Las Vegas, NV -- It's not often that I back up my gear and spend an afternoon shooting at an MMA gym for a fighter who hasn't even turned pro yet. But Biaggio Ali Walsh isn't just any fighter. Sure, you might think I did all this because he's Muhammad Ali's grandson. You wouldn't be entirely wrong, of course, the name draws attention, but if you've ever watched him fight you'd know he's something special too.
So that's how I found myself at a humid, hot, dark gym in the middle of the desert watching him train and waiting my turn for a few minutes with him.
Even though Biaggio (it feels weird to refer to him as Ali, which would be journalistic standards) is not a pro, he trains with the pros, carries himself like a pro and will, eventually hold the official title too. For now, he's building up the experience as the only signed amateur with the PFL. He's won five of his six fights, including all four of his PFL appearances. He's never found to decison, or even the third round in his career.
I came on sparring day, when Biaggio shared the mats with the likes of UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland, and he held his own. For today, he was sparring with Chad Decker under the watchful eye of coach Eddie Barraco.
Biaggio Ali Walsh one-on-one interview
Amy: What was the decision behind training here? I know you've been training here for a while now. But what was the initial decision to train here at this particular gym?
Biaggio: Yeah, the initial decision was my friend, he used to train here. And when I was done playing football, I still wanted to find something to stay in shape. I always love martial arts. So like, even before I was done playing football, I’d be in my garage, kind of like throwing kicks on the bag. And my friend said, 'Hey, come to Xtreme, like come just, you know, get a workout.' And I came and I was doing th morning classes. And I started there and I just, I fell in love with it. I kept wanting to get better and better. And then eventually, I was like, 'You know what, screw it. I'm just going to fight. Why not?'"
Amy: That's so funny! “Just screw it. Why not?”
Biaggio: Screw it, I'm not trying to be 40 years old and think, 'Could I have been a good fighter if I tried?' You know, I don't want to have those kinds of thoughts. So I'd rather try than regret it.
Amy: How weird is it when you're training and the coaches yell, “Ali Shuffle” Like, is that just weird for you?
Biaggio: [laughs] No, it's actually… it's just really cool. Because it's, you know, it's the Ali shuffle. He shuffled when he would fight in a flashy way. So, anytime I hear that I just feel like a little warm tingling in my heart.
Amy: Do you feel like when that happens, you're like, “Oh shit, I have to be the best at this.”
Biaggio: No. [laughs] Yeah, no. Nobody was faster at it than my grandfather so… But yeah, every time I hear that, like, it's really cool. Like, get like a warm feeling in my heart. You know, sometimes I'll go to stores and I'll see his merchandise. And in the back of my head, I'm thinking nobody in the store knows that this is my grandfather. But yeah, I think it's really cool. Anytime something like that happens
Amy: Was it difficult for you to come into combat sports with the name? Like, was it hard for people to kind of like treat you as a beginner? Did you find it hard t kind of break away from the name and be like, “I'm new to it."
Biaggio: Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. Obviously, my grandfather is a combat sports icon. And even, you know, when my brother was getting into boxing, I remember telling him like, “Dude, like, just wait soon as you start getting good, you go pro and stuff like, the pressure is going to be insane.” Obviously, the pressure right now is elevated, because I'm now participating in a combat sport. But I had that pressure and I was playing football even, you know. People were saying, “Oh, Muhammad Ali's grandson. He just started running back because of who he's related to." But I'm scoring four touchdowns, you know. Yeah, that's, that's a given. You know, at the end of the day, every fighter has pressure, you know. You step into that cage, your family's watching whether you're on TV or a streaming service. It doesn't matter. Every fighter’s got pressure. I definitely do have a little bit of like, it's a little elevated just because of who I’m related to but who cares at the end of the day? We’re all gonna die. [laughs]
Amy: The question everybody asks - any update on when you may turn pro?
Biaggio: I have no idea. I would like to turn pro soon. I'd like to turn pro next year, to be completely honest. But I don't think it's up to me. I think it's my coach and what he thinks is best for me. You know, if he doesn't think that I'm ready to turn pro next year, then I'm gonna listen to him. You know, I'm not… I'm not the type of guy to just have an ego and say, 'Oh, no, no, no, I'm good. I'm gonna go pro right now.' You know, I want to listen to the guys who know what they're talking about. You know, I'm a baby in this. This is not a sport you want to rush into. So, yeah, I'm just gonna see what he thinks. If he thinks that I'm ready, then I'm gonna go pro.
Amy: Do you think when you go pro you'll enter right into the tournament? Or do you think you're gonna do some showcase bouts first?
Biaggio: Yeah, I think I think it'd be too fast to just jump right into the tournament, especially when you've got fighters that I think deserve it a little bit more than me, you know. I think I got to do some showcase events, get my record up a little bit, earn my stripes. I don't want to just jump into the tournament without earning my stripes. That's another thing too. Like, in this sport, I want to earn my stripes. I want to earn people's respect. I don't want to just have respect given or have things handed to me. I know I got the PFL because of who I'm related to and stuff. But I don't think they would sign me if I was 0 and 3 or 0 and 4, you know. So you got to have some kind of potential. And I think that they, the PFL, they saw that potential. And that's why they gave me the opportunity, along with who I'm related to. But no, I'm trying to earn my stripes I want to earn people's respect, and I want to be a good fighter and put on exciting fights. At the end of the day, like, that's the only thing I care about. It’s putting on exciting fights.
On Friday he'll step into the PFL smart cage against Joel Galarza Lopez an undefeated amateur based in Richmond, VA.