Kevin Walsh became a ring leader in one day's work.
In the his first boxing match, the longtime Laguna Beach resident made the most of his chance at the Ringside Masters World Championships, held March 30 and 31 at Kansas City, Mo. The newly minted septuagenarian, who turned 70 on April 20, was a mere 69 when he took on 73-year-old Jim Barnette of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the Over-65 (140 pounds) age class. Walsh scored a decision victory in a match that went three rounds. The result dethroned the division's reigning champion.
"My face looked a little bit marked up, but there were no real injuries," joked the witty 5-foot-7 Walsh, who weighed in at 138 pounds for his match. "Overall, it was a great experience. All the training — and there was a lot of it — was worthwhile."
Walsh's wife Tomi felt the same way. She accompanied her husband to the championships, even videotaped his bout.
"No, my wife did not shoot it with a special slow-mo camera," Walsh said. "We old guys just don't move that quickly."
The Walshes, who have called Laguna Beach home for 40 years, will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary in October.
"You could really see how much he enjoyed it," Tomi Walsh said. "It was a great experience, made even better by the fact that he won.
"Initially, I wondered about him getting into this," she chuckled. "I didn't really understand the allure of the whole thing, but he really got into it and enjoys it. He trained hard and it was a form of exercise for him, and it really became an important piece of his life. If it wasn't this, it'd be something else. I say 'whatever works.' "
Kevin Walsh said there were no formal qualifications to earn a spot at the Ringside World Championships. The tournament is open to boxers ages 18 to 80 and Walsh said this year marked the first time a Masters-only (age 35 or above, no professional experience) division was sponsored. Walsh and Barnette were the only two competitors in their division.
Walsh worked out at LA Boxing in Aliso Viejo, training with Ricky Gutierrez and Jeff Morgan. His training session typically ran 1 1/2 to two hours a day, five days per week.
"This was my first actual fight, though I have been sparring with the 20-somethings in the gym for the past six months," Walsh said. "I asked them to not beat up the old man too badly.
"Jeff and Ricky got in the ring with me and bounced me around during training sessions. They got me used to getting hit and bouncing back from those hits. They have been great. I just had this desire to stay with it. I enjoyed the challenge. I wasn't getting older — I felt like I was a teenager again."
Walsh said he took up boxing as a retirement activity. A former runner who lettered in track at the University of Notre Dame, he retired in 2006 after a career that included 39 years in medical equipment sales and marketing. Previous to that, he served a three-year tour as a United States Marine Corps. officer.
"I became certified as a personal trainer, with a plan to work two or three mornings a week, just to stay active," he said of one of his retirement plans. "A friend told me about LA Boxing and I thought I'd give it a try. I had just come off rehabbing a shoulder surgery and I wanted to see if my shoulder could handle this new activity. It did, so I began participating in the group workouts offered by the gym. Once I felt I had the necessary conditioning base, I began private lessons and soon was sparring with my trainer. There were, however, some rather lengthy interruptions."
Those "interruptions," were due to having had two back surgeries, and two hip replacement surgeries. Walsh had his right hip replaced in May, 2009, and the left in May. Both surgeries were performed by Dr. James Caillouette, whom Walsh called, a "miracle worker."
Walsh said that running had taken a "pounding toll" on his hips, and that Caillouette suggested he give up running. He did, and found a "something else," his wife had referred to.
"I was back in the gym 12 days after my second hip surgery," Walsh said. "It was unbelievable. I felt great. Still do."
Walsh says he has plans to return to Kansas City in early August to compete at another Ringside tournament.
Twitter: @MikeSciaccaCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun