Steven Ward battles back from the brink to claim WBO Euro crown
ANYONE who was in attendance at the Ulster Hall on Friday night won't forget it in a hurry as Steven Ward battled back from the jaws of defeat to claim the WBO European light-heavyweight title.
The fight came to an end towards the end of the eighth round as a horrendous cut sustained by Ward in the second round of this battle against Liam Conroy forced the ringside doctor to advise referee, Steve Gray to call a halt.
After a nervous wait, it was Ward who sunk to his knees having been given the nod 76-75 on all three cards on a cut-eye decision.
Ward looked like his dreams were about to be dashed by the Englishman in this edge-of-your-seat battle who was close to forcing a stoppage in rounds two and four, but the heart shown to regroup and fight his way back was quite incredible.
The blood from the cut over the left was pouring from the sixth onwards and those at ringside were even splashed with claret during a fight that will live long in the memory.
"I think I deserve money because I donated so much blood tonight," joked 'The Quiet Man' after.
"It was great Steve Gray was the referee tonight because he's one of the best about and after the second round he came into the corner and said it was a clash of heads. That settled me because if he didn't see it, it would have lost me the fight."
After a cagey opening round that Ward won with his jab, the fight exploded in the second with both trading hooks that Conroy got the better of as Ward backed onto the ropes and the visitor pounced, landing countless heavy shots as the referee seemed ready to step in.
Another assault in the fourth saw Ward again cornered, but just as it seemed he had weathered the storm, he was decked with a right to the head.
Again, he recovered and seconds before the bell, seemed to stun Conroy with a right on the ropes.
The former Monkstown amateur found an answer and somehow began to fight his way back in over the next few rounds and hurt Conroy with a body shot.
Both landed heavy shots and both seemed vulnerable as this fight between two gentlemen descended into all-out war, but the scars of battle were too much by the eighth with Ward unable to fight on given the cut and after a nervous wait, he sunk to his knees having been given the nod 76-75 on all three cards.
"When I got knocked down, I got straight back up," he added.
"I wasn't hurt and I felt solid. I was just a bit annoyed at myself for letting it happen.
"Now, I will just have some family time. My wife, mum, dad, grandad, sister and all the family were there tonight to see me achieve what I've always wanted to achieve, so I'll just keep going now."
It was also a night of celebration for Tyrone McKenna who landed the WBC International light-welterweight title with a unanimous decision win over Australia-based Dubliner, Darragh Foley (98-91, 97-93, 98-91).
In a gruelling battle that was closer than the cards suggested, McKenna dropped Foley in the eighth when luring him into a right counter and this tipped the balance decisively in his favour.
The west Belfast man tried to box and not brawl and with the belt and a top-15 world ranking now secure, he is looking for a showdown with his 140lb rivals including European and British champion, Robbie Davies Jnr.
"I've always said I want exciting fights and not people who are negative and boring," he stressed.
"There are people like (Lewis) Ritson and Robbie Davies Jnr. There is talk of September, but if I could, I'd fight next week."