By Jay Mwamba
"Irish" Micky Ward, last seen capturing the fringe World Boxing Union light welterweight crown in London five months ago, lost a brutal 10-round decision to Antonio Diaz in a non-title bout at the Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Conn., last Saturday.
The loss, on the undercard of Naseem Hamed’s successful defense of the WBO featherweight championship against Augie Sanchez broadcast by HBO, left the 34 year-old Ward mulling retirement.
"I’ll sit back [and] see what happens," Ward said. "It’s a tough loss. We really trained hard for it. I’ll be back, maybe. We’ll see. I don’t know."
For nine of the 10 rounds, Ward and Diaz slugged it out as if locked in a phone booth. It was the kind of in-fighting that Ward had excelled at in compiling a 35-9 (26 KOs) record going into the contest.
But Diaz, 10 years younger than his opponent from Lowell, Mass., proved the busier man in eking out a unanimous points decision. There were no knockdowns.
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"He’s a tough fighter. Was that a hell of a fight or what?" Diaz, who hails from California, later said.
After a cautious first round during which the two boxers engaged in a jabbing contest, the action heated up in the second stanza as Ward started pressing Diaz, an IBA titlist whose crown wasn’t on the line.
Said Diaz, whose ledger improved to 33-2: "I came out trying to box, but Mickey Ward is a tough, tough warrior and he started pressuring me, so I said, ‘Hey, I’ll try it inside.’ "
For the remainder of the fight, the two stood almost nose to nose, exchanging hooks and combinations.
Diaz maintained the edge throughout with his higher work rate, even as Ward repeatedly dug in with vicious left hooks to the body and a sneaky overhand right that shook the younger fighter on more than a few occasions.
The fifth stanza was exceptionally dramatic. Diaz was in control for the first minute and a half, connecting with sharp combinations, before being stunned by a right to the jaw. Ward followed up with a barrage of shots that won him the round.
Diaz was hurt again by Ward’s right in the seventh round and lost the round 10-8 on all three judges cards after being penalized a point for a low blow. He, however, rallied back strongly in the eighth round, which ended with Ward developing a cut on the nose.
By the 10th and final stanza, both men were spent but still game. Ward, probably aware that he needed a big effort to swing it, gave it his all, but Diaz was equal to the task.
"That was tough," Ward said after the decision was announced. "[But] that’s what it’s about, though. I don’t get no easy fight."
In the main event, Prince Naseem Hamed was rocked several times in the second round — including a knock down that the referee inexplicably waved off — before scoring a savage fourth round KO of Las Vegas resident Augie Sanchez.
Ward won the World Boxing Union light welterweight title in London last March 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 Ward leveled the defending champion with a booming left uppercut.