Ireland's Walsh Relishes the Challenge of Being Roach’s New Project

In February 2021, Callum Walsh was a 20-year-old amateur boxer from Cork, Ireland, whose dreams of making it to the Olympics had been derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unsure of his next move, he flew to Los Angeles, where his father was living.

“I just planned to go over to him for a couple of weeks and just train while I was there and see what happened,” he told ProBoxTV on a rainy Tuesday in Boston.

So he did what many an aspiring boxer in the City of Angels has done, and showed up at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, where Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach met him with some tough love.

Roach asked Walsh if he was a fighter. Walsh said yes. Well, said Roach, today is Wednesday. Wednesday at Wild Card is sparring day, and the rule is that you either spar or go home.

With gyms shut down in Ireland, Walsh’s only recent training had been to lift weights at home. As an amateur, he had yet to fight more than three rounds at a time. Even so, he gloved up and sparred six rounds, including with Roach’s then-undefeated welterweight prospect Blair Cobbs, and acquitted himself well enough that Roach asked him to stick around. Now, two years later, he is a professional super-welterweight with a record of 5-0 with 4 KOs. Roach is his trainer, Tom Loeffler is his promoter, and on Thursday night he is headlining a card on Dana White’s UFC Fight Pass in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day eve.

“I had no plans on turning pro, no plans for any of this,” he says. “It’s weird how it all worked out.”

The southpaw had been slated to face right-hander Leonardo Di Stefano Ruiz, but when Ruiz was forced to withdraw with a broken finger a week before the fight, he changed gears and will instead face fellow leftie Wesley Tucker, who started his career 14-0 but has dropped four of his last five to bring his record and to 15-4 (9 KOs).

It will be Walsh’s first 10 rounder, but he is unfazed by taking on such a challenge so early in his career.

“I’ve been sparring eight, ten rounds, so no worries about that,” he says. “Besides, it’s definitely not going that long.”

Nor is he remotely put off by the change in opponent.

“I had a long amateur career,” says Walsh, who won six national titles at various age groups and a European Junior Championships gold medal, “and you never watch tape. Your opponents just turn up and you fight.”

Asked to describe himself and his style, Walsh replies:

“I’m an all-round fighter. I had a very good amateur career, I’m an all-round boxer, a counter-puncher. Now I’m at the Wild Card with Freddie Roach and I’ve adapted to a very aggressive style. I can do it all. I could go out there and box for 10 rounds, but people don’t want to see that. They want to see action and knockouts.

“That’s why we’re fighting this guy. We could have picked someone who wasn’t even going to try, who was going to run away. I don’t want that. I want to fight people who are trying to win. And it’s good for a fella like him, after a couple of losses. Everybody that fights me is going to bring their best, because of Freddie Roach and all this Dana White stuff. I mean, everybody’s bringing their best to try and beat me. So, I think he’ll try his best for a couple of rounds, but I think I’ll just be too big and too strong for him.”

It has all been, he admits, a dizzying series of events for a young man who came to visit his father and now finds himself living in Hollywood, just round the corner from the famous gym. But he is taking it all in his stride.

“It’s just random,” he says. “I had no intentions of turning pro. And now I’m standing here with all this. But I’m enjoying it. It’s unbelievable to imagine, but I feel like I’m supposed to be here.”