The furore surrounding Billy Walsh's seemingly acrimonious departure from the Irish boxing set-up last year was one which rocked the Irish sporting world.
The Wexford man, who alongside coaches such as Zaur Antia had masterminded the unprecedented success of Irish amateur boxing since a paltry showing at the 2004 Olympics, departed for pastures greener in the US of A where it was initially believed he would take charge of America's women's boxing team. Such was his perceived quality and wealth of experience, however, it soon emerged that he would also coach the US men, who incredibly
failed to medal in London four years ago.
After an impressive 4-0 start to this Olympic campaign, the USA lost their first boxer late last night, as India's Krishan Yadav saw off Charles Conwell. Walsh, however, has already been deemed to have made quite the impact on the US amateur boxing scene.
No country has won more world titles than the U.S., home to 13 current professional champions. Nor does any country have more Olympic boxing medals than the 111 won by the U.S.
But that second number hasn’t changed in eight years, which is where Billy Walsh comes in.
After the disastrous London Games, in which the U.S. failed to win a medal in the men’s competition for the first time in Olympic history, USA Boxing hired Walsh to turn things around. And so far it seems to be working with lightweight Carlos Balderas winning a unanimous decision Tuesday to join Nico Hernandez in the third round, giving the American men twice as many quarter-finalists in Rio as they had four years ago in England.
"Why am I here?" Walsh asks Pugmire rhetorically during the interview that accompanies the piece. "Why am I the US coach? Things weren't going so well."
Just as they weren’t going well for the Irish program when Walsh joined that team as a coach before the 2004 Games. That summer in Athens, Ireland was represented by one boxer — and he lost in the second round.
But over the next 12 years Walsh guided Irish fighters, male and female, to an unprecedented seven Olympic medals and more than 50 others in European and world championship events, making the country one of the premier boxing nations in the world.
The 'one boxer' in question, it should probably be pointed out, was former WBO World middleweight champion Andy Lee.
Walsh, who is described by Pugmire as "A genial 53-year-old with a confidence that borders on cockiness" tells his interviewer that "success builds belief".
The Times article gives further background to Walsh and his coaching techniques relative to that of his US predecessors before the man himself goes into greater detail as to what he believes he brings to the table.
"When I got here I realised they’re not fighting like amateurs," he says. "It’s a different game than what you guys are teaching them."
“We give them some techniques and stuff that work in this game."
Pugmire explains some of the changes Walsh has implemented on the American team, including the reintroduction of the boxers' club coaches, who were banned by previous regimes. Walsh invited said coaches to partake in their fighters' pre-Olympic preparations. He has also insisted in longer and more frequent training camps, flying over sparring partners from the likes of England, Azerbaijan and Morocco for the kind of training that revolutionised Irish amateur boxing.
On the assertion of Robert Diaz, a matchmaker with Golden Boy Promotions, that we haven't seen as good a US team in some years, Walsh pours cold water.
"There’s no prizes that have been given out yet. We haven’t won anything,” he says. “This is a stepping stone, a launching pad for where we need to go."
And Walsh should know since he’s already been there with Ireland.