Ismael Villarreal sustained his first loss in early February. The 10-round split decision and world wide exposure on SHOWBOX was a minor setback but the 26-year old super welterweight from the Bronx would not hide.
The first loss for a fighter does have an impact, though to Villarreal (13-1-0, 9 K0’s) an advantage of gaining experience and national exposure did not hurt. He admits the loss to Ardreal Holmes Jr. was a fair decision, though not his best effort at the Storment Events Center in Topeka Kansas. He was resilient and had a successful return in September with a second round TKO.
The win, though, was not seen on the Showtime platform. That didn’t matter to Villarreal, overcoming that first loss was significant as it is to every fighter in their quest. He returned to his full time job in the South Bronx to help adults in a rehab center and hours later back to boxing.
“If it were up to me and focus on boxing I would be in a better position.” he said last week at John’s Boxing Gym in the Bronx. “If I’m able to quit my job and focus on boxing I would be a much better fighter.”
After Thursday evening, Villarreal could be a step closer to becoming a fulltime fighter and in better position, but it will be a tough task ahead opposing “King” Callum Walsh inside the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square. The ten-round main event and opposing Walsh (8-0, 7 KO’s) ranked 16th by the World Boxing Council is the main event.
A Garden debut for Walsh, the Ireland native and southpaw residing in Hollywood Florida. The Garden debut for promoter Tom Loeffler (360 Promotions) and a night of boxing streamed live with global partner UFC Fight Pass includes undercard bouts. The 22-year old Walsh will make his second defense of the US Silver Super Welterweight title and the knockout artist will have a contingent of Irish-American supporters.
Villarreal, though, will have hometown support and more importantly this is another quest to move up a notch. A win could lead to more of those lucrative paydays, a move in the rankings. In boxing a fight of this magnitude at the Garden in New York holds much significance.
“Ready to perform in my city,” Villareal said after another late afternoon session of preparation with his father and trainer Otilio, a former professional welterweight from Ecuador. “Coming off a fight back in September already prepared. Have the mindset to do what I have to do,” he said.
And one would envision Villarreal knowing what awaits, perhaps more than his debut fight on Showtime. The fight is in his backyard so many family and friends will be heard over the Irish contingent of Walsh followers and not many can say they are headlining a main event at the Hulu or Garden main arena. But his promoters at Main Events saw this fight also as that opportunity and turned down other possible opponents for a chance to defeat Walsh.
Win and Villarreal has that serious jump in the rankings of a major division that is highlighted with Jermell Charlo. So, is there that added pressure that goes with fighting in the Garden and what is at stake?
“No pressure,” he said. “Don’t feel stress, feel like I’m used to fighting tough fighters. Garden has a lot of historical events with boxing. This is great, especially in my home city. I was offered other fights. This fight was another opportunity. I took it.”
Confidence also comes from his father who will be in the corner. Otilio, some 22 years ago, was fighting for titles and challenging former world champions, interesting fights that did not go his way against Kermit Cintron and Hall of Famer Hector “Macho” Camacho.
“Working hard,” Otilio said, and not giving the opponent an advantage or providing a game plan that is never leaked to the other side. “He (Ismael) will win by TKO, ready for a good fight. My son is ready for something big. He’s working for a southpaw. He’s well conditioned. He is ready for something big.”
Indeed, also a huge night for a new promoter in the Garden as I documented here last month. And a huge fight for Walsh, a fighter that tends to take care of business early with his knockout ability. Regardless of the outcome, Villarreal has achieved a milestone of headlining as a main event in the Garden.
He says this is not the first time opposing an undefeated fighter. Walsh is young and strong and Villareal said his opponent is probably feeling the pressure also of fighting in the spotlight at the Garden.
“We are ready to showcase,” Villarreal said. “Not an easy fight. We are ready to showcase.”
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