Nico Ali Walsh steps up the competition, still intent on 'keeping the legacy alive'

Nico Ali Walsh doesn't float like a butterfly like his famous grandfather, but he's showing evidence with five knockouts in eight fights, that he might sting like a bee.

Ali Walsh turned professional on Aug. 14, 2021, but it wasn't clear what his goal was other than paying homage to his late grandfather, "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali. Walsh had no amateur background and neither promoters nor managers were beating down his door begging to sign him.

As he nears his two-year anniversary as a pro, fighting Danny Rosenberger on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on the pay-per-view portion the Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko undercard, things have definitely changed. He's 8-0, and while it's clear he adores his legendary grandfather and seeks to honor him in just about everything he does, it's also just as clear that Ali Walsh now sees himself as a full-time boxer.

He dreams of winning a world championship as a way to continue the family legacy, but he also insists it's no dream but rather a legitimate possibility.

"I'm more than happy with where I'm at right now," Ali Walsh told Yahoo Sports when asked to provide an overview of his progress 21 months into his career. "I've shocked everyone by making it this far already. I'm going to continue to shock people but I'll be honest: I've kind of shocked myself.

"I knew what I was capable of. I knew I had the work ethic to become champion. Still, it's very, very humbling to be where I'm at."

Now, let's sprinkle just a little bit of rain on this parade for a moment. Nine fights into his career, Muhammad Ali was clearly an elite professional who simply needed the seasoning. He was an Olympic gold medalist and had an extensive amateur background. He may have been the most physically gifted heavyweight of all time, with the speed and reflexes of a middleweight, the power of a heavyweight and the will and courage of the greatest who'd ever done it.

There remain plenty of skeptics about Ali Walsh's ability to handle higher level opposition. Rosenberger is 13-9-4, has won seven in a row and is, by far, the best opponent Ali Walsh will have faced. No one in his or her right mind is predicting Rosenberger to win a championship or even contend for one, but he's experienced and will provide the kind of test young fighters on the rise need.

Ali Walsh, who has a tattoo of his grandfather on his right forearm, understands this. He's a bright and engaging kid who has handled his sudden fame with aplomb. If you named the three friendliest, nicest men in boxing, he'd certainly make that list.

He can't leave the house, he said, without being besieged by fans who recognize him as the grandson of one of the greatest boxers, one of the greatest sporting figures, of all time.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 18: Nico Ali Walsh speaks during the undercard press conference ahead of his May 20 middleweight fight with Danny Rosenberger, at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on May 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
Nico Ali Walsh is pleased with his progress since he turned pro and says his fight with Danny Rosenberger on Saturday is a step in the right direction on his path toward a world title. (Mikey Williams/Getty Images)

He said after he signed with Top Rank, promoter Bob Arum warned him of the pressure he'd face, and he didn't understand it. But as he's matured and gone headlong into the boxing business, he gets it now.

"I'm so shocked that my life has changed so much in just a year-and-a-half," he said. "I don't leave my house — with braids — and not get recognized now. It happens every single time, especially when I'm in any sort of athletic realm. Like if I'm at a gym, wow. If I'm at, say, a protein house, it's just crazy. But I'm not going to say no to my dreams because of what it'll do to my life."

The more successful he is, and the closer he gets to a championship, the more it will ratchet up. He knows that every interview he does will involve his grandfather in one way or another. He's always going to be in the spotlight.

But he now wants to wear that belt around his waist, just like so many of his peers do, and he's stopped at nothing to getting it. He said he's whipped himself into the best shape he's ever been in preparing for Rosenberger.

"The shape I'm in right now, if I was facing Canelo [Alvarez] on the 20th, I would feel confident [even though] I would lose," Ali Walsh said. "I would lose but I would still feel confident going in because of the work I've done and the improvements I've made."