Boxing

Kurt Walker hoping for rematch with Olympic rival Duke Ragan in pro ranks

Michael and Jamie Conlan, who head up the Conlan Boxing management stable, yesterday unveiled Irish Olympian Kurt Walker as their first signing during a press conference at Belfast's Grand Central hotel. He has also signed a multi-year deal with American promotional heavyweight Top Rank. Picture by Hugh Russell
From Neil Loughran at Grand Central Hotel

IT has been the worst kept secret in Irish boxing since the summer – and now Kurt Walker has set his sights on a rematch with Olympic rival Duke Ragan after finally confirming his move into the professional ranks yesterday.

The 26-year-old has signed a multi-year contract with American promotional giants Top Rank, and will be managed by Conlan Boxing – run by Belfast boxing brothers Jamie and Michael Conlan – after calling time on a hugely successful amateur career.

A teenage Walker was first brought into the Irish High Performance as Michael Conlan’s understudy, and would end up succeeding the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist as Ireland’s number one bantamweight.

As well as landing Commonwealth Games silver and gold at European Union and European Games championships, Walker went on to qualify for last summer’s Olympics in Tokyo where he lost out to Ragan by the narrowest of margins in a tight, tense quarter-final bout.

The Ohio native, who had former Irish head coach Billy Walsh in his corner, went on to land silver. But Walker hopes their paths can cross again down the line - similar to the 2019 pro rematch between Michael Conlan and Olympic foe Vladimir Nikitin.

“He’s with Top Rank as well so hopefully I can fight him here in a few years, get him back,” smiled Walker at yesterday’s Belfast press conference in Grand Central Hotel.

“He’s already had four fights as a pro, but I’d definitely fight him in a couple of years for something good… get him in the later rounds.”

Despite taking some time to confirm his next move, Walker – who will campaign at featherweight, the same division as Conlan - insists he had already decided the Olympic Games would be his last outing in an amateur vest before travelling to Japan.

“When I got beat, for a few days after I was thinking I could stay amateur and go to the next Olympics. That wee thought was in my head,” said the Lisburn man, who hopes to make his debut next month.

“It’s just the fear of making a decision as much as anything, because when I got home and I settled back into things, I knew what I wanted to do. The hardest part is making the decision because you’re going away from everything you know, so it’s a bit of a risk.

“I pretty much had my mind made up going out to Tokyo because I’m around a long time. Even though I wasn’t number one I was always down there, Tuesday to Friday, every week for the last 10 years.

“The amateur game’s hard as well – you’re fighting every day, making weight every day. It’s hard on the body, and it’s very hard when you’re constantly fighting for funding as well.

“But I enjoyed it. I want to thank all my amateur coaches because I loved every minute of it. It’s just time for a change, a fresh start.

“It feels like starting a new sport and I can’t wait to see what it’s like to make my debut, no vest on, everything different. It’ll be good to finally have people being able to come and support me as well.

“In the amateur game most of the time nobody can come and watch you because you’re fighting in Russia or the Ukraine or places like that, so it’ll be good for them. I’m sure I’ll be better with a big crowd cheering me on.”

Looking long-term, the aim is to follow in the footsteps of manager Michael Conlan by eventually forcing his way into the world title picture.

“This is a dream come true… it’s fairytale stuff for me really.

“I know I can adapt to the pro game well. It’ll take time but I’m a quick learner. I have Mick there pushing me on, Jamie behind the scenes doing everything for me.

“I want to be a world champion, I’d love to headline Windsor Park… I’m really excited for the future.”

And the Conlan brothers – whose father John trained Walker with the Irish team - are delighted to have made such a stellar first signing.

“He’s the one boxer from the team I said ‘I want to get him’,” said Michael.

“He’s always been a friend of mine, and a potential opponent when I was in the amateur game. He has the ability to go all the way and win big titles in the professional game.

“It’ll take a bit of time to change his style, but he’s a top class talent and one of the top boxers coming through in the country. I’m excited for his journey and I’m delighted to be a part of it."

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Boxing