Michael Walters celebrates a goal during the match between Fremantle and West Coast at Optus Stadium on April 2, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

MICHAEL Walters is in his element in his hometown boxing gym, working the pads relentlessly on a Tuesday night in November while local six-year-old Chase leans on the ropes and looks up to the Fremantle star.

Wearing the blue and gold colours of the Wally Bates Memorial Boxing Club, the slimmed down Walters is two months into an off-season boxing regime that has resulted in the 32-year-old finding career-best fitness ahead of his 16th season.

It's not just the workouts, however, that continue to draw the goalkicker back to the Midland boxing gym he first entered as a six-year-old. Helping show local kids like Chase that he is proud of where he comes from, and they too can achieve what they want, is driving him.

"You can see all the young kids here, that's something that keeps me coming back. I feel like I can be a really good role model here and inspire these kids," Walters told AFL.com.au after a recent session at the Midland Police and Community Youth Centre, where the club is operating.

"The gym has a massive impact on these kids to be able to come here and have an environment where they're pushed to have fun and pushed to be healthy and work hard.

"My upbringing wasn't tough, and my Mum and Dad made it quite easy for me and my brother. But I want to show people that whether you come from Midland or whatever suburb, if you want something you can achieve it. Whatever you want in life, you can do it."

Michael Walters celebrates kicking a goal during the match between West Coast and Fremantle at Optus Stadium in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Walters, who has lost 7kg this off-season to help his durability as a senior player, has spent the past two seasons celebrating Midland on-field, displaying an 'M' with his hands after every goal he kicks.

It's now imitated by the kids at the boxing club, which has held a crucial place in the Midland community for more than 30 years and helped turn numerous young lives around.

It has also helped AFL players, including Norm Smith medallist Bobby Hill, Greater Western Sydney star Stephen Coniglio, retired Eagles champion Nic Naitanui and St Kilda wingman Liam Henry gain fitness through their careers.  


Founded by four brothers in 1988, the club is named after Wally Bates, a proud Noongar man, World War II soldier, and revered local boxer who also coached, refereed and judged during his time in the sport before passing away in 1975.

Brothers Bevan, Graham, Garry and Alan O'Donnell were coached by Bates and founded the club in honour of their mentor, hoping to pass on the lessons they had learned about respect, discipline and self-esteem.

The gym has a family focus and has remained accessible to all, running on the community spirit of the O'Donnells and fellow volunteers and charging $2 a night for more than 30 years, with that money all going towards equipment and trophies.

"He taught us a lot of life skills. What he taught us he was very strict on not using outside the ring, only inside the ring," said Bevan, who is a local policeman and will often work with children's courts and community departments to offer local youth a place at Wally Bates where they can fit in.  

"It was here at the PCYC that we all started boxing and we just wanted to keep his name going.

"Wally always said, 'You've got nothing to prove to anybody, but to yourself', so that's the motto we have on our singlets."

Local child Chase, Michael Walters and Bevan O'Donnell at the Wally Bates Memorial Boxing Club at the Midland PCYC on November 14. Picture: Supplied

The gym's benefit to Midland is so clear that the local council set an annual rate of $1 to use its soon-to-be refurbished facilities after reading a submission about the positive impact it has in the community, including a reference from Walters. 

Former state boxing champion Corey Pollard, who Walters looked up to as a young kid in the gym, was one member who benefited from the club showing him there was a different avenue to the one he was choosing as a teenager.

"I started with the guys when I was 12, but then got a bit older and got in a bit of trouble," Pollard said.

"When I was about 17, I came back and said, 'I'm sick of getting into trouble every other weekend, so teach me properly, I want to get in the ring'. They made me train hard for a year until they knew I could handle myself. I'd probably be a lot worse off if I hadn't started.

"Now as my kids have got older, I've come back and my eldest daughter loves it and will do boxing with me any day she can. A lot of guys who are older now are coming back and bringing their kids."

Walters drives up to an hour each way to work out in Midland, passing up to a dozen other boxing clubs on his way to work out with the O'Donnells, who have an outstanding reputation for teaching the fundamentals of the sport.

Michael Walters in action with boxing coach Graham O'Donnell at the Wally Bates Memorial Boxing Club at the Midland PCYC on November 14. Picture: Supplied

It is no coincidence that veteran Fremantle boxing coach and life member Gary Ingraham rates him as the best Docker he's seen in the gloves in more than two decades. Bevan can see boxing similarities between Walters and another Australian Football star.

"Maurice Rioli was boxing here as well back in his South Fremantle days and it was the same hand speed," O'Donnell said, highlighting how boxing fitness has helped Walters stay involved in games through his career.

"In football, you're in the action but then you get a chance to suck in some air. In boxing you can't do that, and that has helped him so much.

"You're always in the contest in boxing and he's doing the second, third, fourth efforts. In football, he always wants to be in the contest now, because what we teach him in boxing, always want to be in the contest."

Walters, who has signed a two-year contract extension through to the end of 2025, has returned to pre-season training with the Dockers' first- to fourth-year players and will start tapering back his boxing workouts as part of his pre-season program.

When the 2019 All-Australian's career finishes, however, and keeping fit isn't a professional requirement, he has no plans to stop training at Wally Bates.

"Even though I don't live in the area now, I still see it as home, and I definitely owe a lot to this boxing club," he said.

"They have helped me over my career to get fit and keep fit no matter what injuries I've been through. They're always here to help me.

"I'll keep coming here for a long time, even after my career is done, because there's a lot of young kids here and I want to show them I'm still around and proud of Midland and where I'm from."