Liam Walsh can boost Norfolk boxing scene with British title victory against Gary Sykes
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Liam Walsh takes to the ring on Saturday night knowing that victory would provide a massive boost to an already burgeoning local boxing scene.
The 28-year-old from Cromer puts his Commonwealth super-featherweight title on the line when he faces Gary Sykes – but it is the Yorkshireman's British belt which is the big prize.
If the ring announcer says the words every boxer wants to hear once in his career, 'And the new ...' then the belt is coming back to Norfolk.
And that, says trainer Graham Everett, can only help the sport.
Everett has been at the forefront, along with promoter Mervyn Turner, of a drive to raise the sport's profile, with a series of shows in Norwich to help locally-based fighters on their fledgling steps in the professional ranks.
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Walsh fights under the Frank Warren banner and therefore is restricted to a watching brief – usually in twin brother Ryan's corner if he's on the bill and encouraging stablemates from the Kickstop Gym in Norwich.
The result of seeing the likes of Walsh climb the boxing ropes has been of interest from well outside the city walls: Billy Bird crosses the border from Suffolk to train with Everett and Co, Danny Gunn comes up from Clacton and Craig Poxton from Lowestoft – and there are more to come.
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'It gives everybody something to look up to,' said Everett. 'It shows people that it can be done. We have had Herbie Hide, we have had Jon Thaxton, Danny McIntosh, Sam Sexton, they have all won titles. We keep that conveyor belt rolling.'
Everett has been in Walsh's corner since his professional debut in 2008, since when he has built up a record of 16 straight wins.
'Liam is an extraordinary talent,' he said.
'He has been with us since his first day as a pro, he is a pleasure to work with and I genuinely believe he is a role model for everyone to look up to.'
The attempt to make it 17-0 has been hampered by injury and accident to both Walsh and Sykes, but finally goes ahead at London's ExCel Arena tonight.
'This is what we strive for – we want to be the best, but I think this is the next stage for Liam,' said Everett.
'I think he should become a British champion and I think he should move on to the world stage.
'He has lost a little bit of time with bad luck through injuries, a car accident, but this is the next step up, something that he wants badly and it is good to see fighters wanting to be the champion of their country.
'It is a great fight and I am confident he will next week be British and Commonwealth champion.'
It's a view Everett has held since the day he first saw Walsh, his twin Ryan and older brother Michael.
Ryan had his own British title shot in May last year when he suffered his only career defeat, at the hands of Lee Selby, now campaigning on the world stage, when he contested the featherweight version, while Michael has a 10-0 record, but hasn't fought since May, 2013.
'If Michael had had a break he would have been a British champion, and I still believe Ryan will be the British champion, if he gets a second bite at the cherry,' said Everett.
'Things didn't run smoothly for Michael, but there is no two ways about it, he should have been a British champion, minimum.
'It will be a real pity if Liam doesn't get to this next stage – he has more than enough ability, he has more than enough determination.
'His life revolves around boxing. There are some fighters who don't give the whole package and get opportunities, but it has been his life. He needs to move on and this is the next stage.'
Walsh has swapped the chilly Cromer beach runs for Tenerife as part of his build-up. 'Mentally brilliant,' was Walsh's verdict on his pre-fight demeanour.
'I went away for a few months, did some really good altitude training and got away from the usual surroundings – I am fit, healthy and ready to go, 100pc.'
If Walsh loads the British belt into his car for the journey home, he will be only the third boxer to bring one back to Norfolk, following Herbie Hide, who was heavyweight champion in 1993 and Jon Thaxton, who held the lightweight belt in 2006 and 2007.
'To be only the third person from a big city like this, from the county, that really excites me and motivates me even more,' he said.
'There is history to be made, it is a prestigious title and I want to win it so badly.'
Standing between Walsh and his dream is 30-year-old Sykes, winner of 27 of his 30 fights.
The feeling is that it could be the fight of the night – Appleby II, Everett predicts, remembering the classic Walsh v Paul Appleby clash of September, 2011 which almost took the roof off the iconic York Hall building in East London.
Sykes says preparations are going well.
'Things are spot on at the moment and we are right where we should be for the fight,' he said.
'The track work has been good and sparring is going well. It's always a hard spar with Terry Flanagan and I've been going across to the Ingle gym in Sheffield.
'I've read a piece Walsh has done and he seems like a nice lad. He speaks very highly of me, which means I know he is not going to have taken me lightly. He's been in Tenerife, so he's had a really hard camp too.
'Any belt I can get at the moment I am happy with. I've won the English and the British so to add the Commonwealth to that would be great. It makes you realise how big the bill is when you have a film crew coming and spending two days with you.
'This is bigger than the Amir Khan bill I fought on as there is much more depth in the quality of fights. I'm prepared for a tough fight but I'm willing to dig as deep as necessary to get the win.'