Frontline diary: Walsh on a mission

Chris Williamson
27/02/2020 9:19pm

Photo: James Chance/Getty Images

Chris Williamson's observations from ringside at York Hall, as Ryan Walsh wins again and sets up a mouthwatering clash with Jazza Dickens in MTK Global's Golden Contract featherweight tournament final...

Ryan Walsh has reigned as British champion for longer than any current domestic titlist; almost four-and-a half-years.

Following his second featherweight defence against James Tennyson in 2016, I watched the then-heavyweight champion Tyson Fury – in attendance at London’s Copper Box to support cousin Hughie also fighting on the bill – congratulate Walsh and compliment him that his bobbing and weaving were reminiscent of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.

Almost four years later and on the eve of Fury officially regaining a portion of the heavyweight title, with Mike Tyson cheering his namesake at the MGM Grand – Walsh booked a place in the final of MTK Global’s innovative Golden Contract tournament with a convincing ten-round decision over previously unbeaten Tyrone McCullagh.

“Tyson: the ‘Gypsy Legend’ I’m calling him,” an effusive Walsh – a massive boxing fan - told BM a few days after their respective wins. “Had I not have seen it [Fury’s performance] with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. For once one of these fighters said he would do something and went and did it. I was over the moon.”

Back to events at York Hall and in truth it was McCullagh’s first contest anywhere near this level and he resembled a lost deer for much of the ordeal, skittishly circling the ring to avoid the aggressive champion's (title not at stake) onslaughts.

After an uneventful first few rounds, Walsh landed a hard right to the temple that had the Derry man floundering then followed up until he fell to the canvas. The remaining question became whether Walsh would force a stoppage. A huge left-hook from the Cromer man in the seventh shook the sweat from the Northern Irishman’s hair and three successive pinpoint left-hooks saw the younger man drop to his knees in the ninth. ‘White Chocolate’ showed both pace and bravery in lasting to hear the final bell and deprive Walsh of the £7,500 KO bonus.

“This year I’m on a mission,” Walsh told BM. “Big things can happen this year and [if I ] get this tournament won that leads to a world title shot.”

Earlier in the evening Ohara Davies (now 21-2) was simply too big up at light-welterweight for a game super-sub Jeff Ofori (now 10-2-1) who had his moments – in particular a terrific rally at the close of the fifth when buzzing Davies with a left-hook and spirited follow up - until finished in the sixth after a big right hand penetrated his guard and referee McCann sensibly waved the fight off.

Davies has enjoyed a bounce-back of sorts from defeats to current world number one Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall as well as what to most observers was a ludicrous decision win over Miguel Vasquez. Anthony Yarde watched his friend Davies closely with former fighter Spencer Fearon.

Tyronne McKenna (now 21-1-1) walked to the ring to the Queen classic 'We Will Rock You', although as it turned out 'We Will Rob You' may have been more appropriate as French stylist Mohamed Mimoune outclassed the Belfast fellow-southpaw for long periods before going down to what I think was a highly debatable unanimous decision loss.

The neat and tidy McKenna enjoyed a bright start and pipped the first couple of rounds on my card but the cultured visitor took over from the third onwards from my ringside vantage point. A self-confessed casual fan asked a media colleague and I if he was wrong to have considered the Frenchman a worthy winner. We told him he was dead right and attempted to explain as briefly as possible how and why politics and poor decisions appear so rife in the sport.

Liverpool’s ‘Jazza’ Dickens improved 29-3 in scoring probably the finest win of a long career, handing a streaking Leigh Wood (23-2) a second reverse over ten in the final bout of a pulsating night.

“You’re tall!” Wood’s mother had told me from the row behind just prior to the bell and I promised to remain seated so she could watch the action clearly. That Wood’s supportive family became quieter as the bout wore on told the story and – as with Walsh’s win over McCullagh – experience, pressure and good old fashioned man-strength began to bully Wood through the second half of the match.

Dickens’ chief supporter was former cruiserweight champ Tony Bellew who had a couple of good-natured run-ins with both security – who knew keeping Bellew seated was a fool's errand – and Wood’s family, who disagreed in colourful terms with Bellew’s assertion that a first-round left hook from Dickens had resulted in a legitimate knockdown.

The fifth session was a beauty as Dickens hurt Wood with a peach of a right-hook, before the Nottingham fighter battled back to leave his fans - draped in a Nottingham flag - in a near-frenzy. The seventh round was even better as the two pushed each other virtually to breaking point.

In general, Dickens' quality was more consistent whereas Wood seemed to force himself to work in bursts. Wood looked exhausted and was almost stopped in the penultimate round, before the Scouser was announced the majority-decision victor. For what its worth – not a lot – the WBO’s spurious European title was on the line. Walsh vs Dickens is a can’t-miss domestic blockbuster and one would hope those involved can find a way to make it for the Lonsdale belt – perhaps by increasing the rounds to twelve.

One of many welcome and fresh new ideas introduced by the Golden Contract organisers is offering the fighters – fresh from their bouts – the opportunity to commentate live on potential opponents.

“I got to do a bit of commentary which I was really happy with, I think that would be my dream job once father time catches up, ” recalled Walsh, before adding that any potential broadcasting career will have to wait until his passion as a competitor is fully extinguished: “I can’t see me ever retiring from boxing, I think boxing will have to retire me [as] I love it that much.”

With both men well positioned in the rankings a good source told BM that Walsh vs Dickens could even double as a ‘world’ title eliminator, so the Golden Contract finals – at feather at least – seem likely to well and truly live up to the tournament name.