Micky Ward Goes To Hollywood

22.10.07 - Matthew Hurley: The last time I bumped into “Irish” Micky Ward was in Lowell, Massachusetts in 2006 for the Golden Gloves tournament. I was in the bowels of the Lowell Auditorium during the weigh in session for the fighters and would later work as an apprentice judge for the tournament. I sat with Micky for a while and we chatted about the two fighters he had brought from his gym to compete and then, inevitably, tossed some words of praise for Arturo Gatti back and forth..

It was interesting to watch Micky handle his young charges. There is more than a bit of the task master in him and that comes from his own dedication and iron will. Indeed it’s hard for a fighter of Micky’s temperament to even fathom another fighter not giving upwards of one hundred percent, or, god forbid, quitting on his stool.

A month earlier at a preliminary tournament I was signing in fighters, checking their credentials and extracting the 35 dollar entrance fee, into that round of bouts. Those same two fighters who made it four weeks later to the Lowell Auditorium came to my table to sign in, decked out in matching sweat suits, and informed me that they had to get to the scales before they missed the cut off time. Unfortunately neither kid had brought any money and asked if they could pay later, while other kids fidgeted in line. Micky, his face turning a bright crimson pushed them away from the table in frustration. After a few frantic phone calls the kids’ father turned up with the money and they made it to the weigh in.

Micky, his blood boiling apologized to me for the inconvenience and later cut neither kid any slack between rounds in the ring. It was a lesson in professionalism on Micky’s part and the lack thereof of two kids who thought they could bend the rules. I doubt either kid ever forgot his sign in card or money again.

So I was happy to hear that local sports writer Bob Halloran’s book Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward is being used as the basis for a major Hollywood movie entitled “The Fighter” starring another Boston native Mark Wahlberg. The book centers on not only Ward’s tough upbringing and rise through the ranks while he worked days laying tar on the streets of Lowell but also the troubled life of his half-brother and future trainer Dickie Eklund, who will be played by Brad Pitt.

Eklund’s early life was one of debauchery, including drugs and armed robbery and also, somehow, a successful run in the boxing ring. He even fought and knocked down a young Sugar Ray Leonard and went the distance with the future champion. But his life became a complete shambles and only Micky stood by him as his own career began to gain momentum and he slowly established himself as something of a folk hero in the New England area. It all culminated in the magnificent trilogy with Arturo Gatti which would be the final three fights of Ward’s career.

Now fully entrenched as a trainer Ward continues to immerse himself in the one thing that sustained him through hard times and hospital visits – boxing. The fight in him, that grit and will, never abandoned him, even after corrective eye surgery after the third punishing Gatti war. He still loves the game.

“Look,” he said to me that night as we sat in the locker room, “There was no quit in me when I fought. You are either a fighter or you aren’t.” He paused and pointed at all the fresh faced kids who were getting their hands wrapped. “You are or you aren’t,” he repeated. “And you know pretty quick.”

When asked if he missed the game he shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “I’m still in it only on a different level. I’m proud of the career I had and I’m fine where I am now. I made some money and at this moment I’m happy and I feel good.”

He’ll also have the pleasure of watching his life unfold on the big screen, but it’s for certain that he would rather be the stunt double for Mark Wahlberg during the fight scenes. After all, nobody could throw a left hook to the body like “Irish” Micky Ward.

Article posted on 23.10.2007

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