Ryan Walsh: a view from inside his camp
- Credit: PA
Millions watched Ryan Walsh's title fight at the 02 Arena on Saturday night. Only CHRIS LAKEY was granted access behind the scenes...
As our major sports take advantage of the lucrative financial deals on offer, thanks to TV viewers' avarice for watching their endeavours from the comfort of an armchair, so the job of a sports writer has changed.
Cozy post-competition chats are almost a thing of the past in some sports. Fortunately, and refreshingly, boxing, the sports of kings, still has a place at its top table for the media. Boxing understands the media at all levels – we help publicise shows, which helps sell the tickets, which helps pay boxers.
It's not always using the system to mutual advantage. Sometimes there's more to it ...
Perhaps the best way to illustrate it is to step back a few days and take you to Saturday at the 02 Arena, where Cromer fighter Ryan Walsh was facing a difficult challenge for Lee Selby's British and Commonwealth featherweight titles.
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The walk to the former Millennium Dome was enough to reflect how far Walsh has come. It is a massive, fantastic arena, all lights and shops and bars and young people out enjoying themselves. The warm-up fights were good, the Farmy Army fans had been rehearsing a few songs as they awaited the arrival of their man.
Behind me a man was explaining to his wife that Walsh was one of three boxing brothers from Norfolk, where there are, apparently, lots of sheep, people walk around chewing straw and talking in a very strange accent. If only he could hear the Walsh family's Rochdale dialect, which has never gone away despite spending most of their life in north Norfolk.
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The conversation helped take my attention away from the fact my hands were sweaty. I was nervous. I always am when the Walshes fight. I have no idea why – I have never seen them lose. Leon McKenzie stopped for a chat; in front of me was the Paralympic legend David Weir; to my right an Eastenders actor.
At 8.30pm, Sky TV's coverage kicked in. Ten minutes later, Walsh made his way into the ring. He was beaming, happy his chance had come. Twelve highly-charged rounds of boxing later, he hung his head. He had lost. He looked drained. He had put up a magnificent fight, but Selby is on a world stage, while Walsh was taking his first step at this level. The Farmy Army sang his name; without trying to be too poetic about it, he had done them and the county proud.
As his entourage left ringside I joined them. I'd never been in a losing dressing room; I wasn't too sure I would be welcome until the post-fight chat had exhausted itself. But Liam held the door open – there was the answer.
I had seen the blood and the sweat. Would I see the tears?
I leaned against a wall, trying to be unobtrusive, listening as older brother Michael had his say. Liam sat quietly next to his twin.
In that room was his 'entourage', myself and the doctor, who waits on every boxer's ability to have a wee. It was a fascinating place to be.
The emotions that jumped out, the hindsight, the feeling of a lost opportunity, the stark reality that when two men wearing nothing but boots, shorts and gloves fight each other, one man usually comes off worse.
Walsh was concerned his eardrum had been burst – Liam had a look but saw nothing – and then shifted a towel so we could chat. Fifteen minutes after losing the biggest fight of his career to date, the build-up to which had occupied his every living moment for weeks, he was willing to put aside the disappointment for a few minutes and start the public inquest.
The bullet points were: no tears, the best man won, absolutely no complaints; the travelling fans were unbelievable; we regroup and go again. When he said 'we'; I almost felt for a moment that included me. Being allowed into the inner sanctum pulls you in like that.
Amid the cutting of bandages, the tidying up, trainer Graham Everett made a very salient point: Jon Thaxton lost a Southern Area title fight in his eighth bout. He went on to become a British and European champion.
Ryan Walsh is destined for many more big nights out.