Rising Irish boxer Callum Walsh’s star potential intrigues UFC President Dana White

In 2001, a little-known left-handed boxer walked unannounced through the doors of the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, and one of the greatest partnerships in any sport was born.

Manny Pacquiao was on vacation and accidentally found his way to Freddie Roach’s gym in early 2001. The two became one of the greatest duos in boxing history and if Pacquiao is eligible in 2024 they will both be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

It’s hard to say it’ll happen again because it’s a long way from 3-0 to what Pacquiao did. Still, left-handed Irishman Callum Walsh turned up alone at Roach’s gym looking for a place to work out, and Roach was stunned by what he saw.

“He’s so tenacious, he has the ability to KO guys with one punch with both hands,” Roach said.

Walsh, who fights Benjamin Whitaker 15-8 in Thursday’s main event of a 360 Promotions card at Quiet Cannon Country Club in Montebello, Calif. streaming on UFC Fight Pass, has already done something Pacquiao couldn’t: It is he who got UFC President Dana White interested in boxing.

Walsh is a 21-year-old middleweight who won six Irish national titles and a European gold medal as an amateur. He was preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics when the pandemic hit. This was problematic for him because all the gyms in his native Ireland closed immediately and he could only train at home alone.

That wasn’t going to work, so he flew to the US to continue his training and just happened to show up at Wild Card.

“I got there and asked if I could train there,” Walsh told Yahoo Sports. “Freddie looked at me and said, ‘This is Wednesday and Wednesdays are training days. If you want to train here, you have to train.” So I said, “Sure,” and I went in and practiced six laps with one of the pros. Freddie wanted to keep me after that and well, here I am.”

Callum Walsch.  (Photo courtesy of 360 Promotions)

Callum Walsh (c) is 3-0 and fighting on a 360 Promotions card at Quiet Cannon Country Club in Montebello, California on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of 360 Promotions)

But there is more to the story than that – much more. Tom Loeffler, who promoted longtime middleweight champion Gennadiy Golovkin and heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, settled on Walsh after speaking with Roach. Many of Roach’s fighters appear on Loeffler’s shows in Montebello.

Roach recommended Walsh Loeffler and he agreed. On December 10, Walsh defeated Early Henry on a 360 map in just 1:37 in a room full of screaming Irish fans. Loeffler no longer needed convincing. Irish fight fans are passionate, especially when their fighter is good. Loeffler recognized early on that Walsh had championship potential.

However, it is difficult to build a young fighter without a broadcast deal. Loeffler had scheduled a meeting 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 White.

White had been looking for a way to get involved in boxing for several years and had founded Zuffa Boxing around the time Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather were gearing up for the 2017 fight.

Eventually he gave up, believing there were too many problems plaguing the sport. But then Loeffler and Walsh showed up in his office and White’s interest was piqued.

“We’ve had a lot of success with the Irish here with Conor and I think this boy could become very popular with the Irish,” White told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not saying he will be [as popular as] Conor, but he’s a great boy and he has a really fun fighting style. We can take him to New York and Boston and really make something out of him.”

Walsh himself is a huge MMA fan and regularly trains with UFC star Tony Ferguson at Wild Card. Ferguson and Walsh feuded playfully, but Ferguson’s impact on Walsh is evident in his conditioning.

“Tony and I have been friends for over a year now and we trained together every day for this camp,” Walsh said. “His conditioning is insane, the best I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible. In the gym he pushes everyone and always tries to motivate everyone to train.”

Callum Walsch.  (Photo courtesy of 360 Promotions)

Callum Walsh and UFC star Tony Ferguson trained together at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California. (Photo courtesy of 360 Promotions)

Loeffler got his fight pass deal, but also convinced White to attend his May 12 show in Montebello. Walsh improved his record to 3-0 on that map by knocking out Luis Garcia in 1:48.

White was sold and jumped on the bandwagon.

“First off, this was the best matchmaking on a boxing map I’ve seen in a long, long time,” White said. “The venue was great and the fights were all crazy. And Callum just looked amazing. People are attracted to him and crazy about him.”

Loeffler has brought Walsh to several UFC cards as well as Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano’s boxing card at Madison Square Garden. With each, fans recognized him and asked for photos and autographs. He was well-liked during a performance during the UFC’s International Fight Week in Las Vegas last month.

Walsh trains frequently with 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 had already fought 30 rounds with Ortiz.

Ortiz is close to a welterweight title fight, but Walsh is undeterred.

“I’ve done at least 30 laps with Vergil over the past few weeks and to be honest I’m really comfortable sparring there with him,” Walsh said.

But if he can’t fight, he eventually fizzles out. John Duddy was a popular Irish fighter who sold many tickets on the east coast but failed to reach the top tier. Loeffler, White and especially Roach believe Walsh has a very high ceiling and should be a champion.

“He’s a very good puncher, he throws combinations really well and he has very good fundamentals,” Roach said. “He keeps getting better and better and he has a great work ethic. We had to push him. This enemy is coming [Whitaker] is much better than the others he fought. I like that because I want to see him get a few more rounds.

“But the boy sure can fight. He has this power and he has this exciting style that people like and he has a lot of potential to do some very good things in this business.”

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