Ambitious boxer Stephen Ward is determined to make an instant impact
Stephen Ward senses a new wave of excitement coming to Northern Ireland boxing over the coming years, and he is riding it, along with many new and fledgling professionals.
Carl Frampton stands tall as the flagbearer of the sport with his world title exploits, and behind him we have British bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett and Commonwealth champion Jamie Conlan, who makes the first defence of his belt on November 5 at the Titantic Exhibition Centre - when Monkstown man Ward makes his debut.
The show will also see double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes and young Lewis Crocker making their debuts alongside the more experienced Belfast men Marc McCullough and Tyrone McKenna, while on the same night in Dublin former Ulster champion Ruairi Dalton makes his pro bow and, of course, next year Michael Conlan will step onto the pro scene.
With Tommy McCarthy and Anthony Cacace on the brink of British title fights and Conrad Cummings fighting for an IBF inter-continental title next month, Ward is keen to make his mark having based himself in Manchester with coach Oliver Harrison.
A Commonwealth Games silver medallist in 2010, Ward also bagged three Ulster senior titles but was denied Irish senior glory in 2014 after a controversial decision and that led to a period away from the sport.
"I lost to Gary Sweeney in the Irish final and that was tough to take because I thought I had clearly done enough to win. But after a time away I came back and went on a few Ulster trips, I did well and found myself thinking more about boxing when I was at work. I always loved the sport and felt it was time to have a go at the professional business," said 26-year-old Ward.
"I've always been a dedicated fighter and I've got a good engine which I think will be a big factor in my favour as a pro.
"To be making my debut in Belfast is a dream come true. I love Belfast, there's nowhere like it in the world and it's the best fight city there is. The people have boxing ingrained in them and they get behind their own. When I see the way people have got behind Carl Frampton, I hope that I can have some support like that.
"When you look at the number of guys who have turned professional and the ones who have been fighting for a while, I think the next few years are going to be very exciting for the sport here and it's great to think that I can be a part of that."
Ward, who is sponsored by the Parr Group, felt it was necessary to move across the water for training and has settled very well in Manchester.
"I'm working well with Oliver Harrison and we have Martin Murray, Rocky Fielding and Bob Ajisafe in the gym and they are all seasoned professionals so that is a big help for me," added Ward, who boxed at heavyweight as an amateur but has dropped down two divisions for his professional career.
"I had gone up to heavyweight for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 because Tommy McCarthy was nailed on for the light-heavyweight place. Then after going I stayed there. I'm 6ft 3 so I was able to handle it but I always felt that I was at my best when I boxed at light-heavyweight. It's just as an amateur I wasn't able to hold it for three or four days running for competition. But now with the weigh-in 24 hours before the fight it won't be a problem.
"Looking at the British scene I would be hopeful that over the next two years I would be able to make a dent in the rankings. I have handled myself well in training here in Manchester.
"I'll have been away from my fiancee and children for three weeks - we're getting married in February so I've left a lot of the organising to her!"