By Jay Mwamba
"Irish" Mickey Ward of Lowell, Mass., captured the fringe World Boxing Union light welterweight title in London last Saturday with an eighth-round TKO over Liverpool’s Shea "The Shamrock Express" Neary.
The two men fought a pitched battle for eight brutal rounds at the Olympia Arena before the 34-year-old Ward leveled the champion with a booming left uppercut.
Neary, who’d never been dropped before, got up on rubbery legs but was knocked down again by another uppercut, forcing referee Mickey Vann to halt the bout at 2:55 seconds of the round. It was Neary’s first loss (23-1).
"I trained hard for it [and] it was long due since I started in 1985 on ESPN shows," Ward, a 15-year veteran who scored his 26th knockout in 44 fights (35-9), said after the match broadcast on HBO.
"This is what it’s about. It took longer than I wanted to, but I got it. I just hope that it leads me to better things," he added, reveling in his triumph in front of 11,000 mostly Neary fans.
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Guts and conditioning were the keywords throughout the scheduled 12-round contest on the undercard of the Naseem Hamed-Vuyani Bungu World Boxing Organization featherweight championship match, which Hamed won via a fourth-round KO.
Ward and Neary went nose to nose during the pre-fight introductions and maintained their fistic intimacy after their first bell. They stood toe to toe like two rams in a butting contest, exchanging thudding body shots and hooks.
But it was the American who caused the first damage, hurting Neary with a left hook to the ribs at 1:50 minutes of the opening round, and knocking him about the ring with a succession of shots.
Neary, however, established the pattern for the seesaw battle with a late rally of his own before the bell.
The champion had a big third round when he staggered Ward with a looping right. Ward ended up on the ropes where he survived a shellacking. The challenger came back to dominate the fourth stanza with two big body shots and an uppercut late in the round.
There was little let up in the action in the next three rounds. Then with 39 seconds remaining in the eighth, Ward connected with double left hooks to the body followed by a decapitating uppercut that deposited Neary to the canvas.
The game champion managed to scramble to his feet, but he was clearly on queer street. Ward jumped on him after referee Vann had administered the mandatory eight-count, tagging Neary with two uppercuts that dropped him again. There was no count this time as Vann waved the fight over.
At the time of the stoppage, Ward trailed on two of the three cards: Englishman Reg Thompson (139-131) and German Arno Pokrandt (136-135), had Neary ahead on points, and led by only one (134-135), on American Steve Weisfeld’s.
Ward said his long experience against better quality opponents had given him the edge against the solid Neary. Most of his nine losses have been against world champions and top contenders such as Zab Judah, Vince Philips and Charles Murray.
"I’ve fought the best in the world, and it’s paid off."
The win puts Ward in line for lucrative fights with Arturo Gatti and the Russian-born Australian WBC holder Kostya Tzyu.
Alo Kelly, and brothers Sean and Martin Mallon return to action for the Maspeth-based Irish Ropes BC in the New York Daily News Golden Gloves
quarterfinals next week.
Kelly and Martin, both light heavyweights, are scheduled to fight in Brooklyn on Tuesday, March 21, against opposition to be known after the draw that night. Sean, the former New York Metro Games lightweight titlist, squares off at the Elk Club in Queens on Thursday, March 23.
"I’m all ready to rumble," said Martin, who’s 19 and the Irish intermediate champion. He made his debut in the Gloves last month with a points decision over Alander Duque.
Brother Sean, who reached the last eight in the 132-pound Open division on a bye last month, said he was raring to get into the ring.
"I can’t wait to get going and fight at the Elks," he said. "I’ve put in plenty of work and I’m feeling good."
Said trainer Conor Higgins, who handles the Mallons: "They’ve trained hard and are doing well. I’m very confident that they’ll both make the semifinals."