LAS VEGAS – Biaggio Ali Walsh is no stranger to pressure, and even at a young age, he welcomed it.
“I’ve felt it since elementary school,” Walsh explained. “People would find out who I was related to and want to know if I could fight and then they would challenge me, and I would always accept.”
And now at 24 years old, that pressure has only multiplied because of who he is related to, as Walsh, the grandson of former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammed Ali, continues to make his own mark in the world of combat sports. But unlike his grandfather, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, and his brother, Nico, who is currently undefeated at 8-0 in the professional ranks, he chose a different path. Walsh is currently an amateur Mixed martial arts fighter in the Professional Fighter’s League.
“Just hearing that his grandson is fighting is going to draw a lot of eyes, but when you see me fight it’s going to draw even more eyes,” Walsh said.
Making his amateur debut less than a year ago, Walsh is still fairly new to the MMA scene. Despite having just three fights under his belt though, he already has a firm grasp on his identity as a fighter and his style in the cage. A lot of that has to do with his last name, but it also stems from who he was long before he was knocking out opponents in the cage, and instead running through them on the gridiron.
Walsh was a decorated high school running back at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, earning countless accolades including being named the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and helping the Gaels to three consecutive USA Today National Championships. He went on to play for two seasons at the University of California, Berkeley before transferring back home to UNLV in 2019. But when Walsh’s football career came to an end, he lost his identity.
“It was this weird grey period. I had played football since my freshman year of high school and then boom, just like that it was over,” Walsh explained. “It was honestly a really dark time for me. I had lost who I was and MMA became my outlet.”
But that transition from Biaggio “the football player” to Biaggio “the fighter” didn’t happen overnight.
“When I was done playing football I was like, well, what do I do now?” Walsh remembered.
After college graduation, Walsh got a job working retail at Adidas while also interning at Project Wellbeing coaching youth and high school athletes. On one particular day, a group of local fighters were also training at the same gym, and as Walsh observed them, he came to a life-altering realization.
“I just remember thinking to myself, why am I coaching right now? I’m only 22. I miss being the athlete. I miss putting the work in,” Walsh recalled. “It was at that exact moment I told myself that I’m going to take this seriously and see how far I go.”
From that point on, Walsh fully committed to his goal of becoming an MMA fighter and used his past experiences on the football field to create his fighting style in the cage.
“I’ve totally integrated the techniques I used while playing football into my fighting style. I mean, for example, football taught me a great double leg. It’s essentially a football tackle,” Walsh explained. “My footwork I learned playing football and it translates really well into the cage as well.”
Walsh has also incorporated how his grandfather boxed in the ring into how he fights in the cage.
“To say what my style is, it’s: float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. That’s it. That’s essentially my style.” Walsh said.
After months of training, Walsh made his MMA debut on June 3rd, 2022, but it didn’t go as planned, losing the bout in the second round.
“I was bummed out for sure. I was madder at myself for gassing out and not being calmer and more composed,” Walsh explained
After the loss, Walsh felt even more pressure to prove he belonged. And he did just that, stringing together two victories. In the first fight, he KO’d his opponent in the first round and then followed that up in his PFL debut with another knockout. This one came just 45 seconds into the bout.
“I just felt like I had so much to prove after my first fight. To show I belong,” Walsh explained. “I think I did that.”
Now, with a record of 2-1, Walsh is set for the biggest fight of his MMA career on Friday night in his hometown at The Theatre at Virgin Hotels right off of the Las Vegas Strip. The pressure to perform in the fight capital of the world in front of friends and family is at an all-time high, but Walsh welcomed it way back when he was in elementary school and then in high school and college, so why would he shy away now?
“It’s crazy to think how this has kind of come full circle for me. I felt the pressure of scoring touchdowns in front of thousands of people here in high school,” Walsh stated. “And it will be the same fighting in Vegas. I know I will feel it even more. But, I know I was born to perform and entertain, and what better stage to do that on than in Las Vegas where it all began for me.”