Next Saturday, March 26th, “Iron” Ryan Walsh steps up two divisions to lightweight to fight for Maxi Hughes’ IBO World Title in Leeds. The Team Southpaw Jab fighter won his first belt back in 2011, beating Liam Richards over ten rounds for the English Super Bantamweight Title. Now thirty five, and having never lost a strap in the squared circle, Ryan still brims with infectious enthusiasm and desire ahead of his trip to Yorkshire- Hughes’ home county.

Live on DAZN, and headlined by Leeds favourite Josh Warrington’s rematch with a resurgent Kiko Martinez, it is a second big test against a Matchroom fighter on a huge show for Walsh. In 2018 he was drafted in to face another popular pugilist from their stable, and duly gave Newcastle banger Reece Bellotti a cruel reminder of his level. Ryan took a split decision win and the British Featherweight Title home with him that night.

The stakes are even higher this time.

The Cromer man knows he isn't the favourite, but it hasn’t dampened his desire any, “I’m so excited, so excited. They’re gonna make me the underdog, but they’ve picked me, and it’s really exciting times.”

The fight came around fast, he says, “it was agreed within minutes of a phone call. I was up at the press conference 48 hours later- before we’d even agreed the money. It was an absolute no brainer. The only delay was I was so shocked!”

It is an ambitious move, and a dangerous fight. Maxi Hughes’ last loss was in 2019, to Liam Walsh, Ryan’s twin. Since then it has been widely agreed Hughes has come on leaps and bounds. Walsh agrees, but is unperturbed.

“The improvements are there for all to see. He’s almost always been the away fighter, but he’s come up, he’s found a way and the improvements are clear. While he’s been improving, if people think I’ve stayed at the same level then more fool them.”

While having a brother in his camp who has beaten his opponent is “one hundred percent” helpful, Ryan knows it will not be the same fight when he steps through the ropes in front of a packed First Direct Arena.

“Liam did make him look average at best, he almost retired him. There is no one better to discuss tactics with but Liam and I have different styles, I’m a totally different puzzle to Liam. Liam beat him in a different way than I’ll beat him.”

Ryan and Maxi have sparred, but it was “only a few rounds” and the challenger didn’t seem to take much from it as I spoke to him- far more concerned with himself and what he’s doing, sensibly. The increase in weight is one change many will be keen to know about, much like taking the fight, it doesn’t sound like a decision which Ryan has any worries over.

“My brother Michael has been pounding on at me to go up to lightweight for the best part of three years. The extra energy levels I’ve got at this weight have been making me happy, I took the featherweight limit to the wire. I’m really excited to debut at this weight, this is the best version of me.”


Hughes is a tough, compact, often awkward southpaw and a champion who has, like Walsh, done things the hard way. He dethroned Jovanni Straffon in September last year over twelve, but put dents in the Mexican during the bout and can hurt opponents when he gets inside. I ask Ryan what he expects from his opponent on fight night.

“Stylistically I think Maxi is going to try and make this as awkward and horrible as possible… but he might be a bit more game when he’s got 500 fans cheering him on."

"It’s the age old adage, everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. I'm gonna be trying to put fists on him, he’s going to try to put fists on me, but I think I have the superior defence, experience and I think I have a lot of positives he’s never seen. I’m going to introduce him to things he’s never seen.”

Agreeing that it is “tempting” to look beyond a fight, Walsh will only say that he can’t tell me what it might mean winning the IBO World Title “until after”. He does relate it back to the Walsh staple, though: family unity and hard work.

“It won’t be mine, it’ll be ours. We’ve got eight young boys on our site who I want to be showing that to and teaching the power of work and work ethic. I’m not the most talented fighter, I’m not the fastest, strongest, quickest any of that but I’d put my work ethic against any before or after me. That’s where we’ve always separated ourselves, my brothers and me, we’ve always been the fittest men in the room.”

Some dismiss the IBO as not being one of the “recognised” governing bodies with the IBF, WBO, WBC and WBA but at Southpaw Jab we very much do like them as an organisation. Hannah Rankin currently holds the IBO Super Welterweight Title (for the second time) and Ryan knows that aspersions about them are borderline irrelevant.

“This is the key to the kingdom. In an era when there’s so many belts, remember this is recognised by the European bodies and British Boxing Board as a World Title.”

And should he win,

“Look at the champions who’ve held the IBO. Lennox Lewis, the King of Kings, defended it three times! If he can hold the belt like that… GGG has one, Roy Jones had one, game over. The fighters make the titles and I’m going to be happy to be part of such a proud list.”

To win the belt and join that list, Ryan Walsh must move up in weight and take Maxi Hughes’ belt from him in his first defence with a home crowd behind him. He has a lot of work to do but, in his own words, Ryan Walsh wins with work ethic.

“There’s no excuse for me not to be the fittest man in the room. Absolutely no excuse.”

Southpaw Jab wishes all the fighters on the show the very best of luck and good health.

*Photographer Brittany Woodman is on Instagram: @brittanywoodmanphoto



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