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Swashbuckling Ward faces old foe La Cruz in battle for gold

 

By Sean McGoldrick

No show like a Joe show' was the catch-phrase created to celebrate another Westmeath legend, the late Joe Dolan. But his fellow county man, Joe Ward, is doing a good job at making the moniker his own with his swashbuckling performances at the World Championships.

Still six weeks shy of his 24th birthday, Ward guaranteed himself a second World silver medal and a tilt at winning the elusive gold when he beat Uzbek light heavyweight Bektemir Melikuziev (21) last night on a split 3-2 decision after cracking contest.

The Moate marauder now meets triple World champion, Julio Cesar La Cruz - who has comfortably beaten the Irishman in their two previous encounters at the World Championships - in tonight's much-anticipated showdown in the 81kg category.

The Cuban will be the favourite, but Ward is a different animal to the one La Cruz beat two years ago and four years ago respectively.

Ward is definitely more focused nowadays; he look fitter and has an overwhelming desire to finally end his losing sequence against the brilliant Cuban.

Irish coach Zaur Antia revealed that Ward is now bench-pressing 110kg in the gym - compared to 80kg prior to last year's Rio Olympics when he crashed out in the preliminary round.

But tonight he will bid to turn the 2017 silver into gold. His best efforts may not be good enough against La Cruz who, pound for pound, is arguably the best amateur boxer of his generation and looks hell bent on equalling the achievements of his fellow countryman Felix Savon who won six World titles. La Cruz already has three.

But one suspects Ward will finally take him out of his comfort zone in tonight's three-round showdown and, interestingly, the Cuban picked up a nick over his eye in his semi-final win last night. For the moment, however, Ward can momentarily enjoy the latest victory in his illustrious career.

Of the 13 medals that Irish male boxers has won at World Championship level, he holds three of them at the age of 23. Performance-wise he has travelled a long journey even since last year's Rio Olympics.

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