I Walk the line... Olympian Kurt Walker relishing start of professional journey
KURT Walker couldn't really have timed his switch from amateur to professional any better. The Lisburn native, who makes his pro debut in Glasgow on February 26, has spent his first few months in the punch-for-pay ranks training alongside world title-chasing Mick Conlan at Adam Booth's gym in London.
Training beside Conlan – who is also his boss as one half of Conlan Boxing (Jamie Conlan is the other half) – is perfect preparation for 26-year-old Walker who made the switch after narrowly missing out on a featherweight medal at last year's Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Canal ABC fighter beat reigning world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov to reach the quarter-finals in Japan but then lost a split decision to eventual silver medallist Duke Ragan of the USA.
His amateur days may have ended in disappointment but he is enjoying the new challenges he is facing in the second chapter of his career.
“It's all going good,” said Walker after training yesterday.
“It's a good stable of coaches in the gym and they all do different work. I work with Adam when I'm sparring, he'll have a good eye on what I'm doing wrong and what I'm doing right… That kind of stuff so it's very good.
“He has plenty of experience of working with people who would have a similar style to me like Ryan Burnett so it's good, it's working well.”
Walker spent almost 10 years in the Irish High Performance set-up and developed a high-energy style that worked well for him in the amateurs. He's had to change that style and build the stamina required for six, 10 and ultimately 12 rounds in the future.
“My three rounds (as an amateur) were very high on movement so I still need to keep moving but at a slower pace,” he explained.
“It's hard because even when I did first spar at Booth's Gym I was moving a lot and I was wrecked after the third round. So it's all about getting up to six rounds and still keeping my kind of style.
“I'm never going to be an absolute brawler - I like to use my brain as much as I use my fists.”
His stablemate Conlan isn't an out-and-out brawler either although he can be if he needs to be. Walker is working with his former amateur team-mate and friend in the build-up to Conlan's upcoming challenge for the WBA featherweight title next month - Conlan takes on reigning champion Leigh Wood in Nottingham Arena on March 12.
“Mick can do everything when he wants to do it, he's very gifted,” said Walker.
“He's a great boxer – he can switch to southpaw, he can do everything. I've been training alongside him, I've been training with him and he's fighting for a world title! He is a serious athlete and I've been doing the same sessions as him, trying to keep up with the workrate that he does.
“The work that Mick puts in… It gives me an extra push as well because you can't laze around when he's around, he won't let you. Even though he's fighting for a world title, he's still my manager and he's making sure I'm doing the right things.”
Family man Walker spends Monday to Friday in London – sharing an apartment with Conlan and another fighter - and returns home for weekends. He will have done 10 weeks' in camp before his debut against Jaroslav Hriadel (1-2) at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow and is targeting a minimum of five (ideally six) fights in his first year as a pro.
“I never really concentrated much on weights and I've got a strength and conditioning coach now so I've still got a lot more improving to do,” he said.
“I have power but with the way I box it has been hard to show it. It'll take me a while but once a start sitting down on my shots you'll be able to see that.”
He says he's excited to make his debut and so he should be. He has years of good schooling behind him in the amateurs and is now working with a world title contender in the hands of a proven world-level coach.
“I'm buzzing for it,” he says.
“Ring walk, weigh-ins… I'm looking forward to it all, it has been a long time coming so I'm excited.
“I always wanted to be an Olympian – there was a point when I didn't think I'd ever be at the Olympics so to get there was good for me. Obviously I got close to getting a medal and didn't get one but that's life, things happen. I did things that I didn't expect I would do so I just have to move on and be happy.
“I've always wanted to be a professional too and I just want to do as much as I can in the sport and retire happy. In the amateurs there is a bit of safety, you know you're getting paid every month (through grant funding) but it's different in the pro game – you have to fight to get your money.
“So there was a bit of doubt but life is about taking risks. Amateur boxing is great but I'd never be set for life as an amateur and there's always the chance I could be as a professional – any chance is better than no chance.
“It's all down to me, it's all about taking opportunities when they come up and staying in the best shape I can be in case something comes up.”
He was the first fighter signed to Conlan Boxing and trusts that the West Belfast brothers will get him the fights, the preparation and the exposure he needs to reach the top of the sport - as long as he puts in the hard work.
“Jamie has been working with fighters for a number of years now and he's been doing brilliant,” he said.
“It was a no-brainer for me to sign with him and I'm very close to the Conlan family too – John was my coach for the last few years in the amateur game and I trained with Mick for years and years in Dublin so it was an easy decision for me to make, it just made sense.”
He's on record as saying that his dream is to fight for a world title at Windsor Park and the former European champion and Commonwealth Games silver medallist says that is a “realistic goal”.
“There's no reason why I can't do it,” he said.
“Hopefully I can do it by the time I'm 30 or 31; that would be the perfect time for it.”