By John Madden
If sport, and particularly boxing, is in some part of your life, then it’s likely you’ll know the name, Joe Ward. Still on a high from gold medal success in the European Championships, Joe was kind enough to visit us in the Travellers’ Voice office so that we could get to know the man behind the sport.
Where it all began…
Growing up in Moate, County Westmeath, I started out with boxing at about six years old. My family were all involved in it so it was almost like a natural routine. I knew no real difference. As I came up through the boxing club in Moate, it was Seamus Dorrington who mentored me, without a doubt my number one coach. I would have trained with him up until his retirement in 2010. The boxing club was hugely important to me but sadly, in October 2014 there was a fire that did a lot of damage to the facility and there’s been nothing there since. With any luck, something new might come about in the near future.
Training and Diet:
As a high-performance boxer, I have to train in Dublin in the Institute of Sport in Blanchardstown. We train from Tuesday to Friday each week. Each day would involve two sessions, each would be two intensive hours in duration. Of course, then there are others days that we’d do a bit more if we felt we needed it. It could be a bit on technique, or maybe strength work. It all varies, some days you could end up doing strength and conditioning, others you could be running to improve fitness or bag work and sparring. It changes at different stages and often it’s tailored depending on individual needs in training.
The diet is a bit strict, while in training we’d have all the proper foods catered to us. As you can imagine, it’s all the best of healthy food and plenty of protein-rich meals. I have to stick to it and it’s no different when I’m home at the weekends, I just have to stick to it, but then, the odd time I might break loose and have a treat, but diet is important, it goes hand in hand with all the training.
Making history and winning the medals:
It was a huge achievement for me to get the third European Medal. It’s something that no other Irish person has ever done. It means a lot to me and hopefully, it will stay in the Guinness Book of Records for a long time to come. But then again, there’s a huge amount of talent coming up through the ranks, so you’d never know.
The first gold medal I won means the most, especially for me being a young lad going to these events. You’d have great expectations of doing well, so getting over the line and winning that first gold in 2011 has been a huge part of the overall journey that’s gotten me to where I am now.
It’s given me recognition across the world of boxing and beyond, but as well as that it’s the feeling of winning, to be standing there on the winner’s podium, the tricolour waving behind you and our national anthem being played loudly in the arena, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
The third medal meant a great deal to me too, not just because of what it meant in terms of world records, it also gave me a massive boost that I so badly needed after the disappointments in the Rio Olympics. Rio went poorly, and we lost a lot of our key boxers as a result. Many of them went into professional boxing.
Irish Boxing at the Rio Olympics. Would Joe have done anything differently?:
I had dreamt about competing at the Olympics for years. I qualified after my silver medal win through the European championships. One thing that impacted my performance was that I was also caught up in a semi-pro organisation called APB (Amateur Professional Boxing). I was tied in with a contract so I didn’t have too much leeway to compete as much as I’d have liked to in the run-up to the games. My preparation was good, but it just wasn’t good enough. I feel I didn’t have the ring-craft or sharpness that is needed, but, when you’re out of the ring for a few months, it can be very difficult to get back in and perform as well as is required. In saying all that, you learn from your mistakes, and after the Olympics, we all regrouped and came back to win three gold medals at the European Championships in the Ukraine.
Why did Joe choose to remain in amateur boxing?
Irish Boxing has done a lot for me. As a young lad, it gave me loads of opportunities and opened many doors. I spent six years as a senior boxer and I was successful in doing so but then, like anybody else, I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs in that time. I really felt, after the Olympics in Rio that it just wasn’t the right time to go because I didn’t get what I deserved or what I was working so hard to achieve. I didn’t meet my own potential, and it was hugely disappointing. I thought to myself, if I go professional now, I would always have it hanging over my head, and probably obsess over it asking myself, why didn’t I go and give it my best shot When I look back now, I really think I could have done much better. Then many of the senior members decided to part with the amateur boxing and turn their hand to the professional side of the sport. I had a few offers myself but decided to stay in the amateur arena for the foreseeable future. It’ll be great to be one of the senior members of the team so that I can show the up and coming boxers the ropes and demonstrate to them what it takes to be successful and get over the line. I’m of the mind that Irish Boxing needs people like myself to stay around, with the experience and mentality because that doesn’t always come naturally to a team at the beginning. I want to mentor a few of the up and coming boxers; maybe in a few years to come, we’ll look at the professional side of things again.
Dream Fight – Living or Dead?
There’s any amount of boxers I could pick out. I think you’d always want to take on the greatest fighter of all time, so if I could go back in time, it would have to be Muhammad Ali. He was a champion Light Heavy Weight, same as myself. Over the years I have met some of the greatest boxers of our time, like Vladimir Klitschko and David Haye, but if I had to pick one from the present era it would have to be the American boxer, Andre Ward. He is an amazing fighter, he’s a two-weight world champion, currently rated as the world’s best, pound for pound. I reckon he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
What does a champion boxer do in his downtime?
I am a family man; at the centre of my life are my two boys, Joe and Jerry, and my girlfriend, Julieanne. They are my downtime so when I am not training or preparing for an event I try to spend as much time with them as possible. As well as that I used to play a lot of GAA. It’s something I’ve always thought about going back to it, however, now isn’t the right time for that. It’s something I would love to see the kids involved in because I think it’s of massive benefit for them, it can help develop discipline and communication skills. In saying all that, the way things are going I have a feeling they will end up in the ring but whatever happens, it will be their own choice. It is important to me that they get involved in some kind of sport, as long as they are happy doing it.
World Championships in Hamburg
Following this interview, Joe was about set off to compete in the World Championships in Hamburg in August. His first fight was against Georgian fighter, Iago Kizira whom Joe beat 5-0. From there Joe was placed into the semi-final against Uzbekistani, Bektimer Melikuziev and went on to win this match 3-2. This win placed him into the final against Cuban fighter, Julio De La Cruz. It was a closely fought match, the outcome of which put Cruz in the gold position, giving Joe an hugely impressive silver. During the post match interview, Joe said, “I’m always getting closer, I am telling you that within the next couple of years, I will get him.” We have no doubt, and like many, we’ll be following his progress as he smashes more records and garners the recognition that he deserves.