On Nov. 24, the Professional Fighters League will host its 2023 World Championship to cap off MMA’s only major seasonal fighters league, and one of the richest competitions in sports, with the winners taking home a cool $1 million each in prize money. On the undercard of that show will be Biaggio Ali Walsh, a man who knows a thing or two about championships, since his grandfather was the legendary three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali.
Weeks out from the most important fight of his own career, M&F sat down with Biaggio Ali Walsh to find out why he chose to follow in his family’s fertile fighting lineage, and how he’s training to replicate the success of “the greatest of all time.”
As the son of Muhammad Ali’s daughter Resheda Ali, Biaggio had to learn how to protect himself early on. While in school, kids would line up to test his mettle to determine if he was as tough as his iconic grandfather. “Growing up, my brother as well… it happened to both of us. You know, somebody would find out that we were somehow related to Muhammad Ali and they would automatically assume that we could fight, so then they would challenge us and be like; ‘hey, let’s box,’” he recalls.
It’s not surprising then, that fighting would feature heavily in the lives of Biaggio, and his brother Nico (who is a middleweight boxer with an enviable 8-1-0 in his own right). But in his youth, football was Baggio’s first major sporting passion. He played for the University of California, and The University of Las Vegas, the latter of which described him as a “speedy running back.” Indeed he was, and Biaggio excelled on the gridiron, enjoying league titles and MVP honors to boot. In his freshman year, Biaggio had caught the UFC on television and quickly fell in love with MMA. So, after leaving college and wondering what to do with the rest of his life, Biaggio nervously accompanied his friend to a training session at Xtreme Couture MMA in Las Vegas. As a kid, Biaggio remembers that he’d met Randy Couture at a random event. It’s surreal then, he admits, that Couture now commentates on his own televised fights.
At the age of 24, Biaggio had demonstrated so much potential in the world of MMA that he was signed to the PFL as an amateur prospect in the light weight division. Turning dreams into a successful reality is no mean feat but, fortunately, Biaggio is up for the challenge.
Biaggio Ali Walsh Is Picking Up Muhammad Ali’s MMA Mantle And Running With It
Muhammad Ali’s 1976 “boxer versus wrestler“ exhibition match against Antonio Inoki, billed “The War of the Worlds,” is largely seen as a launching pad for the concept of modern mixed martial arts, and while that bout in Tokyo, Japan ended in a draw, the momentum that “The People’s Champion” started that night laid the foundation for promotions such as the UFC and the PFL to thrive. “I believe that the fighting is within our bloodline,” reflects Biaggio. “I believe that I was born to fight.”
The amateur tells M&F that he understands getting to the top of the PFL will likely be a bumpy ride, and there’s no rush towards becoming pro. He’s happy to make the transition when his team deems the moment right. Biaggio’s first amateur MMA outing was a tough lesson learned, but he’s putting in the work and growing from his ever-increasing experience. In that debut against Devin Rothwell, he succumbed to a rear naked choke, but has come back stronger, amassing five straight victories that will give him a measure of confidence against Joel Galarza Lopez (3-0-0) on Nov. 24. “Each time you step in the cage, you get more and more comfortable,” says Biaggio of the experience that he is amassing under the spotlight. “The fighting journey is a learning journey.”
How Biaggio Is Training Toward Becoming a Pro MMA Fighter
“I remember, like the first time I got kicked in the head. I was like ‘whoa, this is different,” shares Biaggio. While his experience of physicality in football, and his strength of speed gives him some great tools for the cage, the daily grind of training to become a pro MMA fighter is only for those that go all-in with their training. To that end, Biaggio Ali Walsh is solely focused on building his own legacy. He comes to the discipline with no formal martial arts background, but feels that as MMA evolves, more and more athletes are learning mixed martial arts as a blank canvas, rather than starting out in karate, wrestling, or kickboxing for example
Biaggio Ali Walsh is in the gym at Xtreme Couture for 9 a.m. “It’s a family there,” he says. “You beat the crap out of each other and then after, you’re laughing and going to get coffee together. It’s literally a family.” A sample day of training comprises of striking from 9am to 10am and then grappling from 11am to 12pm. In the afternoon he’ll be back at the gym working with the heavy bag, often for 10 x 3-minute rounds to build stamina. When it comes to increasing his strength, Biaggio is finding that unlike in his football days, he really doesn’t have to lift traditional weights as much, because the daily struggle of shifting his opponent’s bodyweight is a heavy lifting session in its own right. “The real strength and conditioning is sparring, grappling, and wrestling,” says Biaggio, who explains that if you go back and study old school boxers, their strength and condition work revolved around hitting the bag, chopping wood, running, and sparring. “And, they would go 15 rounds,” he adds.
Training in the warmer climates of Las Vegas also requires Biaggio to pay special attention to his hydration. Practice is so intense that he’s stopped buying small bottles of water and now drinks it by the gallon. Biaggio often find himself going through two gallons on a training day.
“I pretty much water load everyday like I would if it were fight-week,” he explains. Just like his grandfather, this fighter understands the importance of every detail when it comes to preparation and Biaggio is excited about the possibilities that competing with the PFL brings. “It feels like a dream that they reached out and saw potential in me, and that I’m signed with them,” he says. It is of course, by dreaming big that mighty things are accomplished. Perhaps Muhammed Ali said it best: “A man who has no imagination has no wings.”
Watch the full 2023 PFL World Championship card live on November 24 from The Anthem in Washington, D.C via ESPN PPV and ESPN+ in the USA and DAZN internationally