The Moate light heavyweight strolled to European gold in June before claiming silver at the World Championships in September in what was a sensational year for the quick southpaw.
Ward’s only loss of 2017 came in the World Championships final in Germany – where he was defeated once again by Cuban maestro Julio Cesar La Cruz.
It was a third loss against the phenomenally talented Caribbean puncher – who had previously beaten Ward at the semi final stage of both the 2013 and 2015 editions of the tournament.
At 24, Ward is four years younger than four-time World champ La Cruz, and certainly seemed to be closing the gap somewhat going by their most recent meeting. The Irish team captain would have been confident of finally breaking the streak at the 2019 Worlds, however the La Cruz obstacle has now seemingly been cleared.
The Cuban national championship took place over the last week, and Olympic gold medalist La Cruz entered at heavyweight (91kg).
La Cruz’s move north can be contextualised among a number of moves – with heavyweight world champion Erislandy Savon himself moving up to super heavyweight.
The man who now looks to take over from La Cruz is youngster Osvari Morrel. The 2016 World Youth champion took top prize at the national championships, and for now is the man at 81kg for Cuba and a new name on the radar of Joe Ward.
The triple European gold medalist is currently ranked fourth in the world – although essentially third once La Cruz’s move is factored into the ratings. Ahead of him are #2 Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan, who Ward beat in the World Championships semi final, and #3 Carlos Mina of Ecuador – who shocked Ward in his opening bout of the Rio Olympics last year.
Ward recently returned from a training camp in Germany with former Irish High Performance coach Eddie Bolger, and is gearing up for the National Elite Senior Championships in February.