No gold but Joe Ward happy to have secured Rio objective
Light-heavyweight title ultimately out of reach for 21-year-old Westmeath man
Had Joe Ward opted to throw caution to the wind from the opening bell of his World Championship light-heavyweight final bout he may have become Ireland’s second gold medallist at the tournament. It seems more probable, however, that such a tactic would have led to disaster.
Cuba’s Julio La Cruz, his opponent in Doha last night, is such a tremendously-gifted defensive, counter-attacking fighter that he punishes recklessly adventurous opponents with clinically-ruthless ease.
Ward was forced to fight in a more measured fashion than with wild aggression, although he did box gallantly in the final round as he chased the bout, storming forward in an admirable effort to turn what seemed an inevitable result after two rounds.
Olympic qualification is secure, thanks to his success in reaching the 81kg final here, but the 21-year-old Moate man had to settle for a silver world medal as he was bettered by a talented foe.
“It’s very hard against someone who moves so well,” said Ward when questioned on whether he should have been more aggressive early on. “He’s a world-class operator but it’s very hard to run him down in any way.”
The 26-year-old Cuban, who became a three-time world senior champion with his win last night, possesses a long reach and fast hands that snap away at pursuing opponents.
Boxer of the Year
La Cruz was named as Boxer of the Year by international governing body AIBA last Tuesday night, which prompted Billy Walsh to speculate in the build-up that the decision of the fight may have been made before the opening bell, but the Irish head coach later admitted that it was a fair result after the judges delivered score cards of 30-27 in favour of the Cuban.
“We thought this time around that we could nail him . . . but his movement and speed is phenomenal,” said Walsh. “Joe tried everything in his artillery to try and nail him. He gave a really good account of himself in there, but the better man on the day won.
“It is his third world title in a row and you don’t win those too easily. He is fantastic. He was voted world Boxer of the Year the other night, which speaks volumes.
“That might tell you something. A couple of his shots at the end of the round might have swayed the judges if they hadn’t made up their mind. Once you go behind a round we had to chase him.”
Ward had a fair shout for the first round after starting with intent, landing a hard left hand early on, but the judges awarded the Cuban the first and second rounds. That forced Ward to pick up the pace and try to go for his opponent in the final round and a cut from an accidental head-butt opened a cut over the right eye of La Cruz as the fighters tangled.
Ward, however, can take pride in testing the world’s best light-heavyweight, and he delivered a much improved performance on the loss he suffered against La Cruz in the 2013 World semi-final clash.
While Ward failed to match the achievement of Michael Conlan, who claimed Ireland’s first-ever male gold medal at the tournament on Wednesday, the southpaw picked up his second world medal having claimed bronze in 2013, as Ireland finished fourth on the medals table.
Qualification for the Olympic Games was the main objective, however. “Hopefully I can keep progressing from it and hopefully when the time comes in Rio, I can get one over him,” said Ward.
Meanwhile, Meanwhile, Michael O’Reilly’s Olympic fate may not be known until December, according to AIBA.
The Portlaoise middleweight lost out in controversial fashion to Egypt’s Hosam Abdin on Wednesday night in a third-place Olympic box-off.
Cuba’s world 75kg champion Arlen Lopez is now qualified for Rio through both the World Championships and the World Series of Boxing competition, meaning an Olympic slot may open up for O’Reilly.
AIBA claim the Cuban Federation and the country’s National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have until December 4th to make a call on what Olympic route they choose for Lopez.