Nico Ali Walsh, the grandson of Muhammad Ali, impresses with 1st-round KO in debut

·Combat columnist
·5 min read

Close your eyes and just listen, and you could have convinced yourself it was March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden, as Muhammad Ali made the long walk to face Joe Frazier in what remains the most significant bout in boxing history.

Ali and Frazier are both gone, boxing is a vastly different sport in 2021 than it was in 1971 and it’s almost heresy to mention any other fighter in a sentence with those two.

But as Nico Ali Walsh turned professional on Saturday, wearing the white trunks with a black stripe that his grandfather wore as heavyweight champion some 50 years ago, it was hard not to get goosebumps by the scene.

Ali Walsh is the 21-year-old grandson of Muhammad Ali. More than five years after his grandfather’s death, more than 40 years after his grandfather’s final fight and more than 60 years after his grandfather turned pro, Ali Walsh made his own pro debut a successful one at the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by knocking out overmatched Jordan Weeks in the first round of their middleweight bout.

He isn’t pedigreed like his grandfather, who came into the pros only months after winning a light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

But though everyone associated with him did their level best to tamp down expectations — “Total beginner,” trainer Sugarhill Steward said to anyone who would listen — it was a massive story because of the bloodline.

The grandson of "The Greatest" following in arguably the most iconic athlete in history’s footsteps was bound to garner some attention. He admitted afterward there was pressure, and Weeks was essentially a total non-entity in terms of boxing skill, but Ali Walsh looked as good as anyone in his shoes could look.

Ortiz stops Kavaliauskas; Casimero outpoints Rigondeaux

Ali Walsh fought on a huge day for the sport. Several hundred miles away in Dallas, Vergil Ortiz Jr., continued his ascent to the top of the welterweight division with an impressive eighth-round stoppage of Egidijus Kavaliauskas.

Guillermo Rigondeaux, one of the great pure boxers of this or any generation, made a bid at 40 for yet another world title. He faced a promising bantamweight champion in John Riel Casimero in Carson, California, but both were awful.

They landed 91 punches combined in 12 sleep-inducing rounds which basically showed the worst of each man.

Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney completed their trilogy Saturday in the main event in Tulsa, with a great defensive performance by Franco leading to a victory in their super flyweight title bout, ending the controversy that existed after the nonsensical 26-minute replay delay following their last fight in Las Vegas that ended in a no-decision.

And in England, light heavyweight Joshua Buatsi served notice that he’s about to be a force to be reckoned with by stopping Rickards Bolotniks in the 11th round Saturday.

CATOOSA, OKLAHOMA - AUGUST 14: Jordan Weeks (L) and Nico Ali Walsh (R) exchange punches during their fight at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa on August 14, 2021 in Catoosa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
Jordan Weeks (L) and Nico Ali Walsh (R) exchange punches during their fight at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa on Aug. 14, 2021 in Catoosa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

It was against that backdrop that Ali Walsh fought. If you dropped three letters — A-L-I — and it was Nico Walsh against Jordan Weeks — this would have been a club fight, the first bout of the night that no one paid attention to and which would not have gotten such significant media attention.

ESPN chose to make Ali Walsh the co-main event, bypassing the promising super lightweight Arnold Barboza, who pounded out a one-sided decision over Antonio Moran in his 10-rounder.

It did so knowing it could get ugly, but Ali Walsh looked like he could actually fight a little.

“To hear those Ali chants was something that I’ll never forget,” Ali Walsh said. “I didn’t expect that, to be honest, but it was special.”

He knocked Weeks down a little over a minute into the fight, tagging him with a jab and following with a crisp, straight right hand. Ali Walsh said after the fact that all he’d worked on with Steward was the jab and the right, so it was fitting that the combination was the one that put Weeks down.

Weeks got up, obviously dazed, and Ali Walsh pounced. He landed a series of punches, punctuated by another clean straight right, and the referee stepped in.

Ali Walsh raised his hands skyward as his grandfather had done so many times before. His mother, Rasheda Ali, embraced her husband, Bob Walsh, at ringside as a mob scene ensued in the ring.

Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the scene in the ring and the response on social media, this clearly wasn’t just any pro debut.

Ali Walsh did interview after interview before the fight, answering the same question over and over and over: What’s it like to be Muhammad Ali’s grandson?

He handled himself deftly, with grace and aplomb, and never showed signs of cracking.

When the lights went on and the situation was the biggest is when his grandfather was at his best.

And after watching that, it was hard not to think, “Like grandfather, like grandson.”

He said the pre-fight circus didn’t impact him in the least.

“Honestly, it seems like a lot of pressure, but to me, it’s just my grandfather,” Ali Walsh said of the talk of Ali. “To everyone else, to you guys and the crowd, he’s the greatest fighter who ever lived, maybe the greatest person. But to me, he’s the greatest grandfather.”

Nobody has ever, and may never, use the word great in the same sentence as Nico Ali Walsh.

It’s appropriate at least this once, though, considering what he did, who his grandfather is and what was going on:

Great job, Nico.

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