Joe Ward: I’ll go one better in Tokyo

Joe Ward’s quest for World Elite gold ended at the hands of a familiar foe in Hamburg, Germany on Saturday night, but the Westmeath southpaw reckons time is on his side.

Joe Ward: I’ll go one better in Tokyo

Ward dropped a unanimous decision to Cuba’s Julio La Cruz in a cagey light-heavy final and had to settle for silver, his second silver at this level as he was beaten by 28-year-old La Cruz in the 2015 final in Qatar.

The Cuban, the current Olympic champion, has now won four world titles on the bounce since Baku 2011, with Ward securing gold at the European Elites on June 24 last and silver over the weekend.

The 23-year-old, who has claimed two major medals in 71 days this summer, believes he’s inching closer to one of the leading pound-for-pound elite boxers on the planet.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t win the gold. I gave it the best shot in the final. He had his moments and I had my moments, I can’t complain with the result,” said the Irish captain in Hamburg.

“All I can do is perform the best I can and the outcome takes care of itself. He (La Cruz) is not getting younger. I’m improving all the time and when Tokyo 2020 comes around, I will be improving to beat him.

“The fight (final) was a lot closer than the other two fights,” added Ward, who won three bouts out of four in six days in Hamburg and who was also beaten by La Cruz at the 2013 World Championships.

“He’s a very difficult (tactically) guy.He’s four times world champion and the Olympic champion. My performances, overall, were good. I’m coming home with a silver medal.

“For me, it’s about improving every single time and being consistent, as I have been over the last couple of years. If I keep improving, no one knows what will happen.”

The notable nonchalance — and focus — of Ward’s walks into the ring for each of his bouts in Germany are underpinned by his work in the IABA High-Performance gym.

“I’ve been working really hard,” he added. “When you put the effort in, you trust yourself, you get composed at what you do. I had the conditioning and everything was done right.”

The Irish squad, which also included Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, Sean McComb and Dean Gardiner, finished ninth in the medals table, courtesy of Ward’s silver medal.

Cuba topped the table with five gold and Ireland and France were the only western European nations to make the top 10.

The USA, under ex-Irish coach Billy Walsh, finished 7th with one silver and two bronze, their biggest numerical haul since Houston 1999, although they won four gold medals in Texas in 1999 and two gold at Chicago 2007.

Ward also has the consolation of picking up 800 rankings points. The points will maintain his seeding as the number 3 ranked light-heavy going into 2019 when the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers begin in earnest.

Head coach Zaur Antia, John Conlan and Dmitry Dimitruc were working Ireland’s corner in Hamburg. Bernard Dunne, the IABA High Performance director was Irish team manager in Hamburg.

Saturday last marks the third successive occasion since 2013 that an Irish male boxer — Jason Quigley, Michael Conlan, and Ward (2) — weighed-in for a World Elite final.

So far, Conlan is the only one to win gold, but Ward, who has turned down offers from the professional ranks to lead Ireland into Tokyo 2020, has vowed that he’ll be back knocking on the door again at the 2019 Worlds in Russia, which will almost certainly be an Olympic qualifier.

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