June 14, 2024
Liam Walsh: “It was like ‘Tank’ wasn’t human”

BN: You appeared to have so much left to offer when you beat Maxi Hughes in November 2019. Why have you not fought since?

The plan was to fight in March [2020], and the show got cancelled due to Covid. I was pencilled in [to fight on an MTK bill]. I was then pencilled in to fight Paul Hyland for the British title [at lightweight, in March 2021], and got Covid eight or nine days before [and had to withdraw]. But I kept saying to Graham [Everett, my trainer], “This is going to be my last fight”. I’d prepared well and sparred really well, and had decided I was going to be aggressive and swing and have a bit of a wild one, rather than box and not take any risks.

I said I’d be ready [to fight again] probably April, May. I’d 10 or 12 days off – I didn’t leave the house; I laid on the couch; I was struggling – then started going out running again, went back to the gym, and was breathing really heavily. “What’s happening here? Two weeks ago I was in prime position to fight.” Another two weeks of training I was still thinking, “I’m way off it here – this ain’t going to happen”. It probably didn’t help that half of me knew it was going to be my last fight. I felt, not ashamed, but “Am I just messing people around here?” The desire weren’t deeply there to want to be the best anymore, and I just felt it was going to be such a long road back. Once Maxi won [after replacing me], I was pretty sure the rematch weren’t going to happen. I didn’t want to fight Maxi for the second time anyway. Graham was really keen for me to win a British title at two weights, but I wasn’t so interested. I genuinely like Maxi – I stay in contact with him – believed I’d beat him again, and thought, “They’re talking about moving him on to bigger things – who am I to stop him?” He’ll probably laugh and think, “Fuck off, Liam, I’ll fill you in”, but that’s how I felt. He’s taking risks, away from home, and deserves every break he gets.

I came into boxing to be a world champion, and the truth of it is I wasn’t good enough. It’d have been lovely if I was, but I wasn’t, and I’m a realist – my defence wasn’t good enough. You had [Devin] Haney, [Jorge] Linares, [Vasyl] Lomachenko, Teofimo [Lopez], and I’m looking at that landscape thinking, “I’m not good enough to beat these guys – especially now”. At least a few years before I’d have felt like I would have. I genuinely believed I was going to win [against Gervonta Davis, in 2019]. I had no qualms about it, and that mindset weren’t there anymore. So that’s how it all came to an end. I gave it my everything, but I weren’t good enough. [Boxing News asks about George Kambosos Jnr as a potential opponent]. I watched him against [Lee] Selby – I’d have loved that fight. That sort of style would have suited me as well.

I don’t have many regrets, but one little one is sometimes I was little bit too cautious in my boxing.  It was all about, “Don’t make a mistake”, and if you knew me personally, that couldn’t be further from my character. I’m up for a gamble; I’ll sky dive or bungee jump; I’m an adrenaline junky, really, and yet I got in there and boxed a bit rigid, psychologically. But I also did understand, quite early on, that the cost of a loss was huge. I sparred differently to how I boxed a lot of the time, because there weren’t that risk. I looked loose – I was quite loose and my hands were all over the fucking place – but I knew I couldn’t take too many risks.

BN: So do you consider yourself retired?

Yeah, definitely. [Pauses] Yeah, I am retired, yeah. I hesitated because it was only a week ago I was saying to Graham, “If X, Y and Z want to fight then I’ll fight”. I’ll put it out there, actually – I’d like to fight Ricky Burns. That fight was once made and didn’t happen. He’s a similar age to me. I don’t have this big desire to fight him, but if someone said, “You can fight Ricky Burns” that’d really get my interest, and I’d probably start training. If I thought I could give it my all then I’d go ahead and do it. It’d be such a good fight – a few years back we had a 10-round spar, and it was fucking brilliant. I absolutely loved it. He laughed at the end of every round, and I smiled at the end of every round. Ten solid rounds – it was difficult. He was a world-class fighter. Knocking lumps out of each other. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to do that with little gloves. It’s a shame we didn’t get it on.

