Saturday 25 November 2017

Joe Ward up against it as he takes on the AIBA 2015 Boxer of the Year Julio Cesar La Cruz

Joe Ward
Joe Ward

Sean McGoldrick in Doha

IMAGINE if the GAA announced who the Footballer of the Year was 48 hours before the All-Ireland final and presented him with his award at a Gala Dinner!

Well, that exactly what AIBA, the governing body of amateur boxing had done here in Doha. Cuban light heavyweight Julio Cesar La Cruz, who takes on Ireland's Joe Ward in this evening's 81kg final, is AIBA 2015 Boxer of the Year regardless of the outcome.

At the very least the timing of the announcement has to put some subtle pressure on the five judges at ringside for the contest. Imagine the embarrassment if the newly crowned Boxer of the Year was to lose the biggest fight of the year and miss out on winning his third successive World crown.

Irish coach Billy Walsh acknowledges that Ward is the underdog.  But the Moate man is acutely aware of his place in world boxing and is on a mission of revenge having dropped a unanimous decision to La Cruz in the semi-final of the World championships two years ago.

Ward was below his best on that occasion as Walsh explains. “Joe wasn't long back after dislocating his knee cap at the European championships earlier in the year and he also had to have an injection in his arm before the fight. He will be looking for a better performance today.”

Regardless of the outcome Ward is assured of a first ever silver medal at World level as well as a place at next year's Olympics – which was his main goal in Doha.

Michael Conlan has stolen a march on him by becoming the Irishman to secure a gold medal at World Elite level but a victory for Ward would give him the unique honour of winning World titles at three different weights.

At the age he won the light middleweight AIBA World junior title in Armenia; a year later he has crowned World Youth middleweight champion in Baku.

Twenty six year old La Cruz is known as the Doctor in his native country on account of the fact that he is studying for a doctorate in physical education. But the Cuban captain is prone to the occasions lapse.

Even though he was the reigning World champion at the London Olympics he went home empty handed after suffering a shock defeat to a Brazilian in the quarter-finals.

Earlier this year he endured a surprise loss at the American Confederation championships in Venezuela and has had problems outside the ring as well. In January 2014 he was shot outside a recreation centre in his home town in eastern Cuba. But he made a full recovery from the wound near the top of his left hip.

So far in Doha he hasn't been seriously challenged, then neither has Ward who was under a lot more pressure to perform given that he had to reach the final in order to secure his Olympic slot. In contrast, La Cruz won the WSB series which secured him a slot in Rio regardless of what happened in Doha.

Billy Walsh acknowledges that together fellow coaches Zaur Antia and Eddie Bolger they face a major challenge to come up with a game plan to thwart the Cuban.

“It will be a cat and mouse game again,” suggests Walsh who has no concerns about Ward's mental readiness for the showdown.

“He is a very ambitious lads. He wants to have the complete set (of medals) He will feed into him that this is is chance of making history. The wants to beat the Cuban; there is no doubt about that. He's not going in there to make up the numbers,” said Walsh.

Back in 1992 in Barcelona few gave Michael Carruth any chance of upsetting the Cuban favourite Juan Hernandez in the Olympic final. But the Irishman pulled off a stunning win.

Joe Ward will have to do something similar tonight if he is to upset what looks like a pre-ordained coronation for the Cuban light heavyweight.

Ward is due in the ring at around 6.20pm Irish time.

Meanwhile, the President of AIBA  Dr CK Wu confirmed at the press conference today that in cases where boxers such as Ireland's Michael Conlan has qualified for the Olympics through both the WSB and World Championship it is up to individual National Olympic Committee to chose whether the boxer takes up the WSB or World championship slot.

This ruling could have implications for Ireland's Michael O'Reilly who was controversially beaten in a box-off for a place in the Olympics last night. The Cuban gold medallist in O'Reilly's middleweight category Arlen Lopez has already qualified for Rio through the WSB series.

So if he opted to take up the WSB slot it would enable O'Reilly qualify automatically despite last night's defeat. Realistically it is a long shot. A final decision will be announced in early December.

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