Joe Ward will compete for a gold medal against Cuba’s Julio Cesar La Cruz today at the AIBA World Elite Championships in Hamburg.
The Irish boxer – who is the third seed in the division – defeated Uzbek opponent (and #2 seed) Bektemir Melikuziev via split decision in yesterday’s semi-final, winning the bout on three of the five judges’ scorecards.
The Irish boxer has become the first Irishman in history to reach a second world championship final – the light heavyweight won a silver medal in the 2015 championships in Doha – and has won three fights on his path to the final.
Ward is already guaranteed a silver medal in this year’s championships, but he will be eager to exact revenge on La Cruz, who beat the Dubliner in Doha on the judge’s scorecards, and also bested Ward in the 2013 semis – where the Irishman picked up a bronze medal.
The Moate man comes from a proud boxing heritage, and is related to fellow Irish boxers David Oliver Joyce and John Joe Joyce.
The 23 year old is used to making history, despite his tender age. Earlier this year, the Westmeath native became the first ever Irish male boxer to win gold medals at three European Championships – 2011, 2015, and 2017.
Despite his impressive exploits, however, Ward receives little recognition or coverage.
While many Irish people have praised Conor McGregor for lasting 10 rounds in his boxing debut, people have ignored – or have been unaware of – Ward’s impressive performances and history making.
Former Irish Olympian Kenneth Egan – who lost to Ward three times before his retirement – believes Ward would be a household name if he was competing in a more “attractive sport” than boxing.
“Let’s call a spade a spade: boxing is not an attractive sport, it’s not athletics,” he told the 42.ie.
“If the same chap won all these medals in the 800 metres or any track sport, he’d be a household name, all over every Corn Flakes box in the country, and the likes. That’s the fact of it.”
Egan – now a Fine Gael councillor – also feels Ward’s traveller background works against him.
“It doesn’t help that he comes from a Traveller background as well, and all the negativity that gets. But we’re seeing the barriers being broken there by the likes of John Connors, there, the actor, bursting through, and he’s a household name, doing fantastic work, and he’s a Traveller.
“Let’s stop this discrimination. Joe Ward is a phenomenal athlete. But like I said, if it was any other sport, he’d be a household name.”
Ward has reportedly shunned several offers to turn professional in recent months, stating his intent to represent Ireland at Tokyo 2020. This means the light-heavyweight will have further attempts to add to his European and world championship medals, and he will be aiming to secure a medal at the Olympics in three years time.
Like many of his compatriots, his Rio 2016 exit was somewhat controversial. The Westmeath pugilist lost on points to Ecuadorian Carlos Andres Mina in his first bout, but would have won comfortably if the Chinese referee had not deducted two points off Ward in the second and third rounds.
“The rest of the guys went pro but I wanted to stay to bring Irish boxing back to where it was at the top level and as the captain,” Ward told The Irish Times.
“It is a pleasure representing Ireland and coming home with medals. It’s something special for myself and my family. Now I want to go for the gold.”
Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor turned pro in the aftermath of the controversial Olympics, but Ward is eager to win more medals at amateur level, and he has time on his side.
He would be just 26 if he decides to turn pro after Tokyo, and he certainly has the ability and drive to bring home an Irish medal from Japan in three years time.
Tonight is another opportunity for Ward to showcase his immense talent, and to pick up an elusive world gold medal on his path to the Tokyo Olympics.
He is destined for the top, whether he receives the attention he deserves or not.
Tonight’s finals (there are 10 to be decided) commence at 5pm Irish time in Hamburg. Ward v La Cruz is the eighth fight on the running order.