Joe Ward could miss out on becoming the first Irishman to claim senior World Championship gold if Michael Conlan beats him to it tomorrow night, but it is doubtful that he would begrudge his team-mate and captain such success.
While Ward will surely be out to claim the light-heavyweight title in Doha on Thursday night, the 21-year-old has achieved his mission at the Worlds, securing qualification for the Rio Olympics after he last night claimed a 3-0 unanimous decision win (29-28 on all three cards) over Ishod Rasulov of Uzbekistan, the world No 15 and Asian Games silver medallist.
Ward, the world No 5, and No 4 seed at this tournament, hailed it as the “most important victory” of his career. He now progresses to a final clash on Thursday night with Julio la Cruz, Cuba’s two-time world champion who defeated Ward in the 2013 world semi-final.
Conlan fights in the 56kg final tomorrow night, giving him a head start on Ward in the race for a first Irish male gold, but the Moate light-heavyweight was satisfied last night after a commanding victory.
“I’d give all my medals back just to go to an Olympic Games. I suppose that’s because I have all the rest of them [medals] and I just need a medal at the Olympic Games,” said Ward after his win over Rasulov.
“When you keep getting pipped on the post by bad decisions and sometimes things not going for me, the pressure starts to build more and more, because people start doubting you,” said Ward on his Olympic ambitions.
A cut over the left eye of Rasulov — who Ward previously defeated in Chemistry Cup action two years ago — seemed to help the Moate man settle into the fight last night and he took control in the middle of the first round before dominating the second.
He lost the last round, but that appeared to be down to an effort to avoid any potential slip-up as he cruised to a 29-28 win on all three cards.
“I knew I was two rounds up, but at the end up the day, you can’t take anything for granted, because one punch could change it in there as I know myself, but the crowd was amazing,” said Ward.
“It was going to be a game of chess, but I knew going in there that my best would beat his best and that’s what I showed tonight. I’m absolutely over the moon, I probably haven’t been as emotional in all my wins all over the years as I am tonight,” he added.
Belfast bantamweight Conlan competes in the 56kg final tomorrow, taking on Murodjon Akhmadaliev of Uzbekistan, the world No 22 and Asian Games silver medallist.
Meanwhile, Portlaoise middleweight Michael O’Reilly has seen his third-place Olympic box-off against Hosam Abdin of Egypt moved to tomorrow. The 75kg showdown was originally set to take place on Thursday.
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