Grandson of Muhammad Ali hopes to stay undefeated in the ring during trip to Phoenix

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Nico Ali Walsh's last visit to the Phoenix area before this week was a little less than seven years ago. He and his family had come to Paradise Valley to see Walsh's grandfather for the last time.

In June of 2016, Muhammad Ali passed away. The boxing legend and renowned activist was known as "The Greatest" for his tremendous boxing success, but just as celebrated for taking a determined stand against the Vietnam War while becoming a face of the struggle for civil rights.

Walsh, now 22 with a business degree from the University of Nevada, knew his famous grandfather as "Poppy" and went on to follow in his footsteps and those of his aunt Laila in becoming a professional boxer. Walsh, who hails from Las Vegas, is back in the area for his eighth professional fight Friday night as part of Top Rank Boxing's Emanuel Navarrete vs. Liam Wilson main event at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale.

Three of the fights on the card will be shown on ESPN and ESPN Deportes starting at 8 p.m. Phoenix time. Walsh's fight is before that, to be streamed on ESPN+.

He hopes to remain undefeated.

"We're just re-creating, we're glossing over that sad memory with with the happy one being my fight," Walsh said Wednesday after the pre-fight press conference. "So I'm looking forward to just, you know, bringing my family back. I know it's going to be hard on my mom, my mom cries over spilled milk. So she's definitely going to be emotional for this fight. But you know, I'm looking to make better memories."

Walsh faces Phoenix's Eduardo Ayala (9-2-1) in a middleweight bout. Walsh made weight, coming in at just under the 160-pound limit Thursday.

"I want to make it to the top. I want to get to that championship level and I want to become the best in the world, and that's the goal," Walsh said, wearing a butterfly pendant on a chain around his neck.

It brought back one of Muhammad Ali's most famous phrases, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

"I would never halfway do anything. And especially with boxing, you can't halfway do boxing," Walsh added. "So my end goal is the top."

Walsh made his pro debut in 2021 and won all four of his fights last year on his way being named the World Boxing Council's Prospect of the Year for 2022.

Walsh is always aware that opponents are out to defeat him in part because of his lineage and the Ali name. It's something Walsh is now accustomed to.

"I look at this as just my next fight on my road. The Ali last name is definitely a plus," Ayala said. "It’s the fight of my life. In boxing, anything can change, it's just a matter of one fight. Regardless, it is a great last name, but I take that away from it to make it less pressure on me."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Boxer Nico Walsh in Arizona with memories of grandfather Muhammad Ali