Ryan Walsh: Familia supra omnia
John A. MacDonald
Familia supra omnia. The Latin phrase meaning family, above all others, is a mantra Ryan Walsh and his fighting siblings – twin brother Liam and older brother Michael – live their lives by. It has been emblazoned across their t-shirts on fight night and it’s not uncommon to see Ryan finish tweets with it on the social media platform.
It’s a belief that their father John instilled in them from an early age and now that sense of family loyalty is engrained in them. This meant that Ryan found Christmas Day particularly hard as he was deep in camp in Tenerife with his girlfriend and four children, isolated from his brothers, sister, his nieces and nephews.
This sacrifice was worthwhile as Walsh made the first defence of his British featherweight title in front of a sell-out crowd at York Hall on 22 January. A four punch combination sent his challenger – Darren Traynor – sprawling across the bottom rope obliging referee Michael Alexander to halt the contest in the fifth round. This gave Walsh his first stoppage victory in over two-and-a-half years and resulted in an out-of-body experience.
“It was euphoric,” Walsh told Boxing Monthly over the phone from outside the Kickstop Gym in Norwich. “When the crowd were mental, it was as if I was with them, outside of myself, enjoying it. I’ve never had it in a boxing ring before but it was really nice. Maybe it was because of the knockout. I reckon it’s the closest thing to a footballer scoring in a big match when you’ve got 30,000 people screaming. It was special. I’ll hold that dear in my memories – that’s for sure.
“For me, for 29 years, Christmas has been about being cold and getting fat. This year, I was losing weight, getting thin and I was warm. It was so different. You’ve got Ying and Yang here, polar opposites. It was so strange.
“I was so gutted because I didn’t get to see my family. I was moody about it all. I was in the gym and I had my Christmas hat on Face-Timing to Liam and Michael. They were all together, see. I’m looking at them thinking: ‘I should be there, I should with ‘em.’ I was happy to see them but the second that FaceTime ended I was pretty gutted.”
As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, Walsh (20-1-1, 9 KOs) was initially in agreement with Liam’s ‘five out of 10’ performance rating. Upon second viewing, both believed they had under-appreciated the performance. Despite this, Ryan still chastises himself for getting caught with a right hand in the second round which caused his legs to stiffen and almost sent him to the canvas.
The fact that he was aware that he had studied Traynor and was aware that was his danger punch just adds to his frustration.
“I do not like getting punched. I go in not to get punched. When I do get punched – stupid as it sounds – I’m shocked,” Walsh revealed. “More than anything, I knew about his right hand, I knew about this shot! With all his shots, he really swings into them, he’s trying to hurt you with every punch. I like that idea as it gives me a split second to watch for it, watch his shoulders. I just took my eyes of him for a second and he cracked me. It annoyed me but it focused me.
“I had the wherewithal to look him in the eye and I laughed. That wasn’t in a disrespectful way, I was laughing to myself. I laughed and went: ‘Huh, didn’t see that.’ That’s what I said to him. It was as honest as that, I just didn’t see the punch. Next minute, I felt all my weight on my right leg and I thought: ‘Wait a minute.’ I didn’t expect to get punched, I didn’t see it and realistically I should have been on my bum!”
Walsh’s victory was roared on by his passionate supporters ‘The Farmy Army’ from Norfolk. Having grown up in Rochdale, at nine or 10 years old he went to the seaside town of Cromer alongside his parents and his siblings for the annual carnival in August, as they had relatives in the county.
What was initially meant to be a short break turned into a permanent stay as after a short while staying with family – which saw 10 of them in a two-bedroom house – they relocated the 200-odd miles south. Despite a strong affinity towards Cromer, he has fond memories of his childhood in Rochdale and the type of upbringing that most children simply won’t experience anymore.
“We are on holiday, my dad brought us here on holiday and we’ve never gone back and I can see why,” Walsh said with a laugh. “Rochdale was a totally different world from where I live now; I live on the coast, it’s a quiet, lovely place is Cromer.
“Rochdale was just mental. It was a different time, too. In my time when I was growing up; five, six, seven years old we’d walk ourselves to school no problem. There seemed to be more freedom for children. Now everyone is scared. I know the world is a bad place sometimes but I loved that freedom and we thrived off it. There used to be a group of 30 kids playing all different kinds of games. The world seems to be changing and becoming more restrictive.”
With their father being a boxing enthusiast, it’s perhaps inevitable that the three brothers would go onto find happiness in the ring. Tapes of ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns were frequently watched in the house. Furthermore, with three sons, John Walsh knew it was inevitable that his boys would fight. At the earliest opportunity, he offered his sons a controlled outlet for their aggression, an ethos Ryan is instilling into his own children.
