Following the conclusion of regular season action for the British Lionhearts, Joe Ward will move into the World Series of Boxing play-offs as the top-rated light heavyweight in the competition.
Westmeath’s Ward scored a big knockout win over previously-undefeated Frenchman Bakary Diabra in Newport, Wales at the weekend.
A southpaw right hook to the body flattened Diabara 50 seconds into the fifth and final round on Saturday night to level the scores between the Lionhearts and the French Fighting Roosters, with the home team eventually taking a 3-2 win and ensuring they top the European Group and secure a more favourable draw in the play-offs.
The stoppage win, preceded by dominant points triumphs over Damir Plantic and Blagoy Naydenov sees Ward top the table, level on points with long-time Cuban rival Julio La Cruz – with the Irishman ahead due to the method of his victories as all three of La Cruz’s wins came via the scorecards.
Ward and La Cruz have earned a maximum 15 points each in the 81kg rankings with the top three at the end of the season qualifying for the 2019 World Championships, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifier. Other Irish boxers will attempt to qualify for the World Championships via the European Games/Championships next Summer in Minsk.
Ward has won the maximum possible three from three in the regular season and has yet to drop a round after 15 stanzas of boxing.
“I was happy enough with my performance and the stoppage,” said three-time European champion Ward who will be back in WSB play-off action next month where he is likely to face either the Italia Thunder or the Colombia Heroicos.
Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev, whom Ward defeated in the World semi-finals last year, sits in third position.
The regular season is still ongoing, with India, Russia, and China having bouts to complete, but Ward’s lead in the individual rankings is unassailable until the play-offs roll around.