George Michael Ward Jr. (born October 4, 1965), often known by his nickname of “Irish” Micky Ward, is an Irish-American former professional boxer who competed from 1985 to 2003. He challenged once for the IBF light welterweight title in 1997, and held the WBU light welterweight title in 2000. He is widely known for his trilogy of fights with Arturo Gatti, two of which received Fight of the Year awards by The Ring magazine, as well as his relentless pressure fighting style.
Ward was a three-time New England Golden Gloves champion boxer who turned pro in 1985, winning his first fourteen fights. However, his career leveled off, and after losing four consecutive fights in 1990/91, Ward took a hiatus from boxing. During Ward’s time away from the sport, he used some of the funds from his day job on a road-paving crew to have surgery on his right hand, which had given him problems during several bouts. The surgery used some of the bone from Ward’s pelvis to strengthen and fuse the bones in his hand. His half-brother, former boxer Dicky Eklund, who was struggling with drug addiction and had just been released from jail on charges including drug possession, convinced Ward to take up the sport again.
Ward was successful in his return, winning his first nine fights, and won the WBU’s Intercontinental Light Welterweight Title.
In a 1997 match that would come to typify the exceptional power of Ward’s left hook to the body, he scored a 7th-round knockout against the then-undefeated Mexican Alfonso Sanchez in a fight that Ward, up to then, was clearly losing on points. Shortly before the punch, Larry Merchant said the fight should be stopped; afterwards Merchant called it one of the most extraordinary things he’d ever seen in boxing.
Ward’s left hook to the body later resulted in a first-round knockout of Steve Quinonez and, perhaps most famously, a nine-count knockdown of Arturo Gatti in the first fight of their legendary trilogy.
Ward earned a 1997 IBF Light Welterweight Championship fight against champion Vince Phillips, but did not win the championship, as the fight was stopped in the third round due to cuts, and Phillips was awarded the bout via TKO. One year later, Ward again would come up short in a title fight, as he lost a 12-round decision against Zab Judah.
In 2000, Ward traveled to London to take on the WBU Light Welterweight Champion, Shea Neary, and earned a TKO in the eighth round to win the WBU title. Ward, however, never defended the title, and split his next four fights. His ten-round decision victory over Emanuel Augustus (then known as Emanuel Burton) was voted The Ring magazine’s 2001 Fight of the Year.
On May 18, 2002, Ward faced the opponent with whom he became most identified, Arturo Gatti. The fight was a wild one, but a ninth round Ward knockdown of Gatti proved to be the difference, with Ward winning a majority decision. The fight was later named the 2002 Ring magazine fight of the year. Both fighters needed care in a trauma center after the match.
The two agreed to an immediate rematch, and in November, Gatti was able to win the second wild fight. Ward was knocked down in the third round, but survived to finish the fight. Gatti paid tribute to Ward’s tenacity after the fight, saying, “I used to wonder what would happen if I fought my twin. Now I know.”
They then agreed to a third straight fight, and again, the fight was back and forth. Gatti pounded Ward with punch after punch early on, but Ward fought back and managed a sixth round knockdown of Gatti. Before Gatti could get up, or the referee’s count could hit ten, the bell sounded to end the round. Gatti was able to come back and win the fight via an unanimous decision. Again, both men needed a trip to the hospital, due to the injuries they suffered. The fight was named the 2003 Ring magazine fight of the year, the third straight for Ward. Ward was the first fighter to achieve this since Rocky Marciano and Carmen Basilio each did so in the 1950s.
Ward made approximately $3 million in earnings for his trilogy with Gatti; the most lucrative fights of his career.
Ward still lives in Lowell, where he is part owner of both a boxing gym as well as an outdoor hockey rink. He manages the boxing gym he owns and his half-brother and former trainer, Dicky Eklund, trains new boxers entering its academy.
The story of Ward’s comeback and rise to fame was made into a 2010 feature film, The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg as Ward.