He’s a really good lad, Ricky, so I’m probably going to have to retract the comment that I want to fight him, because I don’t really want to fight him, deep down – I am retired. If it was offered to me tomorrow, three months’ time, I’d take it – definitely. I’m not going to go out and push for it, but if it was offered… If someone started calling me out on TV, all that business, I’d be there no problem, so I don’t know if I am retired or not. If someone offers me out or calls me out I’ll 100 per cent fight them. Even the elite names I was talking earlier. But I don’t really want to be fighting anyone. I don’t know how that comes across. I’d be interested in the right fight, but why would the right fight be there for me when I haven’t been in the ring all these years, coming on to nearly 37 [years old]. It’s done. My career’s over.

BN: What’s replaced boxing in your life?

I’ve got a couple of businesses in Cromer – some ice-cream shops. They’re obviously seasonal. I’m working for a friend who has his own business – general labouring. The last few weeks I’ve been in the garden doing me mum’s patio, and flower beds. Keeping busy.

I still go [to Everett’s gym]. I spar [twin brother] Ryan every now and again – he’s still pushing hard and trying to get fights. I’m up in the morning running, at 6am. My lad Lenny, who’s 11, has had his first amateur fight. He’s dead keen, and really dedicated, which is definitely not my doing. I’d like him to box some amateur fights, no doubt. [But] I can’t say he shouldn’t be a professional. I’ve got three boys [and one girl] – one of them I know for a fact isn’t going to box. I’m content, and more than happy. The glass is half-full. Life could be so much harder, and is for a lot of people.

I wish I was [financially secure from boxing]. If I was, I’d 100 per cent still be involved – probably in an amateur club. I’d give full commitment to an amateur club, and probably be involved on the pro side at some point with Graham. I always had intentions of staying within boxing. But I’ve got to earn money – it doesn’t allow me to do it. It seems selfish, and I sometimes hate it and think, “Liam, be better than this”, because there was volunteers and amateur coaches who helped me. I wouldn’t have got the opportunities I got without people doing it for nothing – or without Graham and also [the Tenerife-based] Manuel Povedano. At some point I definitely will give back. I don’t miss a show – I watch every show. I even stupidly stayed up and watched that Jake Paul thing [the fight with Tommy Fury], and I was fuming at myself. I even watched the interviews after. If I’m not in, I make sure I record it and watch it – I love boxing.

The Walsh brothers (Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

BN: How do you reflect on your one defeat, by Gervonta Davis?

I wouldn’t change it. People always say, “Do you regret doing that fight?”, and I always say, “Do I heck? I got an opportunity to fight the best”. I’m more than grateful for that.  The reality is I was never, ever going to beat him. At some point he was going to chin me. I had good feet, but I didn’t have a good defence – a knack of riding and catching shots. Some fighters are slipping, and they’re hitting their shoulders and getting their covers in – I was pulling away, and my body type, I’m long and thin, isn’t designed to be getting clipped pulling away.

I was massively humbled [by my support, walking to the ring], and that stunned me. But [typically] I always had in me mind I was the underdog – that’s how I felt. “I’ll show ‘em.” But the night of the Gervonta fight, [exhales], “Is this really happening to me?” It was a feeling I’ve never fucking had. I was tingling. It felt like every single person in there wanted me to win. Afterwards I felt so gutted. “I’ve let those people down.”

I’d rather have got knocked clean out. I’d have felt better. I’m over it. [But] I had these mad thoughts of stinking the place out for three or four rounds, and then switching it all around and being aggressive, sticking it to him, hitting him with body shots, push him back, pull his head down, hit him low and seeing what he were like down the stretch. “He’s a young kid; get him frustrated early where he’s swinging and getting annoyed”, and he was going that way a little bit, because he was trying to goad me: “You’re an amateur”. In hindsight, I’d have tried switching it and he’d have punched the fuck out of me. But I’d rather that – the way it ended didn’t sit right with me for years. My legs were definitely gone – I was swaying around like fuck – but as a fighter, “Just let me get knocked out”. If a fighter’s got one per cent chance, he feels like he’s got a chance. I’d discussed [those tactics] with Graham but I was very strong-willed and strong-minded. I’d watched a lot of him – I got it wrong, no one else.

