Muhammad Ali's grandson is trying to make his own name as a boxer

LOS ANGELES - The biggest athletic legacy in the gym at Los Angeles Valley College is usually displayed on the wall, with a string of banners celebrating the school's triumphs in uniquely era-specific named events like the 1956 Alfalfa Bowl and 1996 "No Fear" Bowl. The nondescript facility at this community college deep in the San Fernando Valley is as far from the atmosphere of a classic Muhammad Ali fight as could be imagined.

On Saturday, The Greatest's spirit and legacy was present in the form of a 16-year-old at a recurring amateur event called "K.O. High Boxing Night."  

If the headliner was just some skinny kid with a 2-1 career record named Nico Walsh, the several hundred fans in the bleachers probably would have given him about the same attention as the other 19 fighters on the card. But because the high schooler from Las Vegas wears his maternal surname like a badge of honor, people are going to notice when Nico Ali Walsh takes the ring.

"Now that my dad's no longer with us, it's even more special that he's pursuing this career because my daddy's looking down on him as our angel," Nico's mom, Rasheda Ali Walsh, told FOX Sports. "My daddy's visited Nico in his dreams. And I think he feels like my dad's passed the torch over to him. We're spiritual beings and I feel that if Nico feels that his grandfather wants him to follow in his footsteps and do good things by this career, I'm not going to interfere with that."

The grandson of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, Nico Ali Walsh is now trying to carve his own path in a sport as a direct descendant of the man universally recognized as "The Greatest."

"He wanted me to box," Ali Walsh told FOX Sports. "I feel like it's great that I'm doing what he wanted me to do."

Before the Champ's passing in June, Ali Walsh showed his grandfather video footage of his previous fights and sparring, eliciting advice to "stay in shape, eat right and do plenty of road work."

But while Muhammad Ali supported the endeavor, Ali Walsh's parents initially tried to steer him in another direction.

"Originally we tried to get him to go out for football," his father Bob Walsh said. "He did it for a few weeks and hated it."

So while Bob Walsh and wife Rasheda Ali Walsh hoped that Nico would avoid both the physical danger and unattainable expectations that would follow any member of the Ali family into the ring, it took a famous neighbor to notice the obvious.

Upon moving to Las Vegas several years ago, rapper Flavor Flav, who had become friends with Rasheda Ali Walsh's sister Khaliah while touring with Public Enemy in the late 1980s, realized that he and the Walsh family were neighbors. Flav became instantly close with the family, eventually serving as a "godfather" to Nico and his older brother Biaggio, who is currently a highly-recruited D1 football prospect.

"We start getting together and Nico shows me a video of him boxing in the backyard in the grass," Flav, a former amateur boxer himself, recalls. "Nico laid a right on this guy's face. Powwwwwww! When I saw that, I was like 'you should start boxing. I'm gonna start you boxing.'"

With Flavor Flav serving as an adviser, Ali Walsh hooked up with a local trainer and started putting in the work, often following up 2½ hour gym workouts six days per week with training runs in 113 degree Vegas heat.

And the results are starting to show. Ali Walsh dispatched his most recent opponent in a tight decision Saturday, where his ability to land a solid number of second-round jabs in the three-round fight likely put him over the top and improved his record to 3-1.

"He's looking lean and athletic from when he first started," aunt and former boxer Laila Ali said. "I didn't even know he was getting into it since he lives in Las Vegas and I live here. To my surprise, he decided he was going to start fighting. Everybody who's going to fight Muhammad Ali's grandson is going to fight you much harder than they're going to fight their last opponent so you've gotta be ready for that."

Nico Ali Walsh certainly has the whole family supporting him now. While Flavor Flav bounced around the audience hyping his fighter like he's done for Public Enemy frontman Chuck D the past three decades, the rest of the Ali clan showed their support from the first two rows. In addition to Ali Walsh's parents and brother, the group included Laila and her husband Curtis Conway, his aunt Hana and uncle Kevin Casey, a UFC fighter, aunt Miriam and Muhammad Ali's widow Lonnie, who skipped a Nevada Hall of Fame tribute to her husband to see the fight.

"There's been so much nonsense talk in tabloids since Muhammad's passing about infighting with the family," Bob Walsh said. "All kinds of nonsense. Everybody's together. Everybody loves each other and supports each other. It's just great when I see everybody come here and show up."

The love was shown from the crowd as well, as the spectators saluted the Champ's legacy before the fights by shining the lights on their cell phones as a loudspeaker boomed an audio recording of Ali's "I am the greatest" poem.

While Ali Walsh's presence in and outside of the ring is as unassuming as his grandfather's was boisterous, it's clear that Ali's influence is still a huge part of why he's pursuing this passion.

"I went to my dad's last fight against Trevor Berbick in 1981 and I did not want him to fight at all. It was tough to see because he was a lot older and he shouldn't have been fighting at that time," Rasheda Ali Walsh said. "It's way worse as a mom because I'm thinking about all these other things that Nico could be doing. But my dad loved Nico fighting. And he gave Nico a lot of sound advice. And I know Nico is pursuing his passion. As much as I don't want him to do it, I don't want to be that parent who says 'You can't pursue your dream."

Nico Ali Walsh realizes that he's never going to escape his grandfather's enormous shadow in the ring, he also is enough of a student of history to put his own experience in perspective.