‘He is my little soldier that I worry about every day’ - Michael Walsh on returning to boxing, and the battle behind the scenes
- Credit: Mark Hewlett
After four years out, Michael Walsh is to return to the boxing ring. His decision has a highly emotional back story, as he tells head of sport Chris Lakey
Michael Walsh is to make a sensational return to the professional boxing ring - inspired by the toughest member of the hugely talented Norfolk fighting family.
It's 18-month old son Liam who is at the centre of his father's thoughts every waking moment as he battles against the odds, having been born with a heart that is just 20pc of its normal size.
Little Liam spent months in Great Ormond Street Hospital - his dad Michael camped in a park outside for days on end - and 'died' for 43 minutes, his father and mum Laura unable to do anything but pray and hope.
The worry and fear helped push Michael's thoughts back to the boxing ring, which he last stepped out of more than four years ago with the incredible record of 11 fights, 11 wins - all by knock out.
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He will return to the squared circle on December 15 in Norwich - and his fight purse will be split between Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
The possibility of a return has been on the cards for several weeks, since he began training in earnest with Graham Everett at the Probox Gym in the city, but it wasn't until this week when he was granted his licence by the British Boxing Board of Control |(BBBoC), that it became a reality for the 35-year-old from Cromer.
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It's not so much a comeback fight, it's the story of a man whose love for the sport has never gone away. And of a man whose life revolves around Liam, his other five children and the families of his younger twin brothers, pro boxers Liam and Ryan.
If there was a Walsh coat of arms, it would carry the words, 'familia supra omnia' - family above all others, which Ryan wears on the back of his fight apparel.
This is no ordinary family, and this is no ordinary story.
Michael admits that at times he has been his worst enemy, that he has gone off the rails, but his 'little fighter' has focused his mind. The boxing gym has taken it one step further.
"My two brothers went to Tenerife for training and with everything going on with my little lad I had never felt as lonely in my life. I rang Graham and he said, 'come back to the gym'. I have to credit Graham a lot - he has always been a trainer and a friend but I realise now he is more of a friend to me. This time he has pulled me around, not in boxing terms. He wasn't even thinking in terms of boxing- he might say he was but he wasn't. I walked in here the first day and he was just trying get me mentally right and get me back together. I hadn't been together for a long time, since Liam was born.
"Without Graham encouraging me I wouldn't have come back. Now I want to have a right go at it".
The British title remains a target, but Michael Walsh today is a different beast to the 23-year-old who stepped into the ring for the first time in 2004.
"Before I left pro and went off to build the house and do the shops and the things I was doing, that was my only big regret, I felt that was the end of it. Even today it is all I want in boxing, but it is not the be all and end all, because Liam is that now. All my children are, but he is my little soldier that I worry about every day. Now there is a lot more in life that I want, mainly for him.
"If the British title came up I would do anything I could just to have the opportunity. It's all my dad ever wanted. He thought all three of us could be British champion and fair play to Liam and Ryan, they have gone and done it. I didn't fulfil it, so if the opportunity comes up I will do it."
Getting back into the ring, officially, is no easy matter: BBBoC rules are necessarily stringent, and it will eventually cost Walsh a four-figure sum in itself, for the privilege.
But it could provide upwards of £5,000 towards two institutions which have helped his son - and that's a huge driving force.
"He is the light of my life," says Michael. "He only has 20pc of a heart. Technology will be better, I have to believe that will be true. They say he might live 20 years, but you know, he is the happiest boy on two legs. He is so happy to be here."
Liam was in hospital for seven months and Michael and brother Liam camped in a park close by.
"I lived in a tent for 20 odd days - I couldn't afford the hotel," added Michael. "I bought a £35 tent and then I fed all the homeless people every morning with the money I did have. When we first started camping there some of them came up to us and offered us food and that was nice. I had lost a lot of faith at that point and they gave me strength.
"Since what happened to Liam I have lost a lot of fear. Sometimes I think I want to throw punches and I want someone to punch me, I want to feel a different pain to what I have been feeling for 18 months, and I hope they are good reasons. It doesn't sound like it when I say it out loud like that but I am trying to get something out of myself.
"I think I am just trying to clear my mind and clear my chest and go deep and find the strength I need because god forbid anything does go wrong with my little lad ... I am going to need every bit of strength I have got."
To donate to Great Ormond Street Hospital go to https://donate.gosh.org/
To donate to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital go to www.nnuh.nhs.uk/get-involved/our-charity/donate-now-2/