The Westmeath 81kg fighter and Irish team captain took on Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev in the semi finals in Hamburg and claimed a split decision victory after an intense nine minute .
Melikuziev had won both Olympic and World silver at middleweight – defeating Michael O’Reilly at the 2015 Worlds – but had moved up to light heavyweight this year and had won Asian gold.
The Central Asian came in sporting three paper stitches keeping his left brow together and would end the bout covered in blood and eliminated after a thrilling fight,
It was a cagey opener between the two southpaws, Melikuziev pressed the action but Ward countered well and landed with a lovely combination with one minute to go.
The Uzbek’s pressure continued in the second, and Ward met him head on initially before reverting to a slightly more back-foot approach as the round progressed. One of Melikuziev’s stiches would fall off and the blood began to trickle.
The 2014 Youth Olympic gold medalist’s pressure was perhaps beginning to tell in the final round as Ward began to slow, but the Moate man responded well and landed a volley of huge shots midway through the round as the gash on Melikuziev’s brow opened up. Ward looked exhausted, but battled through to the bell, celebrating at the conclusion but with the result far from certain.
A top quality bout, the judges were split. Melikuziev was awarded the fight on two cards (27-30, 28-29), but they were over-ruled by the remaining three judges who gave the nod to Ward (30-27 x2, 29-28) who dropped to his knees as his passage to a second Elite World Championships final was confirmed.
In the decider Ward will renew acquaintances with Julio Cesar La Cruz. The Cuban, who defeated Ward in the semis and final of the 2013 and 2015 Worlds respectively, won his semi final today against Ecuadorian Carlos Mina, the Irishman’s Olympic conqueror in Rio.
The final against arguably the pound-for-pound number one in amateur boxing, will take place tomorrow evening.