These are hard times for a humble man, especially if his name is Micky Ward.
For the next week or two, the image of Ward leaning and trading inside against Arturo Gatti is splashed across Walmart entrances. It’s pinned up in the window of nearly every videogame vendor in the country.
It won’t be up there long, but for now the Playstation 2 cover of EA Sports Fight Night Round 3 is a loosely bound – probably by glue – monument to the defining moment of Micky Ward’s career.
How many men with childlike ambition would love to have their likeness on the cover of a videogame? I’ll raise my hand and say I’d be unbearable for at least six months to six years. I’m not to be trusted with any fame, only notoriety would keep me humble.
But Ward plays this cool.
“They told me they were interested in doing something like that,” he said. “They talked to me a while ago and I wasn’t sure they were going to do it.”
That kind of unfathomable modesty is just one more reason to like this man. It’s a blue-collar virtue most would not live up to. Obviously, his work in the ring is the root of any adulation and admiration Ward has received.
I’ve found that explaining the fight game to mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters is a dubious chore. My own basic interest is complete malarkey. My deep-seeded passion is more than enough to damn my character to the level of a grotesque malefactor, as though I’m some deranged, violent soul with an insatiable bloodthirst.
I cannot deny who I am: I crave the blood sport.
Nonetheless, I have trouble explaining the mystique behind Micky Ward to the uninitiated. He’s never been a major world champion. Vince Phillips opened a cut that put an end to Ward’s IBF light welterweight title bid in the third round in 1997.
He’s become a hero, at the very least, to Massachusetts for a slobber-knocking trilogy against Arturo Gatti which stands arguably as one of the greatest of all time.
“They tell me it’s the best fight they’ve ever seen,” Ward said. “You’ve got guys that are 50, 60 saying it. It take it in stride, it’s an honor.”
Try explaining that to the mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters. Simply attempt to share why the Gaelic Club in Ward’s home state bears his photo over the bar.
The Dropkick Murphys, a Boston area band, wrote a song and dedicated the cover of its 2005 “Warriors Code” release to Ward. The heavy guitar and bagpipe laden song for which the album is named revels in the heart he showed against Gatti.
“That made it a lot easier for guys like myself to root for him,” said bassist Ken Casey, who wrote the song. “As opposed to a guy with gold teeth and more money than he knows what do with. You’re a more identifiable figure with the boxing fanbase when you’re like Mickey. That’s why he’s achieved popularity. He just basically gives fans their money’s worth.”
Much like Ward, the band carries a loyal Massachusetts fanbase. A few of the songs the Dropkicks have produced are tributes to the sporting life in Boston. For instance, “Time to Go” is about riding the train to the old Boston Garden for a Bruins game. Even the Boston Red Sox enlisted the band’s help with its fight song “Tessie.”
The band unveiled the song at a concert with Ward in attendance at a Boston show last spring. A large screen showed footage of the ninth round of Ward-Gatti I, much to the delight of the crowd.
The band played the next few nights without Ward’s presence, but the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response prevailed.
A music video is currently in production for “Warriors Code” and will feature footage from the HBO bouts.
Enshrinement at Canastota probably won’t happen for Ward. His lack of a major world title will likely deny him that honor. Of course, he will probably earn mention if Gatti joins the rest of those who’ve bludgeoned their way to immortality.
Ward has already been enshrined by popular culture, but not in the flimsy, perverse sense of Britney Spears. Having his likeness on the cover of a CD or a videogame is simply a modern acknowledgement by the hearts he’s won over by bearing his own.
“He defines the heart and soul of the sport – what everyone is looking for in boxing,” Casey said. “A throwback fighter. Against adversity, guys that may be quicker, faster, younger, he proved that you can get it done.”