By Chris McNulty
Joe Ward promised a ‘ruthless performance’ on his Irish return – and the Moate southpaw made good his promise in Letterkenny on Saturday night.
Fighting in Ireland for the first time as a pro, Ward stopped Prince Oko Narty in the second round at the Aura Leisure Complex.
Ward shook Narty in his boots for just shy of six minutes. When Ward winced Narty with a shuddering left hook, referee David Irving waved it off just a second before the bell.
“It’s very special to be back home,” Ward said. The crowd was electric.
“I was very confident. I stuck to the plan of good, clean, hard shots. The writing was on the wall – it was just a matter of when it was going to happen.
The 30-year-old proved too much for the game Narty to handle. Narty arrived in Donegal with ten of his 11 previous wins coming inside the distance – a CV might’ve been viewed as a potential banana skin for Ward.
Narty’s previous European voyage ended in a points defeat at the hands of James Kraft in Germany in 2019.
Ward has never lost on an Irish canvas and after almost seven years of waiting he finally stepped through the ropes into the ring in his home country. Two-weight world champion Joey Gamache, who works closely with Ward in New York, was alongside Jimmy Payne in the red corner.
An over-confident Narty claimed in the build-up that he had ‘got what it takes to knock him out’ – but the opposite was true.
Narty shipped a damaging series of blows in the opening round as Ward got to work in style. Ward smelled blood and the Ghanaian was dripping crimson as he returned to the stool.
There were times during the first three minutes when a stoppage seemed possible. As he pummelled Narty torso, Ward could sense that his opposite number was on the brink.
Ward burst onto the scene as a teenage star when, then as the World Youth champion, ending Ken Egan’s decade-long dominance of Ireland’s light-heavyweight division in 2011. Ward added another four Irish Elite titles before opting to ditch the amateur vest in pursuit of the professional path.
After flipping over to the paid ranks, Ward dislocated a knee in the second round of his pro debut at Madison Square Garden in 2019. A 14-month period of inaction followed, but Ward – a three-time European gold and three-time World medalist as an amateur – has rebuilt and believes he’s ready to dance with the best light heavies again.
Ward said: “I’m ready to take on any of the top guys. I’m ready to fight and I’m excited for 2024.”
In the co-main event of the night, Belfast’s James McGivern (8-0, 2KOs) won the BUI Celtic lightweight title.
McGivern entered title territory with a unanimous decision win over Josh Sandford, whose record drops to 6-1. McGivern had the belt strapped after taking scores of 78-74, 79-73, 78-75 from the judges.
The Ormeau Road southpaw said before that ‘this could be the night that catapults me to the rest of my career’ – and he proved too slick for the ’Sandman’.
McGivern rocked Sandford in the first with a left hook and quickly followed with the mirror shot off his right.
The mostly-elusive McGivern was caught by one straight right by Sandford in the second, but McGivern reacted angrily and with purpose, ending the round by landing a right uppercut on his opponent.
The fighters put their unbeaten records on the line in a cracking contest that brought the audience to the edge of their perches.
Sandford was opened above the right eye in the fourth, but tagged a pair of hammers of his own on McGivern. The Belfast man took receipt of an over-the-top right, but arrowed a sweet left upper back on the target.
As the fight went into its latter stanzas, the two traded ferociously and a beautiful left from McGivern lifted the noise in the final round. The Classy McGivern bounced on his toes in the final couple of rounds, showing that bigger stages are now possible. When ring announcer Terry Kavanagh confirmed the verdict, McGivern’s vocal support lifted the roof.
Liam Walsh, son of Elite Sports Promotions chief Barry Walsh, stopped David Tancos (1-1) early in the second round of their super-middleweight meeting.
The ‘Kingdom Kid’ (6-0-2, 3KOs) inflicted a range of body blows in the first round and, just as the ten-second alert was sounding, went upstairs to send Tancos back to the corner a little frazzled. Forty seconds into the second, Walsh connected with another, Tancos turned away after a coming-together.
Tancos was unable to continue and Walsh was toasting a third stoppage win of his career.
“I’m over the moon to get him out of there,” the still-undefeated Walsh said.
His brother, ’Pretty Boy’ Paddy Walsh was taken the four round distance by English journeyman Dale Arrowsmith with Walsh (3-0, 1KO) taking a 40-36 points win from their welterweight joust.
Arrowsmith, now 6-94-4, has amassed over 100 fights in six years, was stopped just seven times in 93 previous defeats. The durable Stockport man presented a threat at times on a night that should stand to Walsh. Arrowsmith was presented with a commemorative plaque to mark having passed 100 fights by former Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Robert Diaz, who jetted in to Ireland for the event.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Tyler Jolly blasted his way to a third stoppage from three professional bouts. The 24-year-old Scot, who is coached by former three-weight world champion Ricky Burns, dropped Poland’s Damian Haus (4-11-1) three times in the first round for another swift victory.
London-based Danny Boyle returned to Donegal to claim a 60-53 points win against Bulgarian Evgeni Borisov. The Dungloe light heavyweight (3-0-1) was fighting over six rounds for the first time and gave the home fans something to cheer with a useful win over Borisov (4-12-1).
Navan super-feather Cain Lewis moved his thus-far unbeaten record to 4-0-1 as he claimed a first stoppage win of his pro career. Lewis cracked Jan Gorol (4-3) with a right-hander after 54 seconds of the third round and the Czech opponent was counted out.
Lewis says he wants momentum now and a ‘title fight before the end of next year’.
Galway cruiserweight Jason Myers (1-0, 1KO) demonstrated the ‘Hands of Stone’ moniker he fights under with a fine debut win. Myers terrorised Bulgarian Martin Milev (1-1) with a rake of vicious shots. When Milev visited the canvas, two minutes and 43 seconds into the opening round, referee Paul McCullagh stepped in to call a halt.
The night also featured two amateur exhibition contests with Karl Sheridan from Cherry Orchard BC taking on Matty Boreland of the Coleraine-based Churchlands Golden Gloves and Raphoe BC’s Cathal McLaughlin facing Cody Lee Peoples, fighting out of Flow Academy.