In 2001, a little-known southpaw boxer walked through the doors of the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, unannounced, and one of the great partnerships in any sport was born.
Manny Pacquiao was on vacation and happened to find his way into Freddie Roach’s gym in early 2001. The two became one of the greatest duos in boxing history, and when Pacquiao becomes eligible in 2024, both will be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. fame.
It’s hard to say it’s a repeat because it’s a long way from going 3-0 to what Pacquiao did. Yet Irish left-hander Callum Walsh turned up at Roach’s gym on his own, looking for a place to train, and Roach was blown away by what he saw.
“He’s so lumbering, he’s got the ability to knock guys out with one punch with both hands,” Roach said.
Walsh, who fights 15-8 Benjamin Whitaker on Thursday in the main event of a 360 Promotions card at Quiet Cannon Country Club in Montebello, Calif., which will be streamed on UFC Fight Pass, has already done something Pacquiao couldn’t: He brought in UFC president Dan White into the box.
Walsh is a 21-year-old middleweight who has won six Irish national titles and a European gold medal as an amateur. When the pandemic broke out, he was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. It was problematic for him because all the gyms in his native Ireland immediately closed and he could only train alone at home.
That didn’t work, so he flew to the US to continue his training and accidentally appeared on the Wild Card.
“I came over there and asked if I could train there,” Walsh told Yahoo Sports. “Freddie looked at me and said, ‘This is Wednesday, and Wednesdays are fight days. If you want to train here, you’ve got to crash.’ . Then Freddie wanted to keep me and, well, here I am.”
But there is more to the story – much more. Tom Loeffler, who promoted longtime middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, became involved with Walsh after speaking with Roach. Many of Roach’s fighters appear at Loeffler’s shows in Montebello.
Roach recommended Walsh to Loeffler, and Loeffler agreed. On December 10, Walsh knocked out Early Henry at the 360 card in just 1:37 in a room full of screaming Irish fans. Loeffler needed no more convincing. Irish fight fans are passionate, especially if their fighter is good. Loeffler soon realized that Walsh had championship potential.
However, it is difficult to build a young fighter without a broadcasting contract. Loeffler was scheduled to meet with White in Las Vegas on Feb. 9 — Walsh’s 21st birthday — to discuss a UFC Fight Pass streaming deal. He decided to bring Walsh to meet with White.
White had been looking for a way to get involved in boxing for several years, and in fact created Zuffa Boxing around the time Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather were preparing for their 2017 fight.
He eventually gave up because he believed the sport was plagued by too many problems. But then Loeffler and Walsh showed up in his office, and White’s interest was immediately piqued.
“We’ve had a lot of success with the Irish with Conor and I think this guy could become extremely popular with the Irish,” White told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not saying he will. [as popular as] Conor, but he’s a great kid and has a really fun fighting style. We can take it to New York and Boston and really build something out of it.”
Walsh himself is a huge fan of MMA and often trains with UFC star Tony Ferguson on the Wild Card. Ferguson and Walsh sparred playfully, but Ferguson’s impact on Walsh is clear in his fitness.
“Tony and I have been friends for over a year now and we’ve been training together every day for this camp,” Walsh said. “His fitness is crazy, the best I’ve ever seen. It is unbelievable. He pushes everyone in the gym and always tries to motivate everyone to train.”
Loeffler landed a contract on Fight Pass, but also convinced White to attend his May 12 show in Montebello. Walsh improved his record to 3-0 on the card by knocking out Luis Garcia at 1:48.
White was sold and jumped on the bandwagon.
“First of all, it was the best matchmaking on a boxing card that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” White said. “The place was great and all the fights were crazy. And Callum just looked amazing. People gravitate towards him and rave about him.”
Loeffler brought Walsh to several UFC cards as well as the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano boxing card at Madison Square Garden. At each one, fans recognized him and asked for photos and autographs. Last month, he was very popular in an appearance during the UFC International Fight Week in Las Vegas.
Walsh frequently fights rising welterweight star Vergil Ortiz Jr., who is 18-0 with 18 knockouts and fights Michael McKinson Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, on DAZN. Walsh said he has already gone 30 rounds with Ortiz.
Ortiz is on the brink of a welterweight title, but Walsh isn’t daunted.
“I’ve done at least 30 rounds with Vergil in the last couple of weeks and to be honest, I feel very comfortable out there fighting him,” Walsh said.
But when he can’t fight, he eventually falls out. John Duddy was a popular Irish fighter who sold a lot of tickets on the East Coast but couldn’t make it to the top level. Loeffler, White and especially Roach believe Walsh has a very high ceiling and should become a champion.
“He’s a very good hitter, he throws combinations really well and he has very good fundamentals,” Roach said. “He just keeps getting better and better and has a great work ethic. We had to push him. This opponent is coming [Whitaker] he is far better than the others he has fought. I like it because I want to see him get more rounds.
“But the kid sure can fight. He has that power and that exciting style that people like and he has a lot of potential to do very good things in this business.”