As boxing’s greatest name returns to the sport’s global capital on Saturday night, Nico Ali Walsh insists he won’t fall into the “impossible” trap of attempting to emulate his grandfather Muhammad Ali’s storied career.
The 21-year-old makes his Las Vegas debut on the undercard of Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez’s super-featherweight unification clash, with his presence on the bill only adding intrigue to one of the most hotly anticipated fights of the year, which is live on Sky Sports.
Having won all four of his professional fights since making his debut in August last year, Ali Walsh takes on fellow American Alejandro Ibarra at middleweight at the MGM Grand.
“It’s impossible,” Ali Walsh says of the possibility of emulating his grandfather.
“I want to continue my grandfather’s legacy in the ring and outside the ring but while doing so I want to create my own path, a legacy of my own. Nobody will be able to do what my grandfather did, nobody will be able to reach the heights that he did, I don’t think. So that’s not what I’m trying to do, I’m not trying to do the impossible. But even better, I’m trying to build off it and create my own thing .”
“I feel the pressure of being a fighter in general. You put your life on the line every time you step in the ring, literally. Everyone feels that pressure, I’m no different to anyone else fighting. They feel the pressure of this guy’s trying to knock me unconscious, I’m trying to knock him unconscious and that’s that.”
Ali Walsh accepting that emulating The Greatest, a three-time heavyweight world champion who transcended the world of sport, is unrealistic, is a reflection of his maturity rather than any lack of confidence.
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He has scored three stoppages in his first four pro bouts, with January’s brutal knockout of Jeremiah Yeager’s most impressive performance yet.
“I never set limits, but I would not have started boxing, even as an amateur, if it wasn’t to take it to the top,” Ali Walsh says. “That’s where I’m looking to go and that’s where I believe I will go with my work ethic and what I have deep inside of me.”
‘I hide Ali name to avoid being treated differently at university’
The serene progress Ali Walsh has made through the early stages of his professional career is made all the more impressive by the fact he has been balancing a university degree in business and entrepreneurship.
Despite admitting that boxing has taken priority over studying, particularly since turning professional last year, Ali Walsh has refused to use his famous family name to take any shortcuts.
“Next month I’m graduating,” he says. “It’s been interesting, yesterday I had to pick up my cap and gown.
“It’s sometimes tough dealing with school and boxing. Ones got to suffer and it’s not going to be boxing. I’ve been slacking a little bit in school, but I’m doing well, my grades are good, I’m graduating next month and I was able to do it.
“I use the name Nico Walsh at school. I try to keep the word Ali as far away from my education as possible. Some professors have found out who I was, but I don’t want to be treated differently, whether they like my grandfather, or dislike him.”
‘Fury is among the greatest | I need to fight in the UK’
Having watched Tyson Fury defend his WBC heavyweight title with a stunning knockout victory over Dillian Whyte at Wembley last weekend, Ali Walsh took to Twitter to express his admiration for the champion.
While some boxing analysts have questioned how today’s crop of heavyweights would stand up against previous eras, Ali Walsh is adamant that Fury is one of the divisions best ever.
“Tyson Fury, he’s one of my idols,” Ali Walsh says. “I truly think he ranks among the greatest heavyweights of all time. I think he’s a top five heavyweight of all time.
“I didn’t say No 1. Nobody can beat my grandfather. Yeah, I’m biased in saying that. I don’t think anybody can beat my grandfather from now, to before, to the future, but Tyson Fury, he’s Tyson Fury, he speaks for himself.
During his 61-fight career, Muhammad Ali fought twice in London, beating Henry Cooper at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium and Brian London at Earls Court in the summer of 1966.
Fighting on UK soil is an area where Ali Walsh is comfortable expressing his desire to follow in grandfather’s footsteps.
“For the people in the UK, they’re the biggest boxing fans in the world,” he says. “I know they were huge fans of my grandfather and he was fans of them, so I’m doing this for the people in the UK and my fans in Vegas.
“I’ve never been to the UK. I need a fight in the UK. My promoter is on board with that. It’s going to happen soon and I’m really looking forward to that fight.”