LOOK BACK: Navestock boxer Martin Ward looks forward to first pro bout
This interview was originally published in the Brentwood Gazette in August last year
Martin Ward is currently recovering in hospital following a shooting on farmland in Navestock on Tuesday afternoon.
A HUGE grin travels across the face of Martin Ward as we sit in his immaculately clean caravan on a travellers' site in Navestock – the one he's lived in for ten years.
We're talking about the lightweight fighter's Catholic upbringing and if, in the build-up to his first professional boxing bout, he'll be asking the man upstairs for a favour or two.
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It wouldn't be the first time a boxer would be seeking divine intervention or think that, like Paul Newman as middleweight legend Rocky Graziano in the Hollywood great 'Somebody Up There Likes Me', there may be a celestial helping hand in their future.
"I'll have a sly prayer maybe," he says cheekily, before pressing his palms together and looking skywards. "Hopefully, the other guy don't break my face." Then he bursts into fits of laughter and a wink.
He simply has no fear.
Ward's pro debut is scheduled for four, three minute rounds at London's Alexandra Palace on September 8. The bill will be headlined by former European Champion, Darren Barker.
It's a night that promises to be the start of an exciting career for the 21-year-old Irish traveller. It follows glittering years as an amateur that included a deluge of schoolboy titles, junior and senior ABA wins, as well as gold medal performances for England and Great Britain.
Such are his gifts he was even taken to the previous Olympics in Beijing as a promising youngster. "I've boxed at world level as an amateur and I've got no fear that I can do the same as a pro," he says confidently with a thick Irish accent.
"You haven't really got the time in the amateurs to plant you're feet and get in the body shots. It's all about point scoring. But now I can show people what I can really do.
"I can't wait to get rid of the head guards and the vests now and get on with it."
Ward says his travelling roots haven't defined his career direction although he did, as a youngster, witness some bare knuckle fights on the camp site in Ireland. His family is also boxing mad. "I've been there when fights have kicked off and stuff when I was younger but it's not something that I'd be in to at all," he said.
"I use my fists for a living. I'm not going to do silly stupid things that's suddenly going to bring bad luck on me. Everyone in the family loves the boxing, my uncles, even all my aunties watch it."
The son of a builder and one of five children, Ward first tasted boxing as a six-year-old in Dublin.
He was following in the footsteps of his older brother Bobby, who tasted success over Amir Khan as a schoolboy, and would go to St Ronan's gym with his uncle Eddie. "It was a proper little old fashioned like sweat hardcore gym, do 'ya know?" he says. Everyone was just getting down to the grind. The ring was made up daily and Bobby was the first traveller to win titles for the club. I don't know, I just liked it.
" I was just quick, I was really small as a kid and I was like a bee just flying about everywhere. I don't know it just interested me straight away."
He feels strongly that most people have the wrong impression of the travelling community. His family is one of a number across the borough fighting to stay on their plot which is tucked away at the end of Goatswood Lane. "It's not like we are all the same," he says.
"Yes there are some bad travellers, a lot of them are disrespectful and that.
"They'll move on to a field and just tip rubbish there and then they'll move on. But it's just the way some of them have been brought up.
"There are good ones too though. Those TV programmes are a bit silly. That's not what it's really like at all."
The end to his amateur days were tainted with controversy; fighting for Team GB, the 5ft 9ins tall fighter lost an Olympic qualification bout after being controversially docked two points in the final round against a Brazilian fighter.
"I was unfairly done," he says. "I definitely felt hard done by. All the years of training for the Olympics and I had nothing to show for it."
Then he won the Olympic test event at lightweight and thought he might still have got a place at London 2012.
"There's no point in crying about it or anything like that," he said, "I can't explain it.
"They called me in to a room and said: 'there's a bit of bad news' and my heart sank. He (Team GB's boxing performance director Rob McCracken) started explaining to me but I don't even know what he said. I thanked them all and shook their hands." Although disappointed the former Sawyers Hall College pupil – he left school when he was 14 and briefly worked as a builder with his dad, also called Martin – had always intended to turn pro.
He's been working with professional trainer Tony Sims, who lives in Brentwood, on and off since the age of 17.
Having signed on with Matchroom Sports, Barry Hearn's sporting empire, Ward's training schedule is certainly tough: there's a six mile run in the morning, all afternoon spent in the gym either sparring or under going strength and conditioning work before rest in the evening.
"You've just got to get down to the grind haven't you?" he said. "I know what I want and I know how I'm going to go about it now. The dream is to be a world champion and to buy a couple of properties. I'll always be a traveller though, I can't change who I am."
He has another pro fight lined up two weeks after he makes his debut and is keen to move on to six round contests as quick as possible. Tipped as a hot prospect expect to hear much more of Martin Ward in the future.