings or list of world champions.

Granted, a whole host of things would have had to fallen into place for that to happen – and Walsh would have had to prove he had the attitude, desire, and dedication to go with the natural talent.

Not to mention that like most mercurial talents, who for what ever reason didn’t reach the top of the game, there is an element of romance surrounding the imaginary future of the fighter.

Tony Sheridan would have been as good as Zidane if he lived the life, Matt Le Tisser’s brother was a better player, if Eammon Magee trained and wasn’t fond of the drink he’d have beaten Ricky Hatton and gone on to be Ireland’s best and so on and so on.

Still, you can’t help but wonder where the natural talent would have gotten the St John Bosco and Holy Trinity graduate.

Some argue Walsh was operating in the small hall circuit and quite possibly could have found himself in a similar predicament to fellow noted talent Anthony Cacace, only getting his opportunities now.

Yet, when he won the Irish title Mark Dunlop was adamant he was five wins away from a world title shot – and it has been suggested he retired with an offer to face Liam Smith in a world title eliminator on the table.

Also Read: Mark Dunlop: Dee Walsh is five wins away from a world title

The mention of a possible Smith clash will hurt those who lament Walsh’s early retirement even more.

What might have been for them will turn into what would have been – their man doing his MC Hammer ‘U Can’t Touch This’ best whilst hammering skillfully back at the Liverpudlian.

WATCH : Dee Walsh can’t be touched

It will add to the pain, but what they have to realise is Walsh is content with his decision and seems much happier as a boxing teacher rather than practitioner.

He left the game after an early stint with Gary Hyde and, after coming back under Dunlop, retired for a second time, just as he was finding real momentum.

There was a spiritual element to his second departure and there is certainly no sign of a third coming.

The fighter, who initially loved Floyd Mayweather’s approach in and out the ring, cuts a different figure these days, certainly media wise.

Gone is that arrogance and talk of making millions. It’s been replaced with a quieter more thoughtful persona along with a different and deeper respect for boxing and what it can do socially.

The collar is down, but the contentment levels seem up. Fans will just have to get used to seeing Walsh in the corner rather in the ring- although that won’t stop some from remembering his potential and unique approach and arguing he could have been a star that shone bright.

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com