Steven Ward thrilled to show grit and edge a real thriller
Steven Ward survived a bloody battle at the Ulster Hall last night as he claimed the WBO European light-heavyweight title against Liam Conroy on points, all three judges scoring it 76-75.
The fight ended towards the end of the eighth round as Ward's eye was in a complete mess after an earlier clash of heads and with the blood pouring from it, referee Steve Gray waved the fight off after the ringside doctor had inspected it for the third time.
Boos rang around the hall at the decision to end a fight and a night of high drama, but they quickly turned to cheers as the decision was read out.
It was a thrilling contest and the outcome was a little harsh on Conroy who felt he had done enough, especially given he had scored the fight's only knockdown in the third and seemed close to closing the show in the second. But credit to Ward who went to the well and showed incredible heart, courage and resilience to rally after a horrible couple of rounds in two and three.
The opening round gave no indication of the drama to follow as Ward opened well off his jab as Conroy seemed to be on something of a reconnaissance mission.
That was to change and in dramatic fashion in the second as initially, both landed simultaneously before a right to the temple stumbled Ward back onto the ropes and Conroy pounced, landing a flurry of shots that had the Belfast man hanging on. Referee Steve Gray had a long look but Ward managed to survive and responded well with a couple of rights, though momentum had swung in Conroy's favour.
Ward looked a little unsteady still to open the third, but did land a good right before Conroy retaliated and both traded in the centre of the ring.
The balance of play remained with the Englishman in the fourth and he capitalised in brilliant style as he pounced on Ward in the corner and seconds later, landed a crisp right that sent him to the canvas.
Again, Ward showed his fighting heart with a good finish to the round and followed up with good rounds in five and six, but the blood that was streaming from his left eye began to pour in the seventh.
The accumulation began to tell as a short right staggered Ward against the ropes as the referee called the doctor in for a look.
The blood proved impossible to stop between rounds as it continued to flow in the eighth with those in press row splattered with blood. Ward was beginning to weaken and with the cut now utterly horrific, the doctor initially let the action go, but had no choice but to call a halt to the fight moments later. While Conroy felt the fight was his, it was Ward's powers of recovery that won the day.
"I think I proved that I have a fighting heart," Ward said after the win, which moves him into the top 15 in the WBO rankings.
"I probably would have preferred it not to go like that, but I think I showed a side to myself I haven't done before."