Micky Ward: Aid and comfort to the (former) enemy

By George Kimball


Micky Ward: Aid and comfort to the (former) enemy

NEW YORK --- Boxing can make strange bedfellows. In a blood-spattered rivalry that spanned nine years, Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought each other six times, yet when the Raging Bull got married years later he asked Sugar Ray to be his best man.

Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward had three fights in eleven months in 2002-03, thirty brutal rounds that often seemed a near-death ordeal. Who could have guessed that it would turn out to be a bonding experience?

The pair emerged close friends and golfing buddies, and when Gatti challenged Carlos Baldomir for the welterweight title last June, Ward was there, clad in a Team Gatti cornerman’s outfit, to walk him into the ring.

Ward’s participation then was in a voluntary, ex officio capacity, but now he’s on board for real. When Gatti and trainer Buddy McGirt came to a parting of the ways (because he could no longer countenance Gatti’s continuing to box, some have said; manager Pat Lynch insists that the split was “a mutual decision”), Arturo found himself looking for a new trainer to prepare him for his July 14 HBO date against Contenderboy Alfonso Gomez.

“We kicked around a few names, but Micky was the guy I wanted,” said Gatti.

“I guess Pat and Arturo talked about it, and then Arturo called me to ask if I’d like to come on board as his trainer,” Ward revealed before yesterday’s press conference, at a midtown barbeque joint in the shadow of Town Hall.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Ward. “But I said ‘Sure.’”

Their historic bond notwithstanding, Ward seemed to many boxing insiders an odd choice. Since hanging up his gloves after Gatti III he has trained a few boxers, Contenderboy Jeff Fraza and his nephew, Sean Ecklund, among them, but his resume remains pretty thin. (Nor was Ward himself the product of a high-pedigree trainer: If Gatti asks, Micky could probably pass along the ring wisdom of Dickie Ecklund in about fifteen minutes.)

“Nobody needs to teach Arturo anything,” said Ward. “He knows how to fight. He’s a three-time world champion, and there’s nothing you can really tell a guy who’s been in this game as long as he has. All I have to do is get his mind positive, get his legs in shape, and get him back to doing what he does best – and that’s boxing.” 

Ward and Gatti have been together for two weeks now in Pompano Beach, Fla.

“It’s been a little different because we’ve got to get to know each other better,” said Ward.

It seems difficult to imagine that they don’t know each other pretty well already, but Ward hastened to add that he meant in a trainer-boxer sense.

“I run with him every day,” said Micky. We run early in the morning, and then we go to the boxing gym together at 11. Then at night we go back to the gym and work again.”

Thus far Ward has only worked the mitts with Gatti. That will change next week when the sparring partners arrive. At least initially, Gatti will prep for the Fonz by sparring with Fraza and with Dennis Sharpe, the New Jersey middleweight who has gone the distance with Ireland’s Andy Lee, James McGirt Jr., and Ronald Hearns in his last three losses.

“We may bring in a couple of other guys later,” said Ward, but Micky won’t be one of them.

This may turn out to be the first training camp in boxing history where the trainer and the fighter duck out to play golf together between sparring sessions.

“That will be our fight,” said Ward. “On the golf course.”

Ward is one of the few boxers willing to own up to having actually watched “The Contender.”

“I watched the first season, because Jeff Fraza was on it,” he explained. Meaning that, at least by accident, he also saw Alfonso Gomez.

“Yeah,” said Ward. “Arturo can outbox this guy, without a doubt.”
Get him in his right frame or mind, get him in shape, and get his legs going. Back to boxing. He can outbox this guy, without a doubt.

Ward admits having watched the Contender, making him unique. “Jeff Fraza was on it the first year.”

After the battering he took from Baldomir, Gomez would seem to be just what Gatti needs at this stage, but, warned Ward, “I guess at this point in your career, every fight is dangerous.”

Gatti hasn’t fought in nearly a year. Once he gets to sparring, suppose Ward doesn’t like what he sees. Is he prepared to take his old rival aside and say “Arturo, you don’t have it any more?”

“If I saw that I would definitely do it – even if it was before the fight,” said Ward. “But I ain’t seen it yet.”

*  *   *

Although Gatti-Gomez will be the main event at Boardwalk Hall, it will actually be the middle of three fights HBO will show on its Bastille Day telecast. Welterweight title fights will both precede (IBF champion Kermit Cintron vs. Argentine Walter Matthysse) and follow (WBO champ Antonio Margarito vs. Paul Williams). Since the latter will take place in Los Angeles, HBO will use split crews for what it hopes will be a seamless telecast.

Interestingly, Cintron and Matthysse each have one career loss: Cintron’s was to Margarito and Matthysse’s to Williams… Cintron leaves Thursday for Austria, where he will join trainer Emanuel Steward, who will be prepping Wladimir Klitschko for his July 7 rematch with Lamon Brewster in Germany.

Gomez will be the fourth ‘Contender’ alum to appear on HBO. Of the others, only Ishe Smith (who won three of ten rounds across the board vs. Sechew Powell) has even gone the distance in losing.  Norberto Bravo was KO’d by Andre Berto inside a round, and Peter Manfredo Jr. stopped in three by Joe Calzaghe. Throw in the fact that HBO pushed to get Sergio Mora into the ring with Jermain Taylor and you have to wonder about the affinity for HBO and all these Contenderboys. Could the ‘Heart and Soul of Boxing’ be angling for Season Three of the un-real reality show?


Send questions and comments to: gkimball@boxingtalk.com