In April of this year Errol Spence Junior, one of the finest boxers on the planet, will meet Yordenis Ugas in a world title fight, a bout which will see the winner move a step towards unifying the welterweight division. A venue for this mega-fight has yet to be confirmed but it is likely to take place in Spence Junior’s home state of Texas, in the AT&T Stadium, Arlington, where the Dallas Cowboys play. Regardless of where it happens, it will be a sell-out, a pay-per-view event, with fight fans desperate to see the latest chapter in the career of an unbeaten champion with a knockout ratio of 78 per cent.
And when the 31-year-old enters the ring and stares Ugas down he will be flanked by a new addition to his team, a new coach, a young man from Enniscorthy who has made it to the very top of his own profession less than a decade after bidding goodbye to his family and moving to the other side of the world.
When Declan Walsh received his Leaving Cert results there appeared an obvious path to success. The 17-year-old had been offered a place on Waterford Institute of Technology’s (WIT) architecture course. It was a solid option with potential for a lasting and lucrative career. Yet Declan chose to go down a different route, to explore other options and follow his dreams.
“I decided to go down the health and fitness route, to study sports nutrition, sports massage and become a personal trainer and fitness instructor,” says Declan from his home in Calgary, Canada. “I started working with amateur boxers, athletes competing in the Olympics, and I realised this was my passion, that I wanted to explore it further. So each year I did more diplomas, furthered my education, and I built a large client base, especially for back then, because at the time fitness hadn’t exploded like it has now.”
By the age of 21 Declan had his own gym, his own business, and a clientele which was continuing to grow. But he wasn’t satisfied, he knew there was more he could achieve and that he would have to leave Ireland to achieve it.
“I decided to move to that side of the world, to North America,” Declan (29) recalls. “I got my visa approved very quickly and put my resume on a Canadian job site, the next day a company in Calgary offered me a position with them. They were, and still are, the biggest fitness chain in the country. In my first couple of years with them I was named their top trainer in the company, out of two thousand other trainers.”
From there Declan set up Fight 2B Fit, his own company which provides training tailored for individual needs regardless of his client’s background. His methods, his philosophy on nutrition, on strength and conditioning, and sports massage, have set him apart, attracted the attention of elite athletes, boxers and MMA fighters who wanted to maximise their potential. But what is it about his work that has led him to work with Spence Junior, former world champions Regis Prograis and Caleb Plant, and a who’s who of UFC fighters including Anthony and Sergio Pettis, Alexander Volkanovski, Neiman Gracie, and Israel Adesanya.
“I believe the mind is the key to helping define a person’s success or failure, not just when it comes to health and fitness, but also in life in general,” he says. “I like to discover my client’s number one goal and defining motivational moment that made them come looking for his help in the first place. I have a new approach, a science-based educational programme, it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter.
"Based on what my fighters have told me I think that, as an Irish person, I have the gift of the gab, I’m personable, can hold a conversation and I treat them as a normal person. A lot of them are tired of being treated like a celebrity.”
Declan develops a personalised fitness and nutritional programme for his clients, whether they’re a world champion boxer or someone looking to get fit after a period of inactivity. Because although he has seen the glamorous side of sports, been ringside at big events across the world, he continues to work with so-called regular clients, men, women and children of all ages whose needs aren’t quite as high-stakes.
"I’m in LA a lot for work, and I’m just back from Texas working with Errol, but my home is Calgary in Canada,” he says. “When I get back here I usually work from 5.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. with clients, it’s hectic, I can see 12-20 people in that time, some in groups. Obviously the elite fighters pay a premium but those guys usually only fight one or two times a year so the rest of the time I have to work as normal.
"But I love what I do anyway, it’s not enough for me to work with these established fighters, I still want to work with all the other guys, there’s a lot of those I’ve been with since they were amateurs, in a way I’ve brought them through. And anyway, it’s -20 in Canada at the moment so there’s not a lot else to do.”
And while his life seems impossibly exciting to his friends and family back home in Enniscorthy, Declan has learned to take it all in his stride. I ask if he gets star-struck when meeting some of the biggest names in sport?
“Not really. It’s different if you’re in Vegas, on the strip with your friends, and you see Tyson Fury or Conor McGregor; there’s layers to this, I’ve already spoken to them about the programme, they want to fly me in, there’s been lots of communication and contact before we meet, so when we do meet it’s normal,” he says.
