It’s incredible to think about.
Muhammad Ali and members of his family have mastered the sweet science in every decade since the 1950s as either amateur or professionals. That is eight decades in a row of boxing.
Ali fought from the late 50s to 1981, his brother Rahaman in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Ali’s daughter Leila Ali boxed in the 90s and 00s, and Ali’s grandson Nico Ali Walsh began as an amateur in the 10s and debuted as a pro in the 20s.
That is eight decades in a row of boxing in the Ali family, but the spectacular line of succession could end with Ali’s grandson.
“I started out very young just messing around with boxing, and I think that I just caught the bug,” says Las Vegas-based Nico Ali Walsh in this exclusive interview with the World Boxing Super Series, home of the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
“And when I was 14 I started officially as an amateur. I lost my first fight, I got beat up, and I wanted to quit. And right after the fight, I went straight to my grandfather’s house, and I talked to him about that.
“It was just him and me one-on-one talking about how it’s like to lose, and how it doesn’t matter if you lose. Just being resilient is the most important thing. I think that’s when a part of me said, you know what, if I’m gonna stick with boxing I need to take it all the way, or I need to get out right now.”
In his debut on 21 August the 21-year-old, who wore iconic Everlast trunks his grandfather had given to him, knocked down Jordan Weeks midway through the first round before the referee stopped the fight shortly afterward.
George Foreman, who lost to Nico’s grandfather in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974, praised the performance.
“This guy is a tough little cookie,” Foreman told USA Today predicting a championship fight in two years. “He’s gotta natural antenna like his grandfather staying away from punches. He’s going to be a fine little fighter.”
Nico is optimistic too, and aware of the quote from a familiar source.
“I’ve met George as a kid obviously because of my grandfather. That was an amazing compliment, but I don’t know if I see that. I don’t know where I am in two years.
“My dreams were made with that first fight. That was my dream and it came true.
“Just knowing that I can do it, that it is possible, that my dreams are possible. The sky really is the limit because that’s what I set out to do, and I’ve already exceeded my expectations for the first fight. I just wanna be the greatest fighter that I can be. And whatever that is I’m excited to find out and see.”
Nico Ali Walsh is on a multi-fight contract with the 89-year-old promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, who promoted 27 of his grandfather’s fights.
“I’m an old soul. I’m all about legacy and tradition, and history. If I can repeat history in any way I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy. I’m trying to create my own of course at the end of the day.
“He did it with Bob Arum, so being promoted by him and Top Rank is another tremendous honour because it is repeating history, I’m following along the footsteps of my grandfather.”
The grandson of The Greatest is under the tutelage of SugarHill Steward, nephew of the late legendary trainer Emanuel Steward who trained 41 world champion fighters throughout his career. SugarHill is now making a name for himself as the head trainer of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
“SugarHill has helped me a lot because he has a legacy of his own through his uncle Emanuel Steward. He understands what it’s like to live under a constant shadow, and he was able to break away from that shadow, and he is the perfect person to talk to.
“I’ve actually shied away from the legacy of my grandfather for so many years. It’s just recently within the last year that I started embracing it a little bit. I would say the night of the fight was when I started embracing it.”
Nico Ali Walsh is the son of Robert Walsh and Rasheda Ali Walsh, daughter of Muhammad Ali – Rasheda who presented the Muhammad Ali Trophy to Callum Smith in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in September 2018 when the Brit won the Super-Middleweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series.
Muhammad Ali died in 2016, shortly before Nico’s 16th birthday, after a legendary career that saw him win the heavyweight title on three occasions.
“Unfortunately he wasn’t able to make it to the gym to watch me spar or anything like that. But all my sparring and training videos at that time he watched because they were all recorded and I showed them to him. He was very supportive. I’m very happy that he got to see that, and I got to get little tips here and there from him.”
Fittingly named the greatest sportsman of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. Ali’s fights against George Foreman and Joe Frazier are among the most famous boxing bouts and sporting events in history.
“I’m definitely biased. I always say that he is the greatest fighter of all time. But if he wasn’t my grandfather I would say the same. The stuff he did in the ring was immaculate. It can’t be replicated, it really can’t. It’s hard to emulate. I would never try to emulate the stuff he did, no one can ever try to emulate it because they gonna fall short. He was just able to do stuff you can’t do, and that is what made him great.
“Something about him that made him unique, and I don’t think any fighter in history could beat him in his prime. I can’t pinpoint why, but he just had something in him that he wouldn’t let anyone beat him.
“My favourite fight is the one with George Foreman. The Rumble in the Jungle is literally one of the greatest fights of all time if not the greatest.”
It is still hard for Nico to grasp the magnitude of his grandfather’s achievements and the fact that he was – and still is – one of the most influential people to have graced the planet.
“I still don’t fully comprehend the whole situation. I definitely understand the situation better now, but it wasn’t until I was around 12 and he had his 70th birthday party here in Vegas, and a bunch of celebrities that I looked up to showed up to the party and were singing happy birthday to my grandfather.
“I think it was that moment I was like, I think my grandfather is well-known, not just in my neighbourhood, but maybe the country, the world.”
Outside of the ring, Muhammad Ali was much more than a boxer, he was among many things known as a humanitarian, philanthropist, and entertainer. Religious, spiritual. Parts of Ali’s life that his grandson could see unfold in front of his eyes as opposed to the boxing career.
“The boxing portion is something that I’ve come to learn over the years. The humanitarian side of him, the kind and loving side of him that’s what I’ve known my entire life. And he was that way with the family, with me, and with everyone no matter who it was, with complete strangers, he was that way.
“That is the side I look up to most. It’s not easy to be nice, and loving, and caring one hundred percent of the time, but it’s really what it was with him. I’ve never seen him be mean or rude or dismissive to anybody. That is a feat in itself. He had charisma for days.
“When I say I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy, I’m certainly not talking about becoming heavyweight champion of the world. I’m talking about being a great fighter, but more importantly, being a great person. He stood for something bigger than boxing. That’s all I’m about and how I was raised by my parents.
“I don’t believe that boxing is something that will get me brownie points to get to heaven.”
The middleweight fighter worries he might be the last in the Ali family to lace-up the gloves. With his grandfather no longer around to give his blessing to another entrant to the squared circle.
“I don’t know if the legacy will continue on after me.”
“I mean, I don’t know if I want it to. I would say the way I think personally is I wouldn’t be boxing if I didn’t get my grandfather’s blessing on it. And now that, unfortunately, he’s gone nobody else can get his blessing.”
“I would like to think that the boxing legacy of my grandfather would end with me. Just because he knew I was boxing, he knew what I was trying to do with boxing. I wasn’t setting out to boxing to make money or to be notable or recognised. It was for a legacy. And he knew that.”
Ali Walsh returns to action on the October 23rd Shakur Stevenson-Jamel Herring undercard in Atlanta. He will be competing just miles from where his grandfather lit the Olympic torch to start the 1996 Games.