Tuesday 20 March 2018

Joe Ward aiming to rectify one glaring omission on CV - an Olympic appearance

Joe Ward, Ireland
Joe Ward, Ireland

Sean McGoldrick in Doha

Joe Ward has achieved so much in his boxing career that it is hard to credit he won't celebrate his 22nd birthday for another 18 days.

He's been European champions twice in 2012 and again this year; has medalled at two World Elite championships in addition to winning World Junior and Youth titles.

But there is one glaring omission from his CV. He has yet to box at the Olympic Games. Tonight in the Ali Bin Mamad Al Attiya Arena in Doha the Moate light heavyweight bids to put that right.

Ward has already secured a bronze medal in Doha but as he remarked after his quarter final win this wasn't what he came to the Persian Gulf for. “Winning a bronze medal but not qualifying for the Olympics would be a disaster.”

Four years ago Ward looked destined to qualify for the London Games even though he was only 17. But he suffered a shock loss in a last 16 contest at the World championships in Baku.

It was his first ever loss at Elite level and it proved both a chastening and costly experience. Winning had become such an established habit for Ward at underage tournaments that he had perfected the art of just doing enough to get through the earlier rounds before peaking for the final.

“He's a very smart boxer inside the ring; so much so that when the old computer scoring system was used he could count the number of punches and he just did enough in fights to be one ahead,” according to team coach Billy Walsh.

But faced with a rugged and street wise Iranian light middleweight Ehsan Rouzbahani Ward badly miscalculated. Four points down going into the last round he clawed back the deficit to level the bout but then lost it on a countback.

As it transpired his best chance of qualifying had gone. He subsequently boxed at the final qualifying tournament in the Turkish port city of Trabzon in the spring of 2012. There he got the draw from hell – a clash against a Turkish fighter Bahram Muffaffer in the quarter final.

Everybody bar the judges believed Ward won the fight but it scarcely mattered. His Olympic dream was over and even a visit to the Court of Arbitration in Sport on the eve of the London Games failed to earn him a reprieve.

Even his campaign for the Rio Olympics has been fraught. This spring he boxed in the newly established AIBA Pro Series but endured the embarrassment of his first ever TKO when French professional Mathieu Bauderlique stopped him in the fourth round of their contest which meant that Ward's ambition to qualify for Rio through that route was still born.

Regardless of how tonight's contest pans out he will have other chances next spring to achieve his lifetime ambition and become an Olympic boxer. Ironically, he has sufficient talent to win an Olympic title but first he's got to qualify. And there is an unmistakable feeling that this could be his best chance.

His opponent Elshod Rasulov from Uzbekistan is eight years his senior. He won a World Junior title in 2004 and competed at both the Beijing and London Olympics. Like Ward, he's a southpaw which means both boxers prefer to counter punch and both will require nerves of steel in the ring.

Ward previously beat Rasulov in the prestigious Chemistry Cup tournament in Germany but it is tonight's result that could define his amateur career. He doesn't want to be remembered as the greatest Irish boxer never to compete at the Olympics Games.

The Ward v Rasulov fight is scheduled for a 6.30pm start this evening.

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