Cromer’s boxing brothers in arms Liam and Ryan Walsh ready to battle for more capital gains
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
It's been a long time coming, but twins Liam and Ryan Walsh are back on the same bill – and making history, again. Head of sport CHRIS LAKEY spoke to them ahead of their British title defences tonight.
It's not far from the York Hall to the rather more salubrious surroundings of the Copper Box Arena in London's Olympic Park – just three-and-a-half miles.
One is the spiritual home of British boxing, an attractive 1920s building in the heart of the east end; the other is a pretender to the throne – unattractive from the outside, but just as much a maker of dreams in its guts.
Tonight, twins Liam and Ryan Walsh, from Cromer, will step into the ring at the Copper Box to defend their respective British titles, sharing a bill for the first time since October 23, 2010.
York Hall was their place of work that night. But three-and-a-half miles doesn't reflect just how far they have come.
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That late autumn night the twins, and older brother Michael, were flexing their muscles, winning and working their way into the boxing mindset. Turning heads, putting themselves into the picture – always an essential part of the sport.
They don't shout from the rooftops – Tyson Fury they are not. Their view is simple: let their fists do the talking.
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And they have spoken volumes. Liam has gone on to become British and Commonwealth super-featherweight champion, his brother is British featherweight title holder.
Never have twins held British belts at the same time. Ergo, never have twins defended British belts on the same bill. These boys know how to make history happen – which is where we end up back at the Copper Box, tonight.
The fact they had a bit of a media shindig on Monday at the Kickstop Gym in Norwich is indicative of where they stand. Frank Warren's media team do a grand job of supplying the national press with all the quotes and information they need, leaving us locals to sneak out of the office for an hour or two to get up close and personal with the boxing fraternity. It's worth it. Big time.
One of the more damaging side-effects of fame and publicity is the acquisition of an arrogance, the sort of behaviour that shatters young people's illusions of their role models, but which can be easily hidden by a media that is only too happy to acquiesce for the sake of selling papers.
You can forget that.
The twins are quietly spoken – they don't do excited – but it is not sullen silence, far from it; it's respectful. Handshakes, chats, jokes, every single question answered, without fail.
There are no boundaries, no subjects that must be avoided, no sponsors' names to get in. And always it all ends with a handshake and a thank you. Without fail.
It's almost no holds barred, which segues neatly into the nature of the game: boxing. It's the reason why we're here and why we will be in London tonight.
Liam faces Troy James, a 32-year-old from Coventry who once sparred at the very same Kickstop Gym with Jon Thaxton, who will be in the Walsh corners tonight, but back then was European champion. James is short and stocky – and a massive underdog. Ryan faces Belfast's James Tennyson, who could prove awkward. Ryan is 5ft 6.5in, Tennyson an inch-and-a-half taller. It looks more.
As champions the onus is on the Walsh twins.
The pressure is with them. Not that you could tell from their demeanour.
There is also a side issue: in normal circumstances, when one is boxing the other is by his side, in the dressing room, behind him on the ring walk, in his corner.
This time, Ryan will be on first, while Liam prepares. It's unlikely there will be a TV in the dressing room – and if there was, Liam's eyes have to be on one thing only. Ryan knows only too well that, On this unique occasion, things have to be different.
'Michael will be with both of us but after my fight I will become well involved with Liam, hands on with him,' said Ryan.
'But Liam can get into his own zone and he can sort things out himself. Liam is the ultimate professional, he is mentally the strongest person I have ever come across in my whole life. He is physically pretty strong too. I can only affect him in a positive sense.'
Boxing can be complicated, but this is a lesson in how you simplify it.
'I get wished good luck a lot, but I make my own luck,' explained Ryan. 'I just want no bad luck.
'It is a ring, it is two bare-chested men with some gloves. At the end of my arms are the two best judges – and I am very confident in them.'
Those arms will have to stretch to find their target, but where there is a will there is a way – and Ryan has never been short of a game plan.
'He is probably one of the tallest opponents I have fought,' he said.
'But I have had to fight taller people all my career – I have never had to look down on an opponent. It is nothing to me.
'There is a great quote – the art of boxing is to get the other man to do what they don't want to do.
'My height and his height don't come into that.'
Both brothers enjoy the 'champ' sobriquet.
'The biggest thing in boxing is learning to peak,' says Ryan.
'Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I am constantly smiling because we weren't talking like this two years ago were we?
'I was in the wilderness, if you like, because no one wanted to fight me – now they are all coming out of the woodwork, they all want to fight me.
'And that's because I have got the ultimate prize.
'I am looking forward to this moment – me and Liam talk a lot about this.
'We have to soak it up, enjoy it.'
There are a lot of people who want what the Walshes have – tonight in east London we will see just how far they have come together.
Liam taking no notice of the bookies
Liam Walsh loves being the underdog – trouble is, the status doesn't come around too often these days.
Tonight, Walsh defends his British super-featherweight title against Troy James, and, yet again, the bookies have him a raging 10-1 on favourite.
It's unlikely Walsh will take too much notice.
As far as he is concerned, it's a level playing field once the two men step into the ring.
The stats will show Walsh has a perfect 19-win record, 13 by knockout, while James has 18 wins (five by knockout), two defeats and a draw – one of those defeats was to current WBO world lightweight champion Terry Flanagan, who is on Walsh's radar, and the other was in a Prizefighter. Walsh's interpretation reveals just why he is in top nick for tonight.
'He (James) doesn't get enough credit,' said Walsh, back in action after hand surgery.
'He has earned his right to be in this position – he is a mandatory challenger, he has fought several eliminators, he has beaten good fighters, he has never been knocked down and he has never been stopped.
'He has never been given anything – no one has ever put him on big bills and built him up. From the start of his career he has fought decent opposition so he has more than earned his right here.
'He is 32 years old, he is a man, he's got children. He is not a kid, not someone thinking, 'can I, can't I?' And he knows the situation – this may be his last chance.
'Watching his previous fights, I am expecting him to be much better than them – he is going to raise the bar. They always do against me, but when I was in his position I was the same.
'I am not in this shape and this condition for any other reason than I am giving him my total respect.'
If all goes to plans, promoter Frank Warren will instigate the next part of the plan.
'If Liam comes through this fight he'll get a final eliminator and hopefully be challenging for a world title in the next year,' said Warren.
Music to Walsh's ears, no doubt, but it's unlikely that will be on his mind tonight.
He said: 'I'm a very young 29, there's no mega rush, I've got to beat Troy first before getting a final eliminator shot.'