"King” Callum Walsh shrugged off the first ever knock down of his ring career to retain his WBC US Silver 154-pound belt with a hard fought 10-round unanimous points decision over Ismael Villarreal at Madison Square Garden last week.
In the opening bout of the evening, lightweight Feargal McCrory engaged in a rough and tumble six-rounder with Russian-born Brooklyn resident Nikolai Buzolin. When the dust had settled, “Fearless” Feargal emerged victorious over his rugged and awkward foe 58-56 on all three judges’ cards.
Both Walsh and McCrory were making their Garden debuts.
For Walsh, who’s 22 but has been boxing since age six, it was the sternest of tests in just his ninth professional fight. Villarreal, four years older and at 5-feet-eight, four inches shorter than the Cork product, came to fight.
Still, Walsh dominated him early with sharp, thudding punches, including a combination punctuated by a right to the temple that hurt the challenger. Villarreal weathered the punishment and then some. Then he turned the tide midway through the third round with a short right hand.
Living up to his “Bronx Beast” moniker, the compact and muscular Villarreal was able to close the distance on the rangy youngster and turn the contest into a slugfest. They were exchanging ferocious punches at the bell to the delight of both the huge Irish turnout in the Theater, and Villarreal’s own sizeable following.
Walsh had regrouped enough between rounds to start the fourth fast and buckle Villarreal’s knees with a hard one-two. But once again, the “Bronx Beast” would regain his senses and fight back.
The middle rounds were close, albeit with Walsh the aggressor and more consistent puncher, while the challenger fought in spurts. Both men landed and took big shots that would send beads of sweat shooting into the Garden air.
Walsh had a big ninth round.
A left sent Villarreal reeling but he somehow defied gravity. He’d absorb several combinations late in the penultimate round, leaving him needing a knockout in the 10th and final stanza to dethrone Walsh.
And Villarreal appeared on the verge of doing just that – at least in the eyes of his ecstatic fans -- early in the 10th. That’s when he dropped Walsh with a flurry of shots.
He rose immediately and was given the mandatory eight-count by referee Steve Willis.
Villarreal's fans roared expecting him to move in for the kill. But their man had shot his load.
Walsh boxed through the reminder of the round until the final 30 seconds when they briefly traded punches one last time.
The judges scored it 97-92 [twice] and 96-93 for Walsh, who improved to 9-0 [7 KOs] after going the distance for just the second time as a pro. Villarreal dropped to 13-2 [9 KOs].
Walsh hailed Villarreal as a “real fighter” and called their scrap “10 good rounds.”
“I’m going to learn a lot from that. I'm only 22-years-old and I'm fighting real fights, and he was definitely a real fighter so I'm happy,” he said.
On the knockdown, Walsh denied that he’d been hurt and described it “more of a trip.”
“He landed some good shots so don't get me wrong, but I have a good chin I was never really hurt at any stage. I was very aware. You can see when I got back up I was fine, so I think it was more of a trip,” he said. “It's the first time, I’ve been down in my life.”
Sizing up his young charge, Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who also drilled Bernard Dunne, said: “He’s a good fighter, he can [match up] with anyone and he’s getting better all the time.”
Asked what the #16 world ranked Walsh’s prospects are in the super welterweight division, Roach responded: “Line them up – am not scared of any of [the other contenders].”
A low blow in the second round admittedly threw Feargal McCrory off his game plan against Nikolai Buzolin. It turned their six-rounder into a scrappy affair, much to the victor’s chagrin.
“It was an awkward fight it was tough,” McCrory told the Echo. “I was boxing very well, then got hit a low blow in the second round and I didn’t stick to my game plan. I got angry -- immature for doing that, I take responsibility for it.
“I won the fight, it was a tough fight, he was very awkward, dangerous with the head, the elbows, the shoulder. After the [low] blow, I couldn’t find a rhythm, but I accept responsibility for it.
“I’m not 100 percent happy with the performance, but at the end of the day, I got a win in Madison Square Garden and I’m back here in March for St. Paddy’s Day and that will be a massive event, I will deliver, that I promise.”
McCrory upped his ledger to 15-0 [7 KOs] while Buzolin is now 9-7-1 [5 KOs].
OLYMPIC BID ENDS
Sean O'Bradaigh’s bid for a spot on the Irish Olympic boxing team to next summer’s Paris games ended with defeat to European light heavyweight titlist Gabriel Dossen in the semi-finals of the National Elite Championships in Dublin last Friday.
“He was too experienced for me, very strong and athletic,” O'Bradaigh told the Echo after his unanimous points loss to the Galway man.
“But he didn’t hurt or stun me which is good,” the 21-year-old added, noting that it was his first ever without headgear.
His emerging unscathed from the contest means that he can continue preparations for his final shot to make the Olympics – with US Boxing this time – as a wild card entry at the Cajundome on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus next month.
That will be a double elimination competition featuring all the top 16 amateurs in each division in the U.S. O’Bradaigh’s wild card application was accepted by US Boxing on account of him being “a Medalist at a 2024 Olympic Trials for Boxing Qualifier in an Olympic weight category.”
O'Bradaigh is also New York Boxing Tournament Elite light heavyweight champion, and the 2023 Ring Masters/Golden Gloves middleweight novice titlist.
During his stint in Ireland, O'Bradaigh was trained by Michael Carruth, the first boxer from the Emerald Isle to win an Olympic gold medal when the southpaw triumphed in the welterweight final in Barcelona in 1992.