The communication with Errol Spence Junior came about in the most normal of ways.
“I’d been working with Regis Prograis in Texas. He had lost to Josh Taylor having failed to make the weight, and they wanted to bring in someone to help with that,” Declan explains. “Afterwards he posted a video online and gave me a shout-out. Errol saw it and sent me a direct message on Instagram, we had a chat on the phone, I showed him my programme, we discussed his strength and conditioning, his nutrition, and from there we decided to work together.
“He’s fighting in April against Ugas, I’ll be in his camp for that, he’ll fly me in for the last four weeks and from then I’ll prepare all his meals, work on his strength and conditioning in conjunction with his head trainer, basically get him ready to rock and roll for fight night.”
Along with his girlfriend Bree (also a professional boxer, with a 3-0 unbeaten record), Declan recently flew to Texas to spend time with Spence Junior, to begin the work which he hopes will see him end 2022 as the king of the welterweight division and the number one fighter in the world. Straight away he saw ways in which he can improve the champ’s performance, bring him to an even higher level than he’s currently operating.
“He brought me in because he felt he wasn’t achieving his optimal performance level. A lot of boxing coaches have old, outdated methods of training, that belief that the harder you work the better it is,” Declan says. “I tell fighters that yes, that is true, but also no, it’s not. Errol will work for two hours in the boiling heat and sweat constantly, sweating is good, but what people forget is that as well as losing all that water you’re also losing essential minerals.
"That was why his performance dropped. So we implemented a new system where he replenishes his minerals before the session. Already his energy levels have improved. It’s about having the proper systems in place.”
As head chef of Fight 2B Fit, Bree looks after the catering side of the business, preparing fighters meals and ensuring their nutrition is perfect as they look to make weight ahead of their bouts. However, she has recently embarked on her journey, a pro-boxing career which has seen her added to UK promoter Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Team.
Before Declan and Bree return to Texas to join Spence Junior’s camp they will visit Dubai to work with some of the UFC fighters who rely on their expertise come fight night. Trips to these far-flung locations have become the norm for the man who was educated at St Aidan’s Primary School and later St Mary’s CBS.
“During Covid the UFC set up Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, an island exclusively for fighters which was protected by the military, I had the chance to go there and be part of that. And I hope to be in Spence Junior’s corner for his fight in April,” Declan says. “Covid hasn’t really affected my work, it hasn’t hindered me at all. The only difference is having to wear a mask. The more it drags on the more measures are included, PCR tests, the more hoops you have to jump through. But it’s been okay, I’m willing to do whatever it takes. The UFC have put on private charter flights for the teams, it’s been a really nice experience.”
Yet there’s one place Declan hasn’t been for quite some time, a place he misses more than any other. Home.
“I haven’t been home since Covid started. I want to be able to see everyone, to go to my favourite pubs, restaurants, that’s made me hold off a bit, I want my full authentic experience of home. When I do come home it’s (my career) all anyone wants to talk about, especially on nights out with my uncles, with my friends, it’s always the main topic of conversation,” he says. “But they are very proud of me, it’s unbelievable a young lad from Enniscorthy is working with some of the best fighters on the planet. For me though it’s just become the norm, life moves fast and I don’t have time to dwell on it, you just have to keep moving. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time until the next big fighter comes along. For all I know I could already be working with them.”
It may have been a couple of years since he was back home, his accent may be fading, but Declan remains a patriotic Irishman, a true son of Éire. This is illustrated when he is asked who he’d like to work with next.
“If I could work with anyone it would probably be Katie Taylor or Conor McGregor,” he says. “I’ve travelled a lot to see them fight and they’re my favourite fighters, they have put us on the map and given us a lot to be proud of, we’re a proud fighting nation and they’re represented us.”
Furthermore, the Enniscorthy-native has big plans for his home town, his county. He wants to bring others on board, to spread the success and create a team of forward-thinking, progressive coaches from right here in Wexford.
“I want to start a programme back home on nutrition and strength and conditioning, run seminars, courses, and find one or two trainers I want to work with. I can’t work with all the fighters I’d like to at any one time, so I need people to work with the fighters in the UK and Ireland and then do the same in Australia NZ, do it all over.”
To learn more about Declan’s work and see exclusive insider footage of his training with Errol Spence Junior visit his YouTube channel @Fight 2B Fit