NEW YORK — The hype surrounding Callum Walsh, was overwhelming. And the Irish super welterweight prospect faced plenty of scrutiny Thursday in his bout before a sell-out crowd of 3,014 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden with young veteran Ismael Villarreal.
On one side of the ring sat Larry Holmes, a boxing Hall of Famer who ranks among the small handful of the greatest heavyweights in history. Across from him, announcing on the UFC Fight Pass broadcast, was one-time Holmes opponent Gerry Cooney. Behind Cooney sat UFC CEO Dana White, WWE president Nick Khan, former pro wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque and 360 Promotions promoter Tom Loeffler. Super lightweight world champion Teofimo Lopez was also in the house.
There was a lot of pressure on Walsh to perform, and that he did in a bout that was, at times, very difficult for him. He was dropped in the 10th and had the round gone on 30 seconds longer, he might have been in difficulty.
It was enough for him to win a difficult unanimous decision. Judges scored it 97-92 twice and 96-93 for Walsh. Yahoo Sports had it 96-93 for Walsh.
“He did very well,” Roach told Yahoo Sports. “I thought he won every round and the kid came to fight. He wasn’t just there to get a payday. He fought and I thought Callum handled himself well.”
Villarreal entered the bout with a 13-1 record and nine knockouts and a reputation as a wily pro with an outstanding chin. He and his team were confident they’d win and he fought that way. He proved to be a significant challenge, rocking Walsh at times but more often standing toe-to-toe and eating hard, clean shots delivered by the promising Irish super welterweight.
“Great fight between two up-and-coming guys,” White said. “[There was] no big fish, small pound s***, no [tomato] cans, no record-padding. Great matchmaking. That’s why I love Tom’s fights.”
Walsh, now 9-0, fought with the moxie of a guy with twice the number of fights. After Villarreal hit him low in one round and head-butted him in the next, Walsh didn’t touch gloves as the referee restarted the fight, cracking Villarreal with a clean left hand. He was showing he wouldn’t be bullied or intimidated.
At his best, Walsh was creating angles and blasting Villarreal with clean, straight punches, notably his left hand. But his love for the fight got him into trouble on occasion as he would trade unnecessarily and wind up getting caught by quick — and frequently hard — combinations from Villarreal.
“I’m very happy,” Walsh said. “I’m 22 years old and I’m fighting real guys. That guy was definitely a real fighter. So yeah, definitely happy with that; real happy.”
He hit the canvas from such a flurry in the 10th, as he was engaging and Villarreal landed a five-or-six-punch combination that dropped Walsh to all fours. Near the end of the round, Villarreal landed several shots to the head that hurt Walsh badly.
But Walsh showed the power he’s become known for in his career but also showed some boxing skill. The big question is whether he’s a future world champion. He has the team behind him as well as the corner, but he’s still a work in progress.
He showed well, though, and had the crowd roaring, so those who watched him likely will want to see him again.
“I wasn’t trying to load up on my punches,” Walsh said. “I was trying to box and use my boxing ability and my speed, and I think I did that.