PFL’s Biaggio Ali Walsh reminisces over ‘Poppy’ Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was many things to many people: legendary athlete, champion of civil rights, world humanitarian.

To PFL amateur MMA fighter Biaggio Ali Walsh, this transcendent man famed across the globe was “just a sweet old man.”

“That’s how I remember Poppy,” says Walsh of his grandfather with a nostalgia-tinged chuckle, speaking recently with The Post ahead of his return to the cage Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “… He loved us so much, and we spent so much time with him.”

Walsh, who takes a 4-1 amateur record into his fight with 2-1 Ed Davis, recalled spending plenty of time with Ali as a kid, alongside younger brother and 8-0-1 pro boxer Nico Ali Walsh.

Among the favorite bonding activities between the boys and The Greatest grandfather: enjoying the kids’ Criss Angel Mindfreak magic kit act and drawing stick figures in a boxing ring with “a bunch of dots outside of the ring to represent the audience of the fight.”

Biaggio Ali Walsh is 4-1 as an amateur MMA fighter.
Biaggio Ali Walsh is 4-1 as an amateur MMA fighter.

You know; grandfatherly stuff.

That didn’t generally include watching fights together — they all preferred trips to the movies — and the 24-year-old Walsh doesn’t believe Ali watched much mixed martial arts before his death in 2016 after decades of dealing with Parkinson’s disease.

“But do know for a fact that he would be a huge fan of it,” Walsh says. “I think he’d be a huge fan of when Conor was doing all his peak trash talking. That little era of Conor McGregor, he would have loved it.”

No surprise there, given Ali’s famed gift of gab that gave the world classic lines like “Float like a butterfly sting like a bee,” which inspired Walsh’s butterfly and bee tattoos on his left and right arm, respectively, which he added six months after his grandfather’s passing at age 74.

Muhammad Ali embraces Nico Ali Walsh (right) and his brother Biaggio (left).
Muhammad Ali embraces grandsons Biaggio Ali Walsh (left) and brother Nico (right).
Nico Ali Walsh

Boxing runs in the family — Ali the storied heavyweight champion, aunt Laila Ali retiring unbeaten as a women’s boxing legend, brother Nico making his way up after signing with Top Rank — so Walsh is a bit of a black sheep in that way after taking up MMA upon the completion of his collegiate football career.

A former California and UNLV running back, Walsh now trains Xtreme Couture in the same gym that helped champions such as heavyweight Francis Ngannou reach the top.

The hands are what’s gotten the job done thus far — again, no shocker — with four straight wins via first-round knockout.

But Walsh is working diligently on his overall game at the Las Vegas gym and says he’s got plenty of tools he’s yet to show off in PFL.

“I have really explosive takedowns; nobody has seen that yet,” Walsh said. “As my career goes, you’ll be able to see it. It’s going to be inevitable. … I have good head kicks, good low kicks, and my overall grappling has just gotten so much better than, say, my second fight.”

Walsh understands “I’m still a baby” in terms of development as a fighter.

Unlike boxing, MMA fighters aren’t known to compete extensively as amateurs before hitting the pro ranks.

Still, entering his sixth amateur bout, Walsh “wouldn’t say there’s an itch yet” to take that next step, and he’s trusting his coaches to come to him with the suggestion of turning pro.

“Then I’ll be like, “Ooh! OK,” Walsh says with a laugh. “Then I’ll probably get the itch. Right now, I’m just trying to get as much experience as I can. I’m super fortunate with the situation that I have right now, being an amateur, being able to fight on a card like this, on the stage like this on ESPN.

“I know I got the opportunity because of my name,” continued Walsh, who embraces his Greatest lineage through mother Rasheda Ali. “But now, I want to show that I’m not just the name. I have an athletic skill [set]; I have explosiveness; I have speed; I have fight IQ; and I can fight.”

And Walsh, who competes at lightweight, gets it; Muhammad Ali casts a titanic shadow on planet Earth, particularly in athletics, and especially in fight sport.

For as long as he competes in MMA, Walsh and The Greatest will be linked, and he’s up to the challenge of standing on his own two feet.

“I know I’m an amateur,” Walsh said. “But even when I turned pro, I’m going to still have that problem of … It’s not even much of a problem, but I’m gonna still just have to live up to that.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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