March 9, 2000
A couple of weekends ago, some of you may have seen two New England
boxers head in two opposite directions in separate bouts. While Ray Oliveira
of New Bedford, MA snatched the zero from Vivian Harris' record, Joey Gamache
of Lewiston, ME was sent into unconsciousness and retirement by a
middleweight version of Arturo Gatti. Both Oliveira and Gamache were hoping
to return to the title picture, a picture Gamache had once been a part of and
Oliveira still seeks.
This Saturday night, March 11 live on HBO from London's Olympia, "Irish"
Micky Ward of Lowell, MA will have his second chance to attain a world title
and the accolades that accompany it. Underneath the "Prince" Naseem
Hamed-Vuyani Bungu featherweight title match, Ward will square off with
another Irishman, Shea "The Shamrock Express" Neary of Liverpool for his WBU
Jr. Welterweight championship.
Ward, 34 earned this shot on the strength of two impressive wins. This
past July, Ward (34-9, 25 KO's) stopped fringe contender, Jermal Corbin in 6
rounds and in his most recent victory, Ward rallied to stop former world
title challenger, Reggie Green. Where Ward hopes to end up after this fight
is where all fighters dream of ending up: at the end of the rainbow. For his
efforts Saturday night, Ward will receive his greatest purse in his 15-year
career and hopes for many more to come.
"Every one of my fights at this stage of my comeback are important," said
Ward. "But this one's important because it involves a championship belt and
it's on HBO. Going over to England and being at my age are important
factors. It's a must win."
In Ward's first attempt at a world title, his dreams were shattered by a
severe, third round cut incurred by the slashing fists of then champion
"Cool" Vince Phillips.
"It feels great to get another shot to redeem myself," said Ward. He had
fought competitively with Phillips up until the time of the stoppage. "In
this game you never know when you're gonna get another shot."
A decade ago, not many people would have predicted that Ward would ever
got a shot. After enjoying a successful amateur career, which included three
New England Golden Gloves and two New England Amateur Boxing Federation
crowns, Ward turned professional and won his first 14 bouts. From that point
on however, Ward didn't exactly encounter "the luck of the Irish."
Ward was tested with the best 140-pounders in the business while ailing
from a variety of hand problems. As a result, he usually came out the loser
in each of his big fights. After losing four straight to the likes of Harold
Brazier, Charles "The Natural" Murray and Tony Martin, Ward took some needed
"I was getting tired of everything," admits Ward. "Boxing wasn't fun for
me anymore. I was getting thrown in with the top guys of the world back to
back. Four losses in a row will hurt a guy's confidence. If you don't have
some wins to pick yourself up while your confidence is down, then it's no
good to keep going. I just kept on fighting the tougher guys so I said 'to
hell with this' and I was done.
The time off ended up lasting three years of ring activity where Ward
labored as a corrections officer and operated heavy-duty equipment while
laying down pavement. But the burning desire for ring competition returned
and Ward went from laying asphalt to kicking ass.
Ward was successful during the first couple of years of his comeback
compiling eight straight victories which included minor upsets of then
unbeaten Providence favorite, Lewis Veader. His greatest test however came
on the de la Hoya - Whitaker undercard, April 12, 1997 on TVKO when he was
paired with Mexican knockout sensation, Alfonso Sanchez. After being floored
and dominated for the first six rounds, Ward landed his patented left hook to
the liver as if he had learned it from Mexico. Sanchez collapsed to his
knees and remained on them several seconds after the referee's 10 count. The
victory not only restored Ward's confidence, but also earned him his title
shot against Phillips.
"(The Sanchez) fight told me that I could come back from being knocked
down or being behind," said Ward. "It told me that I could get in there with
the best in the world.
In no other of his fights was this more evident than in his most recent
contest. In one of 1999's more memorable fights, Ward who was behind on two
of the three judges scorecards, got his Irish up in the 10th and final round
to stop Green with only 12 seconds left.
"I was losing the battle but not the war," reflects Ward. " He hurt me a
couple of times but I never gave up faith in myself."
A faith that Ward will require when he attempts to derail the Shamrock
Express Saturday night. Unbeaten in all 22 of his professional bouts, Neary
an Irishman based in Beatle-town (or Gomez-ville to the new generation) has
also been involved in pulsating battles with the likes of Darryl Tyson and
"I don't think I've ever fought anyone more Irish than me before," said
Ward. "It should be a very exciting fight. He's a tough guy who likes to
stand there and bang which is what I like to do. I have been in there with
much better fighters than he has and all of the pressure is on him."