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Joe Ward finally leaves a dent in his Cuban nemesis two years out from Tokyo Olympics

The crowd booed as Ward lost a 3-2 split decision, but it seems he has finally caught up to his career-long rival.

IRISH BOXING CAPTAIN Joe Ward had squared off with all-time light-heavyweight great Julio César La Cruz on three occasions prior to today’s semi-final at the prestigious Chemistry Cup in Germany, losing all of them.

In 2013, the Cuban legend eased to a comprehensive World Championship semi-final triumph over the Irish youngster in Almaty, and things weren’t wholly different when they met again in the World final in Doha two years later.

Last autumn produced a breakthrough of sorts for the decorated Irishman: Ward met La Cruz in the World Championships final once more, this time pushing the Olympic and four-time World champ closer than he had previously. Though he lost a unanimous decision, three judges scored their 2017 final 29-28, and there lingered a sense that the Moate man was finally edging nearer his elder rival.

We saw proof of that in Germany today. Though once more it was La Cruz who had his hand raised, he did so via a highly controversial 3-2 split decision in a thrilling contest, and to a chorus of boos from the neutral German fightgoers.

‘Mighty Joe’ laid down a further marker in the opening round, though, scoring the first knockdown between the two fighters in their four bouts to date.

The 24-year-old caught La Cruz with a peach of a counter left, nodding knowingly at his felled opponent as he retreated to the neutral corner.

Just less than two years out from the Tokyo Olympics, Ward will feel he has finally achieved parity, or close enough to it. He departs Germany with a bronze, as do his team-mates Conor Quinn, Kieran Molloy, and George Bates following semi-final exits.

Russian-born Irish champion Kirill Afanasev, however, has gone one better, beating David Michalek of Slovakia to reach the final at 91kg.

‘Quiet? He’d look at you, go, ‘Do you think I’m the best in the world? I think I’m the best in the world”

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