Ideally I’d have fought three or four world-level opponents, or ex-world champions [before fighting Davis]. I got offered a European title fight, with Guillaume Frenois, and the IBF come back with, “If you take any other fight you’ll be stripped of your ranking”, so that scuppered that.

I got a message off Frank [Warren, then my promoter] the next morning, saying, “Don’t worry, Liam, you’ve done what you can – we’ll rebuild you, we’ll get you another world title shot”, and I felt wholeheartedly that I still had a lot to offer. I [later] got offered not a lot of money to fight Craig Evans, and I was fuming about it. Maybe I thought my value was better than it was. I think Frank’s the best promoter of the lot, so I haven’t got no hang-ups. In a business sense – hindsight’s 20-20 – that would have been the better move [to take the Evans fight anyway. But] I’m still happy I didn’t, because I can put me head on me pillow and be content that I didn’t get took for a complete fool. Business-wise, it was definitely the wrong decision, but I done the right thing.

BN: What makes Davis so good?

He had elite speed, which I’d never seen. I didn’t feel one of his punches, ‘cause they were so crisp and so sharp – and they were in the right areas – that the first one that properly connected buzzed me, then he hit me two or three times around the ear and back of the head. I’m not complaining, I’d have done it if I’d got him in that position. He then rushed at me, punches are scuffing around me, and [the referee] Michael Alexander made probably the correct decision. I was probably going to get absolutely hammered.

His awareness was elite as well. He was looking at me and his eyes were pinged up, like a cat getting their prey. His concentration was immense. If I’d farted he would have flinched to catch something – he was that on it. His focus – he hadn’t, but it was like he took something to enhance it. It weren’t like looking at a human.

I believe he’s got a lot better [boxing] IQ than he’s given credit for. It never gets mentioned because it’s always about the knockouts and the speed. There’s a lot going on in there – the small movements. His timing, and positioning – he knows when to hit the body, when to step and when not to. He’s good at the psychological battle as well.

He extends his front foot, and puts you under pressure with his feet – he ain’t got long arms and ain’t putting you on the end of a jab ‘cause he don’t really throw a jab, which is half the reason I went southpaw with him. He’s left-hand happy, ‘cause he knows he only needs to land that fucker once.

He beats Ryan Garcia. It’s a brilliant fight – props to both. I’m glad they’re going for it now, ‘cause they could string it out. Garcia will win rounds and give him a lot of problems but he stands a little bit too tall, and he pulls a lot and his chin’s up there to be hit, and [Davis will] nail him. Tank won’t run at him wildly – [Garcia’s] way too good to steam into. [Garcia’s] left hook’s his money punch, which against a southpaw sounds like he’s on to a winner, but I don’t think Tank’s there to be hit with it – [Davis] judges distance so well. There’ll be a cagey start, and a boxing match, and Tank will nail him mid-to-late. If Garcia gets greedy and leans over his front foot, he’ll just get took out. I don’t see Garcia being as disciplined as Tank. He wants to impress and be in a good fight.

I hope [Davis] goes on to prove he’s elite and keeps his life on track and doesn’t spiral out of control. He’s come from nothing and seen a lot of shit in his life and you can’t be anything but happy for him. He could be a special fighter.

Walsh against Davis (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

BN: What was the highlight of your career?

I’ve got a couple. The [Paul] Appleby fight was one of them, because I showed some balls, got off the floor, and I look back now and at the end I’m shouting, “I can fight”, and it’s like I had to prove that to people. Did I doubt myself or think that people doubted me? I don’t really know. That was the only real tough fight I had – obviously Gervonta stopped me quick, but I didn’t have a mark on me, bar a big lump behind my ear.

Me pro debut [against Daniel Thorpe in 2008] was good, ‘cause it was me and me two brothers [Ryan and Michael], and it felt big. We were all mad. “Fucking hell, have we managed this? Boxing for Frank Warren…” We’d come from scratch.

My only little claim to fame is I dropped [Andrey Klimov] a man [Terence] Crawford didn’t. But that’s about all I’ve got from me career now. That’s me only bar story. I’ll have to sail away with that one. It weren’t a big knockdown; maybe it caught him off-guard.

Liam Walsh beats Joe Murray at the O2 Arena on February 28, 2015 in London, England (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Interview: Declan Warrington