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Aging Bull: Steve Ward on Being the World's Oldest Boxer, Turning 65 and Finally Bagging a World Title

15 September 21 interview: Ashley Carter
photos: Curtis Powell

Steve Ward has just about seen and done everything the world of boxing has to offer. From turning pro in the late seventies, fighting underground in bare knuckle fights, holding three Guinness World Records and now, finally getting his hands on a world title at the age of 65. We talk to the Hyson Green-born, Mansfield-based boxing legend as he finally hangs up his gloves...

You recently finished your career off in style, bagging your first world title against Adrian Parlogea just a few days before your 65th birthday. Tell us a bit about the fight...
The World Legends Championship belt was the one I’d been after, and I knew that if it didn’t happen against Parlogea, it was never going to happen. The fight was in Mansfield where I wanted it, and the people there were going mad. Parlogea was Romanian champion with over 300 fights, and he’d fought underground as well. He was a good fighter. 

I trained for 8-10 hours a day for seven days a week, but three weeks before the fight I found out that my opponent wasn’t a heavyweight – he was a cruiser. I was 16st 6lbs, and had to lose over 3st in three weeks to make the weight. People thought I’d be weak and slow, but that wasn’t going to happen. I was as strong as an ox and fast as lightning. 

I intended to feel him out in the first round, and then step it up from there. But he made one big mistake. I’m very patriotic you see, and when I saw him messing around and not showing respect when the national anthem was playing, he’d signed his own warrant. I came out throwing big punches right from the first bell. I put him down after a minute, then again after two minutes. Then just before the end of the first round, I finished him. I’d got the World Legends Championship Cruiserweight title. 

Could you have picked a more perfect way to say goodbye to boxing?
It was a fairytale ending. After checking Adrian was ok, I was jubilant, but that only lasted for an hour or so. As I started walking down those steps out of the ring, I just stopped dead. I was filling up, and had a real lump in my throat. Boxing has been my life since I was nine years old, and I realised that it was going to be the last time I would ever walk out the ring. It was hard to come to terms with. Leaving the ring for the last time made me think of the first time I ever got in one. 

When was that?
I was nine when my dad first got me into boxing. He took me to a gym and told them to put me in with the bigger lads to toughen me up. I got a bit of a bloodied nose, black eye and lost some teeth, but hey-ho, it makes you realise you need to move a bit quicker! I didn’t really want to be a boxer - I was pushed into it, I suppose. It wasn’t until a dozen fights that I actually started to enjoy it. My dad owned a newsagent on Radford Road, and he had this little sepia photo that said “One day, this man will be a world champion”. He died in 1978, so that was always my aim. 

 

Two days after I won the belt, I took it down to Bulwell Cemetery to show my dad that I’d won it for him

It sounds like your dad played a big role in your boxing career?
When I first fought for the world title, it was in 2017 against Andreas Sidon, who was a 6’9” giant. For six rounds I was murdering him, and winning every round. But when I came out for the seventh, I felt my rotator cuff go, and I couldn’t lift my arm. The ref stopped the fight because he knew how bad the injury was. I felt like I’d failed my dad. He never missed any of my fights. So two days after I won the belt, I took it down to Bulwell Cemetery to show my dad that I’d won it for him. That was one of the nicest things I’ve ever been able to do. 

Has the end of your boxing career made you feel reflective? 
Exceptionally so. There’s always things that you dwell on and think about what you should have done differently. My father died just after I’d turned pro, and my will to fight just went. I was turning up to fights without having trained, and just being a fool to myself. I ended up with a mediocre professional career: I had 148 amateur fights, with 136 wins and 72 stoppages. But as a pro, I only won half of my sixty-odd fights. In 1986, I retired and fell into what I call the ‘naughty era’. I went behind closed doors into the world of bare knuckle fighting. I’m not going to give the names of the people who looked after me for my own health reasons, but they took me around the world and I won all 41 of my fights. I eventually retired from that after a 250kg block of concrete landed on my foot in 2006. 

How did you recover from that?
It crushed my foot completely. Some Harley Street specialists said I’d never walk again without crutches, or at least a severe limp. When I got told that I started having all sorts of silly thoughts about finishing myself. But then I met a Chinese lad who told me that his uncle could help me. I was clutching at every straw I could, so I said, ‘Yeah, why not’. He was in Hong Kong, and a fortnight later I was on a plane over there. I still don’t know what they did to this day, because it was all done cash-in-hand, under the table. But he fixed me, and he stopped me from taking my own life. That’s not a maybe, that’s a definite. 

Can you tell us a bit about your Guinness World Records?
With my dad owning a paper shop, I always used to pick up the Guinness World Records annuals. I’ve got no end of them at home. I used to look at it and think ‘one day, I might get one of these.’ I was given the record for World’s Oldest Active Professional Boxer, but someone took the title off me while I was injured. I was devastated, but I got it back. And now I’ve got three of them.

From listening to you talk, you sound like you’ve enjoyed the last ten years of your career more than any other part of it. Is that fair?
The last ten years I’d had my wife Louisa backing me. She’s my lover, my best mate and she’s not a bad cook, either! Without her, I couldn’t have done it. She was one of my ring girls at the Parlogea fight, and was pushing me all the way. Being pro was ok, but I never really wanted to do it. But that changed in the last ten years – I got that appetite back, that will to win. I wanted to prove to my wife, my friends, my dad and myself that I could do it. 

People thought I’d be weak and slow, but that wasn’t going to happen. I was as strong as an ox and fast as lightning

Who are your boxing heroes?
I’ve got three main ones. Muhammad Ali – he was just an awesome guy, and far more than just a boxer. Then there’s ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler, who I sparred with. I caught him once, too. They cut that round short, but he made up for it! The next one felt like it lasted for four hours, and he knocked the Hell out of me! I have a lot of respect for him, and he taught me a lot. The third is the late, uncrowned champion of the world, Kirkland Laing. God bless him and rest his soul, he was a fantastic fighter. He gave Roberto Duran a real boxing lesson in Detroit. 

What advice would you give to young boxers just starting out?
Be serious and sure that it’s you that wants to do it, and not your mum or dad pushing you into it. It’s hard, and only gets harder as you get older, so don’t delude yourself into thinking that it isn’t. You can play football, you can play tennis, you can play rugby, but you cannot play boxing. It’s real. You have to be good enough to win, or you could end up hurt. But it’s one of the greatest sports you can ever get into – you’ll make friends for life.

Now that you’ve hung up your gloves, what’s next?
I’ve got my autobiography, The Legend, coming out in October. A Notts filmmaker called Keith Large has also made a documentary about my life, The Champ of Champs, which has picked up about forty awards around the world. There might even be a sequel now that I’ve won the world title!

Two days after the title win I was back in the gym. I can’t stop. I’m not training as hard, but I’m training just as regularly. The World Legends Championships want me to be a global representative for them, which would be a great job. I think I need a few weeks to come back down to ground, because I’m still on cloud nine. 

Is there any chance you’ll fight again?
None at all. I might do an exhibition fight – there have been times in the past where I’ve been close to fighting Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone. But I’ve got that gold belt now, which is all I wanted.

Steve Ward trains at Starbox Boxing Gym in Mansfield

@ward_legend
@starboxgym

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