Chasing a dream: Muhammad Ali’s grandson Nico Ali Walsh makes his pro-boxing debut

Nico Ali Walsh, the grandson of late boxing great Muhammad Ali, is set to make his professional boxing debut.

The grandson of the boxing great Muhammad Ali, Nico Ali Walsh, will make his professional debut on Saturday (August 14) in a scheduled four-round middleweight bout in Oklahoma. Ali Walsh had been fighting amateur but then signed with Top Rank, a locally headquartered promotional company to turn pro in the middleweight division. Now the 21-year-old will take on Jordan Weeks, a former MMA fighter, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Tulsa in Oklahoma as the grandson of “The Greatest”.

Adding more drama to the event is the fact that Nico Ali’s bouts will be promoted by Bob Arum, who famously organised Muhammad Ali fights. Arum, 89, first promoted an Ali fight in 1966 and organised another 27 of Ali’s fights between 1966 and 1978. One of those bouts was the memorable ‘Thrilla in Manila’ against Joe Frazer.

Nico Ali knows his lineage will be the constant buzz when he steps foot in the four-squared ring as his first pro contest occurs 61 years after Muhammad Ali’s first professional fight.

Born in Chicago but a resident of Las Vegas since he was four years old, Nico Ali wasn’t captivated by the sport that gave his grandfather eternal fame. His mother Rasheda Ali, who was the daughter of Muhammad  Ali’s second wife, was also initially opposed to her son’s desire of practicing the same ‘trade’ as his grandfather.

But boxing was in his family’s DNA and it was at 14 that he finally did take up the sport seriously and to help him out he had the world’s best mentor. Ali, a three-time boxing world heavyweight champion, passed away in 2016 after battling Parkinson’s syndrome. However, in his final days, he helped his grandson (aged 15) in his training via facetime.

Living up to the name

Boxing is a tough sport but for Nico Ali, there is the added pressure of living up to the family name. “Unfortunately, well, fortunately for me, actually, I’ve had to live with this pressure my whole life. So whether it’s boxing or school or anywhere in life, I’m always compared to my grandfather. Obviously, I’m more heavily compared to him if I’m picking the same, exact sport that he was in, but I’ve felt this pressure my whole life. But I feel like every fighter has pressure. So I don’t see it as most people do,” he told Yahoo Sports.

“He’s my grandfather as simple as that,” said Nico Ali, who is also juggling classes in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while being a professional boxer.

“So it’s hard on me,” he added.

“But I am boxing because the legacy is so important to me and that fuels me in boxing. I feel I am able to do certain things that I would otherwise not be able to do had it not been for the legacy that I have,” he had told Top Rank Boxing.

So does he have the same long reach, incredible speed, and quickness as his grandfather? Nico is the first to admit he does not.

“I have to go with focus again. I’m a big fan of fighters who have the extreme determination and focus because it’s not easy. Boxing is 90 percent mental and I’m sure the greatest boxers of all time would tell you that,” he had said.

For his promoter, Bob Arum life has come a full circle and this feeling is like no other. “I felt I’d be in it for one fight, maybe two fights. I wasn’t getting to be a lifer in boxing,” Arum told the AP before adding, “Now I end up promoting a fight with his grandson. How crazy is that?”

But according to BB Hudson, the athletic performance specialist on Nico Ali’s training team his lad needs to go through the rigours, undergo bumps and bruises just like anybody else, before emerging as a champion.

For the grandson when it all gets too much to handle he fondly remembers his ‘Poppy’ advice, keep your head clear and keep moving forward.

Nico Ali will also have Sugar Hill Steward, the trainer for WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, in his corner on Saturday night. According to Nico Ali, it is Fury who has given him the best advice.

“He said he had 35 amateur fights: If you can fight, you can fight,” said Ali.

Ali Walsh’s bout is the co-main event of a Top Rank card where the main event is a trilogy title bout between Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney.

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