Boxing great Muhammad Ali’s shocking loss to Ken Norton in 1973 is pictured on the wall among the notable historical events at Pechanga Arena San Diego. For those in attendance (including this writer’s father), or who watched as Howard Cosell called the action live on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” it was a shocking loss as Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the second round en route to a disputed split decision.
Ali avenged his loss twice in rematches later in 1973 and 1976.
Fast forward to August 20, 2022. Ali’s 22-year-old grandson and unbeaten middleweight prospect Nico Ali Walsh will step into the ring at the same venue to try and “break the curse” in his sixth professional fight.
“It’s a special place, it’s an honor to be fighting where there’s so much history,” said Ali Walsh during his first visit to San Diego on Monday, August 8 to promote the Top Rank Boxing card. Top Rank CEO and founder Bob Arum, now age 90, promoted 27 of Ali’s fights including the event in San Diego and signed Ali Walsh two years ago.
Ali Walsh will open the ESPN broadcast of the card headlined by WBO World Featherweight champion Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete of Mexico City (35-1, 29 KOs) facing Eduardo Baez of Mexico (21-2-2, 7 KOs) and undefeated welterweight contender and San Diego native Giovani Santillan (29-0, 17 KOs) against Julio Luna (19-0-2, 10 KOs).
Ali Walsh, who is 5-0 with four knockouts, faces Reyes Sanchez (7-2, 3 KOs), a native of Los Angeles and the only opponent to take Ali Walsh the distance. Although Ali Walsh got the win, he’d like to perform better in the rematch.
“The timing is perfect because my grandfather fought in the same arena I’m fighting in. He got his jaw broke. I’m coming into the rematch against the guy who gave me my hardest fight.
“I’m going there to break the curse of my grandfather getting his jaw broke and go in there to do way better than the first time I fought this guy,” vowed Ali Walsh.
Nico Ali Walsh might be forgiven for the temporary lapse. It's safe to say he's the only professional boxer who had to complete five college finals in the week before the bout to be able to graduate from the University of Nevada Las Vegas with his bachelor's degree in business with the Class of 2022.
Ali Walsh: ‘I was born to be where I am now'
Ali Walsh noted the possibility of fans coming to see him who may have also attended Ali’s defeat by Norton, or who watched live on in 1973 on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports. “It’s not that long ago. Thinking about it, it’s very possible. We’re recreating history, so it’s awesome.”
Ali Walsh’s undeniable lineage draws an unusual amount of attention to the aspiring prospect. Ali Walsh was close to the man he knew as “Poppy,” who gave him his blessing to pursue the sport that made him famous worldwide. It also burdens him with great expectations, but the younger man relishes his opportunity and shoulders the role with grace and enthusiasm.
“The attention and the eyeballs come from the love of my grandfather. If it were coming from hatred or any sort of animosity, it would be hard. But I feel the love and support from the people who supported my grandfather, so it makes it easier, honestly,” said Ali.
“I really do believe I was born to be where I’m at now. I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing,” said Ali Walsh.
Emanuel Navarrete Happy To Return for Border Battle
Ali Walsh also hopes to entertain fans in San Diego from both sides of the border flocking to see the popular Mexican champion Emanuel Navarrete in his second straight appearance in San Diego. Navarrete has been out of the ring for 10 months, and he’s glad to finally be back.
“We’re two weeks away from battle. I’ve trained really hard. I’m very happy to be returning,” said Navarrete. “It’s important because I’m returning to the ring after a long absence. I’m very motivated. That’s what makes it of great importance. I want to show people I’m back.”
Navarrete says he’s expecting a difficult fight from Eduardo Baez. “He’s Mexican. When you fight a Mexican fighter, it’s always complicated and always going to be very dangerous. We prepared very well for him,” explained Navarrete.
“I don’t expect everyone to go there just to see me. Baez is from a place very close to the border. Fortunately, I think people will come here to support me, the arena will be filled, and I hope the fans there will decide who they want to support.
“The people (in San Diego) really welcomed me with open arms. That speaks very well. I always give 100%. I give everything when I’m in the ring. I’m coming back, and I hope not to disappoint. I hope you enjoy this performance,” said Navarrete.
Navarrete vs. Baez, Santillan vs. Luna and Ali Walsh vs. Sanchez 2 will be broadcast from Pechanga Arena San Diego live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.