Walsh edges dramatic win on points in midweek war with Villarreal

When you call yourself 'King,' and are being built as "The fastest rising star in boxing," you better not miss.

One misstep and momentum can be lost in an instant.

It is why matchmaking is so important in combat sports, particularly boxing, so prospects can be afforded the right fights at the right time to take them to the pinnacle of the pugilism.

For UFC boss Dana White, who has an acute interest in 22-year-old Callum Walsh, it is why he respects 360 Promotions boss Tom Loeffler so much — even calling him, in a recent interview with ProBox, the best matchmaker in boxing.

Loeffler told us ahead of Thursday's show at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City, as Walsh headlines against Ismael Villarreal, that the midweek opponent would be the sternest test of Walsh's pro career.

You know what? Villarreal didn't disappoint.

Boxing with Irish-green shorts with white trim, Walsh commanded the center of the ring, appeared to tower over his opponent, and tried to bully him into the corner of the ring with blistering combinations.

Walsh, an aggressive-minded southpaw, flicked jabs at Villarreal, thumped him with overhand lefts, and, when the opportunity presented itself, put his punches into bunches to easily win the opening round.

In the second, Walsh tagged Villarreal with a left hand so hard it looked like he cowered due to the ever-present threat of the Irishman's power.

But, Villarreal valiantly fought back in the third and the fourth, showing that the stern test everyone was talking about on paper pre-fight was transpiring on the night, too, as Walsh — on November 9 — faced the most amount of adversity he'd seen in years.

Walsh did manage to hurt Villarreal — with a crisp, short-range punch to the chin. He may have surrenderered the middle of the ring to Villarreal in the fifth, but in the sixth Walsh returned to one skill that was levels above his opponents — combinations.

Walsh could throw a three punch flurry, rally with a fourth and a fifth entrant to the sequence, and rouse the partisan crowd.

One punch Villarreal kept scoring with, that Walsh did not seem to have an answer for, was the right hook — yet he'd tag him also with the straight right. 

In the 10th, Villarreal landed successive right hands to Walsh's jaw, thumping the sweat off his skull each time, and even scoring a dubious knockdown for good measure to provide last-minute drama ahead of the scorecards.

A war at this stage in Walsh's career can serve him well should he continue to develop, and build a defense to avoid, or block and parry, orthodox right hook shots.

But it also shows us that, yes, Walsh may be one of boxing's fastest-rising stars, with a tremendous amount of metaphorical — and, well, literal — muscle behind him (White was ringside with WWE exec Triple-H and Nick Khan), but he also remains a clear work in progress.

Regardless, for a fighter who has only just gotten to nine wins (seven knockouts) following his unanimous decision (97-92, 97-92, and 96-93), it'll be a helluva ride to remain tuned to his fan-friendly style.

That said, the matchmaking in 2024 will be crucial to Walsh's continued progress.