‘They call it the golden contract, I call it the golden opportunity’ - Ryan Walsh

Ryan Walsh at work in the Norwich gym, with brothers Liam, left, and Michael Picture: Mark Hewlett

Ryan Walsh at work in the Norwich gym, with brothers Liam, left, and Michael Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Archant

A pot of gold awaits Ryan Walsh at the end of the boxing rainbow on Wednesday night - but the Norfolk fighter is no collector of life’s material items.

Ryan Walsh sparring Picture: Mark Hewlett

Ryan Walsh sparring Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Archant

Walsh is all about the bare essentials of the job: when he arrives for training at Graham Everett’s Norwich gym, his ‘work clothes’ are in a well-worn shopping bag. Black trainers - which he prefers to the traditional boxing boots - black socks and black gloves.

For Walsh, it’s not the baubles and crowns and belts that matter. It’s the boxing. The winning. Providing the proof that you are the best. It’s why the British Boxing Board of Control’s decision to take away the domestic featherweight crown he has held for nigh on five years hurt: he wasn’t able to contest that decision in the square circle. It’s why he has never shirked a challenge: no one wanted to fight Lee Selby in 2013. But Walsh did. In the heavily political world of boxing you manoeuvre the simplest route to the top. Avoid potential hurdles. Unless you are Ryan Walsh.

Tonight, the 34-year-old faces Jazza Dickens in the final of the Golden Contract featherweight competition, having eliminated the dangerous Hairon Socarras and the awkward Tyrone McCullagh on the way.

Golden Contract is an inspired concept by MTK - the fight is also for the WBO European title, which cements a good ranking with that organisation – and it is the prospect of a world title shot for the winner that makes it so mouth-watering. And that carrot is just what inspires Walsh - that and coming up against an opponent with similar values.

“It should be the British fight of the year, and I can’t see how it isn’t,” said Walsh. “Two men with so much at stake. They call it the golden contract, I call it the golden opportunity, a chance not to be denied. I have said this before and I will say it after the fight – Jazza is young enough to come again. I’m not. My mission is not to come again.

“We have done as much as we can do at a certain level and I need to push on.”

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Walsh just has the edge with the bookies in what most rate as a genuine 50-50 fight, but there is definitely a sense the Cromer man is hitting his peak at just the right time in his illustrious career.

“The ultimate science of boxing is to hit and not get hit, it is something I rest my cap on,” he said. “I tell my children – you can play every other sport in the world but you cannot play boxing. Even when you train and spar, when I’m on the bag, I am dipping and imagining someone’s trying to punch me. I think it’s good to see something that is natural - the whole aim of a period of training that you have used to get to a position is to peak and it is nice when you are going on that direction.

“And this tournament has ignited things for me. I just felt appalling prior to this. It was looking like no one was going to give me a crack, nothing was happening, but I stand by this – I was first in to this tournament and I will be the last out. I was the first to sign up before I knew who was coming in. Jordan Gill and Isaac Lowe were asked but they didn’t come in. This whole tournament is such a good idea to stop all the nonsense and politics because politics ruins a lot of different things and in boxing there is too much. This pandemic has brought good domestic fighters together, it has made the fights possible.”

Trainer Everett says the Walsh camp is in a “good, good place”.

“It has been a long and good camp in difficult times,” he said. “Circumstances have thrown up a lot of ifs, but and maybes. The first date we were given was possibly June, then we were told July, then August and it has finally come now. We have had to readjust, but there has been some good, good sparring,

“This is a proper fight, two really good fighters, really good, determined, honest pros. Neither has ever had the silver spoon treatment. They have taken the knocks and come back better for it.”

Walsh has an unblemished record at York Hall, but Covid-19 has meant a switch of venue to a purpose-built studio setting in Wakefield.

“A boxing ring is a boxing ring,” said Everett. “Of course we will miss the Farmy Army. A lot of my friends would have gone along, but we have got to do what we have got to do. It is the same for both, it is changing times, awkward times but we can’t let anything get us down.

“Everything is put down to test you and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”