Steven Ward knows he has 'Mountain' to climb in Dubai exhibition bout
STEVEN Ward has had a few mountains to climb in his career. Making it to the Commonwealth Games in 2010 was one, going all the way to the final and returning with a silver medal around his neck another.
The Newtownabbey man had to climb off the canvas and survive some hairy moments before having his hand raised at the end of eight gruelling rounds in his 2019 fight of the year contender against Liam Conroy.
Now 30, Ward has seen plenty inside and outside the ropes – but this Friday night he hopes to scale an entirely different kind of summit when he takes on Game of Thrones star and former World’s Strongest Man, Hafthor ‘The Mountain’ Bjornsson, in the ring.
The exhibition bout had originally been due to take place in Bjornsson’s native Iceland but, due to the current Covid-19 restrictions in Europe, will instead take place in Dubai.
Bjornsson is building towards a boxing contest with another former World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, later this year, and sought out Ward as he aims to come out on top in a fight dubbed ‘the heaviest boxing match in history’.
“A couple of months ago I was sitting in the house and my management phoned me and told me ‘The Mountain’ wanted to meet me. I was like, who the hell’s ‘The Mountain’? I’d never watched Game of Thrones, but he was staying down at Grand Central so I went down,” said Ward, who also helped out former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff for his one-off 2012 bout with Richard Dawson.
“I’m standing in the lobby and the lift door opens, this fella walks out sideways so I thought ‘that might be him’. I got talking away to him, he’s a dead on big lad actually. He was telling me about the fight with Eddie Hall and was hoping I could maybe do a bit of training with him, help him out – the same sort of thing I did with Flintoff before.
“I was happy enough, we got him down to the club in Monkstown and did a bit of training. I did a session and he came up and did it too, just hitting the bag really, and then a couple of weeks later he was back over and came up to the club and did a session with his coach.
“It escalated from there because they then asked if I wanted to do an exhibition with him in Iceland, and I just thought ‘why not?’”
Ward kept a close eye from outside the ring during that session, and was surprised by the agility of his 6’9 opponent. Indeed, Bjornsson was once a professional basketball player in Iceland before a recurring ankle injury curtailed his career.
“He moves well for a big lad,” said Ward, who flew out to Dubai on Sunday.
“I think people will be surprised when they see him in there. I’ll need to watch myself – I’ll be running around the ring like Forrest Gump. It’s three threes so I’m hoping he tires a bit.
“In my head I was thinking it might be very like school sparring here, I’ll be dead on, but when someone gets in there and hits you in the face, it’s a different story. He’s never been in this situation where I have so it could be like waking a sleeping giant.
“He might go all Hulk Hogan on it and start throwing me about. “I’m looking forward to doing something new. I’ve never been in the ring with someone this size, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.”
And with the domestic scene on hold, Ward is just happy to be able to get into the ring at all.
He last fought at the end of September, his first fight at cruiserweight after being knocked out by eventual Golden Contract winner Ricards Bolotniks in his last light-heavy outing nine months earlier.
Ward was glad to get the opportunity to shake off some rust in a straightforward six round win against Jone Volau, but hopes 2021 can see him back challenging for belts.
“I was relieved just to get back in there and out a few demons to rest… not that I had that many demons because I knew my performance was down to the weight. I was kidding myself making light-heavy, so I was just excited to get out again and get going.
“I want to be as busy as I can be this year, I want to get out as soon as possible after this one for a proper fight.
“I’d like to be in a real 50-50 – they’re the only fights that are making TV now, it’s good for the spectators because they’re getting quality fights. I really want to move on now.”
Although Steven Ward takes on Hafthor Bjornsson on Friday night, the coverage – with Carl Frampton on commentary duty - will be available to watch from Saturday evening via coresports.world (exact time to be confirmed).
“So if I get dropped I’ll be sure to tell everybody not to bother watching,” laughs Ward.
TRIBUTES PAID TO 'VOICE OF BOXING', SEAN CROWLEY
TRIBUTES have been paid to the man known as the National Stadium’s ‘voice of boxing’, Sean Crowley, who passed away on Sunday.
A former national secretary of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), he was the regular announcer at the South Circular Road for decades.
“Sean Crowley was the secretary of the association for a long time, and he would’ve had a very distinctive voice,” recalled Donegal man Peter O’Donnell – the man who currently fulfils that role - in 2019.
“When you were coming up the street towards the stadium you could’ve heard Sean, he just had this big deep voice. A big gentleman, you knew he was the man on the mic.”
In a statement, current IABA national secretary Paddy Gallagher led the tributes, saying: “Sean was the longest serving national secretary of modern times in the IABA, when he was continuously elected to the role for almost 20 years.
“A native of Fermoy in County Cork, Sean later moved to Arklow where he set up home and raised his family. As a former boxer himself, he passed the tradition down the line where his son Alaister and grandson Sean claimed Irish titles.
“Sean Crowley was affectionately known as ‘the voice of boxing’ and anybody who attended the national championships over the past 20 years would be familiar with his dulcet tones.”
Arklow Boxing Club paid their own tribute to a man who gave so much following his arrival from the Rebel County.
“Sean has been involved in our club since he arrived in Arklow as station master for Irish Rail many years ago.
“He was a gentleman and anyone who knew him had great respect for him, he did great work for boxing all his life. He saw many changes during his many years at the top table, and on behalf of the officers’ committee and club members our deepest condolences go to his family.”