“My dad put gloves on us - I reckon – since we could walk so maybe as early as two,” he told BM. “I follow something my dad said to us: ‘Boys are going to fight.’ I’ve got two boys myself and they’ve got cousins and they are all around the same ages. Boys are going to fight – that’s just what we do, it’s part of nature. ‘If you are going to do that, put the gloves on.’ That’s what my dad said to us and that’s what we done.
“We’ve carried that through all our lives. Even in our adult lives, if we’ve got a bit of a problem it’s best to put the gloves on and sort it out. Every time I’ve fell out with my brothers I’ve put the gloves on. At the end of however long it lasts, whatever we do, that’s it, it’s done.”
This form of conflict resolution has served them well as they share a bond unrivalled by most – to the extent that they are in the process of buying a plot of land big enough so they can they live next door to each other.
Having sparred countless rounds with his brothers and knowing them better than anyone else, Ryan believes that their respective fighting styles mirror their personalities, with his own risk-adverse counter-punching reflecting his cautious, studious nature.
“I’m the sensible one, I always have been. I never was a daredevil,” he said. “I think my fighting style proves what I’m trying to say, I’m too sensible for that! I’ve never been in trouble in my life. I’ve never smoked, drunk or took drugs and I don’t think I ever will – I’m 29-years-old.
“Anyone who meets Michael thinks he’s mad, watch him fight he’s mad, watch the way he acts he’s mad. He’s also the nicest, kindest person anyone could meet. He shocks people more than anyone, Michael. They look at him and think: ‘You’re crazy,’ but he’s just so passionate. When it comes to me and Liam, he’s our guardian angel. I was born with a guardian angel. He’s always watching out for me and Liam, he’s unbelievable.
“Liam’s style does reflect his character. Liam is mischievous, he’s got that glint in his eye. Liam will be boxing brilliant but it seems like he has to have a fight. He can be that angel but something in him wants to be that devil. His style mimics him. When he was young he used to wind me up like mad, he’s got a bit of devil in him.
“Liam and Michael are my world, simple as that. Michael is my guardian angel and Liam is my soulmate, the other half of me – that’s the only way I can put it.”
In September of last year, Ryan and Liam made history by becoming the first twins to hold British titles simultaneously. Ryan claimed the vacant featherweight title – at the second attempt having previously been unsuccessful in challenging Lee Selby - beating Samir Mouneimne by split decision (117-111, 116-112, 113-114). Liam had picked up the Lonsdale Belt at super featherweight – 10 months earlier – beating Gary Sykes by wide unanimous decision.
Mouneimne’s performance was a cagey, cute one – in stark contrast to his bullish showing in defeat to Josh Warrington. Walsh believes that he won the fight on the scales.
“There’s two fights that happen, there’s a physical one and a mental one,” Walsh revealed. “He [Mouneimne] never, ever recovered from the weigh-in, mentally. I looked him in the eyes and I seen a man who realised he couldn’t bully me. Physically, very early on I changed that fight. He came out and he tried to bully Josh Warrington and I got it in my head that he was going to try and bully me. He didn’t show the same confidence or the same style against me at all. I’m still baffled by it all really, if I’m honest.
“In the last round, I’d love to know what was said to him. Surely they [his corner] didn’t say: ‘Go out there and hold onto him like a rodeo bull,’ did they? That’s what he done [laughs].
“I honestly didn’t think it was a close fight. I agreed with the judge that had me six up, I thought it was probably five if I’m honest. I just felt so comfortable, so strong, I wouldn’t be denied – that was my mentality. I wanted it so much more than him.”
In his pursuit of perfection, Walsh has conducted a self-analysis and realised at times in his career he’s lacked confidence in his own ability, preoccupied by defensive responsibilities that he neglected his own offence.
Since claiming the British title, his self-belief has grown, he’s now not afraid to throw a lead right hook from the orthodox stance. However, he knows he’ll never be over confident – his family won’t allow it.
“I physically watched that with my twin brother, when he won the Commonwealth to now - right at the present – he has progressively got better. Nothing seemed to push me in that sense other than Samir. I kinda was on Liam’s coattails being carried by him really. All his success was helping me because I knew how much I’d trained with him, how much I’d done with him.
“Now I got my own kick up the arse. My kick comes from being able to stand on my own, I’m the British champion, too. The good thing for me is I’m never out of the gym, that’s my biggest asset as fighter. My success comes through hard work and that’s how it should be done.
“I’m really lucky; I’m always going to be grounded because I’ve got brothers who’ll never let me be anything else. I Tweeted after I won the British title: ‘I’m British champion but I’m not the best in Britain – that goes to [Lee] Selby – and I’m certainly not the best in my household – Liam won’t have that!”