Ali grandson to box as fights back at Madison Square Garden

Dec 8, 2021, 7:55 PM | Updated: Dec 9, 2021, 2:35 pm
Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, poses for a photo i...

Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, poses for a photo inside the arena during a tour of Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK (AP) — Nico Ali Walsh studied everything from a ticket stub to a scale, loving all the memorabilia from some of boxing’s biggest names and nights.

Well, except for a picture of his grandfather getting cracked in the head by Joe Frazier’s thunderous left hand.

Muhammad Ali’s grandson has followed him into boxing and on Saturday follows him into the ring at Madison Square Garden, where The Greatest did everything from box in the “Fight of the Century” to guest referee the main event in the first Wrestlemania.

“This place holds a sentimental value,” Ali Walsh said. “If I wasn’t related to my grandfather then it would be super special just for the history. But because he fought here and I haven’t really gone anywhere where he fought like that, it’s just special and I think my family’s going to think the same thing when they come here.”

Ali Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs) fights during the first big boxing card back at Madison Square Garden in two years. It is headlined by Vasiliy Lomachenko’s lightweight bout against Richard Commey.

Ali Walsh, who grew up in Las Vegas, had never been to New York until this week. He looked like any other tourist checking out the inside of the famed arena Wednesday — except his name hung high above in lights, just as the Ali name had when Muhammad Ali and later Laila Ali fought there.

“I never imagined that this would happen. It’s amazing, it’s really special,” Ali Walsh said. “Like I said, it’s not just special because I’m a boxer, this is my career. It’s special for sentimental reasons. This is where my family was. Even my aunt fought here. So, I’m just continuing history and this is just a real, real special time.”

The smaller Theater inside Madison Square Garden has staged three cards, but this is the first inside the big room since the coronavirus pandemic prevented and then limited the amount of fans who could attend events. But the New York Knicks and Rangers have long been back, concerts have returned and now it’s boxing’s turn.

“It’s fantastic, just to have fans in the building for all of our events,” said Joel Fisher, MSG’s executive vice president of marquee events and operations.

Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, has been the headliner for big crowds at Madison Square Garden before. But the biggest bouts are now in Las Vegas, unlike when Ali was the star of the sport.

He fought eight times at the Garden, winning all of them except his first fight with Frazier on March 8, 1971. Frazier knocked Ali down in the 15th round and won a unanimous decision to retain his heavyweight title and hand Ali his first loss.

Wearing a “Fight of the Century” shirt during a tour of the venue, Ali Walsh said it was tough to see the picture of Frazier’s powerful punch that dropped his grandfather. But he noted that some good came from the defeat, which Ali avenged at the Garden in 1974 before winning their epic rubber match in the Philippines.

“If he didn’t lose that fight, if he won that fight, then we wouldn’t have gotten ‘The Thrilla in Manila,’ we wouldn’t have gotten the second fight even with Joe Frazier,” Ali Walsh said. “So everything happened for a reason and those were some of the greatest fights in all of boxing, one of the best trilogies in all of boxing.”

Ali Walsh, 21, is a long way from anything like that. He only turned pro in August and his middleweight fight Saturday against Reyes Sanchez (6-0) is scheduled for only four rounds.

He used to show videos of his training and sparring to his grandfather, who died in 2016. Ali stressed to him the importance of moving and dancing, part of an arsenal that made him stand out from so many fighters before or since.

“I remember he used to say he won’t miss boxing, boxing will miss him, and I really feel like that makes sense now that he’s gone,” Ali Walsh said. “His shadow looms over the sport of boxing, so it’s not just me getting compared to him because of me being the grandson. Everyone gets compared to him because he is boxing and it’s just, he left such an impact on the sport.”

Ali Walsh didn’t realize how big that impact was as a child, though it’s clear now that the son of Ali’s daughter, Rasheda, has launched his own career. While fans in the arena chanted “Ali! Ali!”, others watching at home told him they cried because of what that name meant to their own families.

“Some people said they watched my first fight or my second fight with their parents who used to watch my grandfather’s fights with their parents, and they would get emotional because it brings back a nostalgia that people miss,” Ali Walsh said. “It brings back my grandfather in a sense and just repeating history, like being here, when he fought here, is really special.”

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Dallas Stars' Jason Robertson skates during the third period of an NHL hockey game against t...
Associated Press

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Robertson to $31M, 4-year deal

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Jason Robertson has signed a $31 million, four-year contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp. The Stars announced the deal late Wednesday night, after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at […]
22 hours ago
The ski slopes are almost devoid of snow at the Tūroa ski field, on Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand on Se...
Associated Press

Missing snow puts famed New Zealand ski areas on precipice

TUROA SKI AREA, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s Turoa ski area is usually a white wonderland at this time of year, its deep snowpack supporting its famed spring skiing. This season, it’s largely a barren moonscape, with tiny patches of snow poking out between vast fields of jagged volcanic boulders. The ski area was […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Kansas City Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred in the seventh inning of a baseball game, May 1...
Associated Press

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, […]
22 hours ago
Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden goes up for a dunk during the first half of a preseason NBA basket...
Associated Press

Embiid, Harden begin as 76ers top Cavs in Mitchell’s debut

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid and James Harden were done with their preseason debuts long before Montrezl Harrell scored the go-ahead basket with 26 seconds left, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat Cleveland 113-112 on Wednesday night in Donovan Mitchell’s first game with the Cavaliers. Embiid had 12 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes before […]
22 hours ago
Central Florida coach Gus Malzahn, left, and SMU coach Rhett Lashlee talk before an NCAA college fo...
Associated Press

UCF scores 31 unanswered points, beats SMU in AAC opener

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — John Rhys Plumlee threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the second half to Ryan O’Keefe, and UCF scored 31 unanswered points to beat SMU 41-19 on Wednesday night in a game postponed because of tropical weather. UCF trailed 13-10 at halftime before scoring four touchdowns in the […]
22 hours ago
New York Mets' Mark Vientos celebrates with James McCann (33) after they scored on a three-run home...
Associated Press

Mets prep for playoffs with 9-2 rout of Nationals

NEW YORK (AP) — After wrapping up a 101-win season with an easy romp, the New York Mets know their next challenge will be much tougher. Francisco Lindor and the Mets geared up for the playoffs with a 9-2 rout of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, completing a fantastic regular season with the second-most victories […]
22 hours ago
Ali grandson to box as fights back at Madison Square Garden