'I feel unbeatable at the minute': Kurt Walker confident ahead of tilt at World championships
A YEAR out from the Olympics, it’s all about timing your run – and Kurt Walker is taking the inside line at perfect pace after a blistering last 10 months.
European Union and European Games gold medals inside that period have secured his status as the best the continent has to offer. And, as he heads for Russia, Walker’s sights are now set on world domination.
At 24 he has by far the most international experience on the seven-man Irish team competing at the World elite championships, which get under way in Yekaterinburg on Saturday, and goes into the competition on the crest of a wave.
“To be honest, I feel unbeatable at the minute,” said Walker, who boxes out of the Canal club in Lisburn.
“I remember even in the training camp in Jordanstown before we went out, I was sparring the American fella and I came out of the ring and said to Paddy Barnes ‘I’m 100 per cent going to win gold at these European Games’.
“I never say stuff like that - normally I’d be like ‘I’ll see what happens’ or ‘I’ll go out and give my best’, but I just knew. I was totally confident of winning.”
Walker didn’t get here by chance though – there have been several forks in the road along the way.
Losing to Liverpool’s Peter McGrail in the Commonwealth Games final last year was a big one. He has since beaten ‘the Scouse Lomachenko twice’.
However, it was at his only previous visit to the World elites – back in August 2017 - when Walker realised something had to change.
Drawn against Leonel dos Santos of the Dominican Republic first up, Walker was dropped to the canvas, heavily, inside the opening three minutes.
Dos Santos would go on to progress on a split decision, but even now Walker isn’t sure how he managed to fight on.
“It was a heavy enough knockdown - I was out for a while,” he recalls.
“I don’t know how I fought on to be honest with you. I don’t even really remember the fight. It was the first time I’d ever been dropped, but I really believe that’s why I’m European champion now.
“That was the turning point. It’s a shock to the system when it happens but it’s helped me in the long run. When you look back at it, and I did a right few times, my shape used to be terrible, my style...
“I always had my hands going everywhere, no shape, no defence. Since then I’ve gradually just kept working on it and working on it to get to the point I’m at now.
“For the first six or seven months after that I was still doing the wrong things, then when I went to the Commonwealths I started changing my shape. If I sit down I have the speed and the timing to beat anyone.”
He proved that beyond doubt in his subsequent defeats of McGrail, keeping low and picking his opponent off before closing the show in impressive style with strong final rounds on both occasions.
And where Walker would once have been edgy in the lead-up to fights, improvements made and performances delivered have given him the belief that he belongs at the very top level.
Back in 2015 Michael Conlan became the first Irishman to return from the World championships with a gold medal around his neck.
Four years later, and having since emerged from Conlan’s shadow as Ireland’s top dog in the bantamweight division, Walker would love to repeat that feat.
“I’ve actually been training with Mick recently, he’s been putting through my paces down in Abbotstown.
“He trains very hard, which is good for me… it’s better when you’re with people who are just driven to succeed. It changes your mindset.
“You’re always thinking about improving, about pushing yourself to your absolute limit. Just small things that I would never have done before, but I’m at that age now where I need to.
“I’d have been a lot more panicky last time I went to the Worlds but, as I’ve got older, everything I enter I’m at least getting to the final, and you start to believe in yourself then.
“It’s okay doing it at European level, but you need to step it up and see who you’re in the mix with. It’s a different set of boxers from two years ago so you need to know who’s out there.”
And while the Worlds are important, the number one priority remains the Olympic qualifier in London next March.
With such continued success comes increased expectation, but it is a burden Walker is only too happy to shoulder less than a year away from Tokyo.
“Winning overtakes the pressure; I’d rather be in this position than any other position. I should be happy about where I am, so I don’t get myself worked up about it. It’s the best possible position I could be in within the team, so I have to be happy about that.
“What I’m doing is obviously working, and I’ve six months until the qualifier now to improve even more – and I still think I will.
“Obviously I want a world medal to add to my collection but I’d rather qualify than win a world medal, any day of the week. That’s my main goal.”
ULSTER BOXERS HEAD FOR US TRIP OF A LIFETIME
A GROUP of 12 young boxers from clubs across headed to Detroit at the weekend for the trip of a lifetime.
They travelled with the Bridges Beyond Boxing project, which was established in 2016, and will box on three different shows in the USA. The trip then concludes with a non-boxing related break to Canada.
Pictured following the completion of their final training session at Corpus Christi are, from left, coach Alan Martin, official Brendan Lowe, Jake Walker, Jack O'Neill, Ewan McConnell, Kieran Quinn, Bobby Platt, Eugene McKeever, Chad Magill, official Ewan White, official/programme co-ordinator Joe Lowe and coach Mickey Fleming. Also travelling, but not included in this photo, are Paul McCullagh jr, Mason McLintock, Ali Ahmed and Bernard Agnew. Picture by Mark Marlow