Ward outclasses opponent to qualify for Olympics
JOE Ward has achieved his lifetime ambition and qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016. He outclassed his 29 year old opponent Elshod Rasulov from Uzbekistan in the semi-final of the light heavyweight category at the World championships in Doha.
As the Fields of Athenry rang out around the arena, the referee raised Ward's hand to signal that he was through to his first ever World decider at Elite level. So at worst he is assured of bringing home a silver medal from Doha – but the real prize is that regardless of how he fares in Thursday's decideragainst defending title holder Julio La Cruz from Cuba, Ward has secured a spot at the Rio Olympics.
“It was great to get the win after all the ups and downs I've had during my career. A lot of people wrote me off but I stuck with it. My coach Eddie Bolger, my family, my girlfriend at home and my kids they motivated and today I got what I wanted. My dream was to box in the Olympics,” said an unusually emotional Ward.
The Moate pugilist who celebrates his 22nd birthday at the end of the month paid tribute to Seamus Dorrington, his first coach at Moate BC club. “It's a massive achievement for me to be going to be Olympics and to get a world silver medal,” said Ward, who won a bronze medal at the last World championships two years. In the 2013 semi-final in Almaty he lost to La Cruz.
Ward acknowledged that he wondered at times whether he would ever fulfill his Olympic ambitions. 'Of course, you (begin to doubt yourself) and the pressure starts to build more and more and you wonder whether you will make . By J... didn't I make it for me today. It is a dream come true.”
As expected the fight itself as a tactical affair as both boxers are renowned counter punches. There was hardly a punch thrown in the first thirty seconds as they waited to see who would make the first move.
But once Ward got his back hand going he punished his opponent. The fight was stopped in the first round while Rasulov had an eye wound attended too but crucially Ward nicked the round 10-9 on all three judges' cards.
The initiative was now with the Irishman as his opponent was forced to come forward which allowed Ward punish him and the fight was stopped again for more attention to Rasulov's eye wound.
Ward raised his hand in celebration at the end of the second round as if he sensed that he had the decision and the judges agreed as all three gave him the round which left him 20-18 ahead and virtually assured of victory.
Ward 'went on his bike' in the third and the Uzbeck boxer got in enough shots to secure the round but it mattered little in the overall context of the fight as Ward won on a 29-28 score on all three cards.
Finally he had atoned for missing out on the London Games.
In the overall context of the Irish team's performances in Doha this was another historic night. For the first time ever two Irish boxers will contest finals at World Elite level which means that at worst the team are assured of two silver and one bronze medal at the 2015 championship.
And three Irish boxers Ward, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan have secured spot in Rio next year.
These are truly heady days for Irish amateur boxing.