Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Stories

Muhammad Ali's Grandson Steps Into The Ring For Boxing Debut In Tulsa

Middleweight prospect Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali, trains in Las Vegas with head coach Sugar Hill Steward earlier this month, ahead of his pro debut in Oklahoma.
Middleweight prospect Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali, trains in Las Vegas with head coach Sugar Hill Steward earlier this month, ahead of his pro debut in Oklahoma.

Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, will make his professional fighting debut Saturday night in Tulsa, Okla. And though the 21-year-old is aware of the clout carried by his name, he says he is boxing for himself — not for fame, or a fighter's purse.

Ali Walsh's mother, Rasheda, is the daughter of one of the greatest boxers of all time. That said, there was no pressure for Ali Walsh to pick up his grandfather's gloves, ESPN reported. His mother had suggested other sports instead — soccer or basketball, "like a normal kid," she recalled. But Ali Walsh wouldn't have it. So, seven years ago, he started training seriously.

Though it's early in the middleweight's career, it's been a bumpy road for Ali Walsh. He's won some fights, and he's lost some, according to ESPN. But his grandfather, "Poppy" to Ali Walsh, told him that his amateur record doesn't matter. And when the young fighter occasionally doubted himself, Poppy was there to encourage him to stay in the fight.

Now, he will square off with Jordan Weeks, 29, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in a four-round special attraction fight. The main event, at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN, may be the third bout between Andrew Moloney and Joshua Franco III, but Ali Walsh's premiere fight is already drawing buzz in the boxing community.

The promoter of the fight is Bob Arum, who promoted Ali for the first time in the boxer's world heavyweight title fight against George Chuvalo in 1966. "It's still surreal to me that more than 50 years after I began promoting The Greatest, his grandson [Ali Walsh] turns pro on our [Top Rank Boxing] show Saturday night," Arum tweeted. "A true moment of pride for me."

Ali Walsh's trainer, Sugar Hill Steward, trained two-time world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. Steward sees promise in the "beginner" fighter. "He can fight," he told ESPN.

"He's not scared," Steward said. "He's not shy to get hit or thrown down. It's just a matter of him learning to fight better."

The legacy of the Ali name may weigh on the young fighter's shoulders, but Ali Walsh doesn't foresee the pressure posing a problem. He isn't concerned about those who believe he is fighting for "name or fame" he said in a Top Rank promotional video. He said his boxing career is about proving something to himself and to his family.

"I feel like success doesn't mean going 30-0, it doesn't mean going 50-0, I think it's a feeling," he said. "At some point I'll know that I felt like I continued this legacy right. At that point I'll know that I've had a successful boxing career."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.