It’s been 11 years since Micky Ward slipped through the ropes of a boxing ring to fight Arturo Gatti for a last payday and everlasting acclaim. The popular feature film that told his story opened at your local cineplex four years ago. You did watch “The Fighter” didn’t you?
If Ward wears gold jewelry, you’d have to stare at him long and hard to find it. The face that was bloodied time and again appears remarkably smooth and composed. He’s approaching his 49th birthday and at 5-foot-8 doesn’t seem to be more than a few pounds over his fighting weight of 142.
On the sidewalk outside the Portland Expo Ward didn’t warrant a second glance Monday afternoon and that was fine by him. In the lobby of the arena, boxing fans gathered to hear the announcement that Bob Russo of the Portland Boxing Club will promote another fight card on June 14. Ward was in Portland to lend a little pizazz to the moment and it worked. Before and after the talking, people waited their turn to shake Ward’s hand.
“Can I get a photo with you, Micky? Please?”
Of course, said Ward, quietly. The words, touched by the blue collar accent of his native Lowell, Massachusetts, sounded tough. The demeanor was anything but.
“I’m just a regular guy,” said Ward when I had him to myself for a few minutes. “It’s nice that people remember and want to shake my hand. But I never fought for the attention.”
He fought to win, starting when he was 7. He was Irish Micky Ward, the tough kid who didn’t back down. He grew up to be the tougher man who always picked himself up when he got knocked down. He won 38 of his 51 fights, 27 by knockout. Many were memorable but none more than the last three fights of his career against Gatti. They fought twice in 2002 and again in 2003. Ward won the first on a majority decision; Gatti won the next two by unanimous decisions.
Their fights were brutal, even vicious. Each went the 10-round limit. Each fighter knocked the other down but never out. Neither showed the other mercy. Each earned the other’s respect.
In 2008 the book, “Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward” was published. The Boston-based band Dropkick Murphys dedicated their song, “The Warriors Code” to Ward.
Mark Wahlberg played Ward in “The Fighter” and earned critics’ praise. Amy Adams played Charlene Fleming, Ward’s longtime girlfriend who became his wife. People will watch the film long after Ward leaves this world. He barely reacts when I say this. He stays in touch with Wahlberg, who added a boxing gym to his home. There may be a sequel. The first movie ended with Ward beating Shea Neary in London in 2000 for a piece of the world junior welterweight title. The next movie would focus on the three battles with Gatti, who died in 2009 in what was ruled a suicide.
Ward all but shrugged. If it happens, it happens. He knows what he accomplished in his career. That’s all that matters.
“I don’t need the limelight. I have no regrets. I gave everything I had in my fights. I have no what-ifs. My career came to an end. You’ve got to live (the rest of) your life.”
He was at the Expo in November for the celebrated return of pro boxing to this arena that featured weekly fight cards from much of the 1960s into the ’70s. He enjoyed hanging out with Roberto Duran and Vinny Pazienza, two other boxing greats who sat at ringside. He came back Monday to give back to the sport. He intends to be at the June 14 fight card.
Ward was told he’d have a ringside seat. No, he said, he wouldn’t mind sitting high in the Expo bleachers.
“I’m a fan when I watch, now. I’m not second-guessing the fighters. I don’t imagine myself back in the ring. I left everything there.”
He has trained fighters and had one on the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley II undercard in Las Vegas on April 12. Ward is not training anyone now. He is stepping away from boxing. For more than 40 years his life has been consumed by the sport. He wants a break. He will support boxing, which is why he was in Portland on Monday, but he will not live it.
“I’ve had surgeries on my hands, my elbows, my shoulder, my thumb. I’ve had post-concussion syndrome.” He will leave his brain to doctors studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the progressive, degenerative disease found in those who have suffered multiple concussions. He is a man who is comfortable with his present and his future. He knows his past. He doesn’t need to relive it.
“I didn’t cut corners,” he said when we shook hands goodbye. “I gave everything I had. I know that.”
So do you.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: