2016 is the Chinese Year of the Monkey and Cromer twins Ryan and Liam Walsh to stop hope it brings lasting memories as world champs rather than chimps.
In between bouts of accidents, illness and injury, super-feather Liam has loitered on the periphery of world class for several years. However, sibling Ryan’s ascent to the British featherweight throne in November suggests promoter Frank Warren could have a dual addition to his roster of world champions before Big Ben chimes in 2017.
For too long Ryan, senior by two minutes, has had to act as poor relation. More cautious and cagey than Liam, he offers a different skill set but might prove equally difficult to beat.
Alongside elder brother Michael, the twins debuted at London’s ExCel Arena in February 2008, but while Liam was perched on the Commonwealth throne within 33 months, Ryan endured a seven and a half year wait – plus a misfire against reigning IBF king Lee Selby – before landing his British title.
And expect him to make further headway on his still undefeated brother when he kicks off the domestic year with a quick maiden defence against Aberdeen’s Darren Traynor at the York Hall this Friday.
Provided he prevails, his options appear plentiful. With Selby and highly ranked Commonwealth king Josh Warrington preoccupied at world level, there are few domestic threats to the swift acquisition of a Lonsdale Belt.
Thereafter, the man already ranked 13th by the WBO could pursue the continental crown held by 34 year old Oleg Yefimovych who is no world beater but, alas, no traveller. Yet to venture out of his native Ukraine, promoter Warren might need to dig deep into pockets to prise Komrade Oleg to the UK. Nevertheless, it would provide the express route to world level.
‘Ryan’s done everything asked of him and he’s never involved in a dull fight, that’s for sure,’ says Warren.
‘He brings the same fan base as Liam and, if I can keep him busy and he can keep winning impressively, he’ll be there or thereabouts at world level by the end of 2016.’
Aptly born in the Year of the Tiger (1984), incurable gunslinger Liam has long been considered one of the nation’s most exciting and most gifted talents; sadly, he is among the most ill-fated.
Functional at both 130 and 135lbs, the reigning British and Commonwealth super-feather king has twice been on the cusp of world challenges at the latter poundage. However, involvement in a car crash scuppered a December 2012 WBO challenge to Ricky Burns. And last summer untimely hand surgery forced his withdrawal from a final eliminator with Russia’s Andrey Klimov – with the winner primed to face WBO boss Terry Flanagan.
Recently mended by Manchester maestro Dr Mike Hayton, the fighter ominously known as ‘Destiny’ is due to resurface in April. World rated by the IBF (3) and WBA (11) at super-feather, and by the WBO (8) at lightweight, he is eager to swim in the world championship pool sooner rather than later.
‘I’ll accept absolutely any world title fight offered, even at light-welter but my best chance would definitely be at super-feather,’ says the 29 year old southpaw who has conquered a string of top domestic talents such as Paul Appleby, Scott Harrison, Joe Murray (twice) and Gary Sykes.
‘It’s a real drag getting down to 130 but, once I make it, I’m so much taller, longer and stronger than opponents.
‘It’s unlikely I’ll defend my titles again. Now I just want to be let loose against the very best. For my comeback in April, I’d love to go straight into a fight against the European super-featherweight champion Juli Giner from Spain. You’ve properly earned your stripes as a world contender if you’ve won British, Commonwealth and European titles.
‘I’ve no real preference who I challenge but the winner of (the pending WBO rubber match between Rocky) Martinez-(Orlando) Salido is most likely. Frank (Warren) will want it in the UK but I’d travel to Mexico, Puerto Rico, the US, anywhere. Getting spat at and abused would really bring out the best of me.
(WBA boss) Javier Fortuna looked far from unbeatable in his last fight and I’d love the winner of (IBF boss Jose) Pedraza against Stephen Smith. Fingers firmly crossed for Stephen. He beat me by a point in Liverpool in the 2007 ABA semis. If he wins and I can pick up one of the other belts, what a unification fight that would be.
‘I’ve also made my intentions very clear that I’m up for a fight with Terry Flanagan at 135 but I don’t think Terry is overly keen. Pity. It’d generate big money for us both. I rate Terry highly but he’s never really encountered a fast elusive switcher like me. Let’s see who’s really got the best engine.
‘I’ve sacrificed my whole life to fulfilling my boxing dreams and, given my opportunity, I will be a world champion by New Year’s Eve 2016.’