29.11.06 – After an absence of over a decade professional boxing returns to Cork in the New Year with the “Valentine’s Weekend Massacre” at the City Hall. Local hero Billy Walsh will top the February 17th bill and will be joined on the five fight card by his brother Pa. The event is being organised by Nowhere to Hyde Promotions, a new venture headed up by local businessman Gary Hyde..
Hyde says he’s delighted to be bringing big fight nights back to the city. “The last big fight in Cork was the Steve Collins – Chris Eubank rematch at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 1995 and I think the time is right to bring professional boxing back to Cork. Wholesale Floors have come on board as a sponsor and the feedback from around the city and county so far has been very positive.”
“If this goes well I don’t see why it can’t become a regular feature on Cork’s sporting calendar. Bernard Dunne’s European title success has proven that there is a huge appetite for boxing with the general public and Cork has always been a great boxing city. We’ve always produced great fighters down through the years.”
As far back as the 1930’s we had the “Gorgeous Gael”, Jack Doyle, my own grandfather Tommy Hyde won an Irish Senior title in 1946 and went on to represent Ireland 27 times while another Corkman, Mick Leahy beat the great Sugar Ray Robinson in 1964. Then in the 80’s and 90’s we produced some of this countries greatest ever amateurs, men like Gordon and Kieran Joyce, Paul Buttimer, Seanie Barrett and Michael Roche.”
“The three Walsh brothers from Shanagarry were up there with those guys and now Billy and Pa have a chance to make a name for themselves as professionals. Anyone who’s followed boxing in Cork knows just how good they are, between Billy, Pa and their brother Kevin they have a total of 23 All-Ireland titles so I think that speaks for itself.”
Billy, the oldest of the three brothers turned professional in July and has so far racked up two straight wins. Now based in Boston the 9 time Irish Champion can’t wait to step into the ring at the City Hall.
“This is a dream come true for me and I can’t speak highly enough about Gary Hyde for giving me this opportunity. He got me a fight on the Bernard Dunne show in Dublin earlier this month and now he’s promoting his first show and I’m privileged to be topping the bill. I’ve known Gary since I was a kid and he’s always been an inspiration to us.”
Although Walsh hung up his amateur vest in 1996 he was always desperate to turn professional and his dream finally became reality when he relocated to the U.S. earlier this year and scored a second round knockout on his debut.
“The desire to go professional has always been there. Before my debut I’d been out of the ring for ten years after my last amateur fight but I can honestly say I’m back better than ever and hungrier than ever too.”
“I had a good rivalry with Francie Barrett in the amateurs. He beat me in what was effectively a box off for the Olympics in 1996 and I’m not making excuses but I really thought I did enough to win that fight. It was a great contest though, Jimmy Magee was commentating and he said we could have fought in a phonebooth, it was real toe to toe stuff.”
“I was disappointed with the decision though and I had enough of amateur boxing after that but I always held out hope that I’d box in Cork again some day as a pro and now it’s going to happen.”
However Walsh has many more ambitions to fulfil including what he considers to be unfinished business with Barrett who has also moved on to the pro ranks.
“My first aim is to win an Irish title in 2007. That could involve a rematch with Francie and I’d love that. He’s a gentleman but I’d love a rematch because that’s one result I want to put straight.”
“I’d also like to fight James Moore. He’s based in the U.S. as well so that would be another big fight but ultimately I’d like to win a European title and go as far as possible in the sport.”
Walsh is trained in Boston by Pascal Collins, the ex-pro and also brother to former world Champion Steve Collins.
“It was our Dad, Maurice who put so much work into us and indeed all the other kids at St. Colman’s Boxing club when we were growing up. He’s still as involved as ever and he loves it.”
“I’ve been training with Pascal since I’ve been over in the States and he’s been very good to me. He knows his stuff and covers every angle. For example he has me working on my nutrition and I’m still eating a good, solid diet but the weight is just falling off me.”
Walsh returned home earlier this month for his second pro fight, an impressive four round win at the Point in Dublin and it’s whetted his appetite for his upcoming fight at the City Hall.
“It was great to fight at home, it was exciting stuff and I got a great buzz from it. I wasn’t overly happy with my performance and my fitness could have been better but I have plenty of notice for this next fight so I planning on putting on a big performance. It’ll be a six rounder as well so I’m looking forward to that.”
“The City Hall is a special venue for me because I won my first All Ireland title there in 1985. I was just 11 years of age but the All Ireland’s were held there that year because of the Cork 800 celebrations so it’s a venue that means a lot to me.”
Walsh is also looking forward to heading home for Christmas although his definition of catching up with his brothers on old times might be different to most other families! “Believe it or not I’m actually looking forward to some good sparring with Pa. He’s very talented and I’m sure he’ll be well suited to the pro game. Even though I spar a lot of boxers here in the States it’s hard to get the kind of quality sparring that I can get at home in Cork.”
“As brothers the three of us sparred when we were younger but the gap in our ages was more of an issue then. I was a year older than Kevin so if I gave him a few thumps then he’d get in with Pa who was a few years younger again and take it out on him. Now the age gap makes less difference so we can all take lumps out of each other!”
For Pa, the youngest of the three Walsh brothers February 17th will see him make his punch for pay debut and he’s says he can’t wait.
“It’s exciting now alright, I haven’t really boxed much in the last few years as I’ve been working for myself but I’ve kept in shape and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll probably enter the Irish Amateur Championships for one last time in January just to get a few fights under my belt before the City Hall show.”
The 28-year-old welterweight enjoyed a distinguished amateur career swapping leather with some familiar names and clocking up 5 Irish titles. “I fought Ricky Hatton in a Four Nations Golden Gloves tournament in London. I was doing well and ahead on points until he caught me with one of his trademark body shots.”
“I also fought John Duddy in the semi final of the Irish Senior Championships in 2000. The fight was scored a draw but he was awarded the verdict on a countback but considering what John has gone on to do as a pro in New York that wasn’t too bad a result.”
Now though Walsh has his eyes firmly on the future and a possible Irish title fight as a pro. “I’m just going to take it one fight at a time but hopefully I can fight for an Irish title at some point.”
“At the moment though I’m just looking at this fight in February. I’ve always wanted to be involved in a big night of boxing there. Billy won his first All Ireland there in 1985 and it’s a great venue with great history so it promises to be a great night.
The third of the Walsh trio Kevin is also not ruling out a move to the professional ranks. “I think he’d consider it,” said Pa. “He might not fight on this first show but it wouldn’t surprise me if he decided to go pro for the next one.”
Tickets for the February 17th show priced at €60, €70 and €80 are available from the Castle Tavern in Riverstown or by phoning 087 2424898. They would make an ideal Christmas present for any sports fan.
The 5 card will also featured appearances by undefeated Lurgan prospect, Stephen Haughian, Belfast light welterweight James Gorman and unbeaten featherweight Andrew Wallace. A press conference for the show will be held in Cork on December 18th. Full details to follow.
For further information contact Gary Hyde on: 087 2424898