Tough life, but now Mansfield boxing legend Steve Ward is finally on top of the world
Mansfield's WLC world boxing champion Steve Ward has seen and done the lot – and his autobiography, The Legend, tells his colourful tale perfectly in black and white.
Ward has risen from a tough upbringing, two terrible industrial accidents, suicidal thoughts, being badly used as a pro boxer, the shady world of bare knuckle boxing and working as a doorman to the heights of three Guinness World records before recently winning a world title just before his 65th birthday.
It is a rich, wild, entertaining and emotional ride and Ward smiled: “The book has been going really well and I am doing some signings in shops very soon.
“I never thought I would write a book. To be honest I didn't think I would ever do a film either. I just wanted to do the best I could in the boxing. The rest has sorted tagged on through luck.
“In boxing and in any sport there is a lot skill, but you also need an amount of luck on your side.
“My luck has got me a film and book that have both done remarkably well. My film The Champ of Champs has won 40-odd international film awards worldwide including Cannes Film Festival.
“Then the guy who wrote the book with me, John Brindley, approached me and I thought why not, others have done it? And my luck was he turned out to be an exceptionally good author.”
Ward has made several comebacks but knows now he will no longer be allowed to do so.
“It is real this time though it's taken a lot of sinking in,” he said.
“It's easy to say I have retired. But, like Frank Sinatra, it's also easy to make a comeback.
“This time there won't be one as, at 65, you are finished. That's it. It's finally done.
“However, I can still do exhibition shows for charity. There are no decisions and you don't go full out. You just show your skills.
“That would be quite nice for me and nice for the charity to be getting something. That does appeal to me.
“There is nothing definite yet but that is what is on the agenda.
“If I can help someone else out through doing what I enjoy doing that's a big bonus for me.”
He added: “I am still in training – not as hard though. I am still doing the runs though I am not getting up at ungodly hours like 4am and doing runs now.
“But I am training hard in the gym on the bags. I keep quiet, keep myself to myself, get the job done, sweat it all out and I still feel good.
“I have put a little weight back on as I am not training so drastically. But I could always drop that weight if a little charity job came up and I wanted to look the business.
“I think I will always train. I don't really want to stop as I have seen other people in the same age bracket as me who have done sports, stop training all at once when they get to 50 or whatever, and put drastic amounts of weight on and look unwell.
“I don't want that. I want to keep myself in fine fettle without it being fighting condition.”
Ward won his world title in August and has since had time to reflect on that and his career.
“Now I have had a bit of time to sit and think about it, I do start to appreciate what I have achieved,” he said.
“People wave to me in the street and shout 'how are you champ?' and I think to myself, yes, I really am the world champion.
“At first, to me, it was just something people were shouting and didn't seem real, but over the last three or four weeks it is all proper.
“I can't tell you how many times I have been into our spare room, opened the brown box and looked at that belt just to make sure it is real.
“It was my proudest moment ever the day after the fight taking that belt down to the graveyard where my dad is buried.
“It was lovely showing him and having a few words with him – it made it all worthwhile for me and meant a hell of a lot as I had kept my promise to him. He said I would be a world champion one day and I was able to say I did it for him.”
Ward speaks candidly about his upbringing in Nottingham.
“It's never been easy,” he said. “I won't say it's all been grunt and groan and homeless but it's not been easy by any means.
“Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Well, I've never even had a plastic one – maybe a wooden one just to stir things.
“I was brought up the hard way and in the book I tell people just how hard it was in Hyson Green. We got nothing for free and the bullying at school was a big thing in my life.
“Some boys were trying to make me steal things for them from my parents' shop and people wondered why I was always in fights at school and thinking I was the bad one. I would never pinch anything – that's lower than low.
“I had to leave school early to go and start earning money for my mum and dad as they had been running the shop at a loss. I would do it all again too.”
After a good amateur career, Ward turned pro, but he was badly treated and never given the chances he deserved for titles.
“I really got used as a pro,” he said.
“These things can happen and they did to me – I was unlucky. It's part of the game. If you love boxing you carry on.
“I did have a rest for a time as if I hadn't I would have just gone over the edge – it was really pushing me.”
Underground bare knuckle boxing then took him around the world.
“Once again you need that element of luck and luck didn't shine on me in that either with what happened in the end,” he said – which is explained in the book.
“I had 41 bare knuckle fights and won 40 but never lost one – and there were no draws in that game. What happened was the fight was raided when I was well on top and we all had to leg it quickly.
“I was smashing him to bits at the time and it would not have been long before it was over so I am claiming that one.
“Most of the fights were abroad and I was looked after really well. I've not named names in the book as I value my life too much, and that of my wife.
“I enjoyed it in a way, it was a learning curve.
“But it was nice to get the gloves back on and be boxing properly again. I love my boxing.”
Ward suffered two horrendous injuries working for concrete companies and contemplated taking his own life after a one and half ton concrete block crushed his foot.
“With those work-related injuries sometimes I was taking one step forward and three steps back – that's how bad it was getting,” he said.
“When the concrete crushed my foot there seemed no way out of it. I was on ketamine and morphine and umpteen other drugs and they said I would never walk properly again.
“I was having such awful thoughts, what I now think of as daft thoughts but at the time they were very real. It was very close. It nearly happened.
“They were very hard times but I couldn't let it beat me after leading such an active life since nine years old.
“When I finally had my first run I felt so good even though it was really sore. I felt marvellous and knew I could beat it.”
He added: “When I felt ready to go back into the ring in about 2010 I spoke to a man called John Ashton who I had known for years.
“I think I was 54 then and I asked him the biggest favour going – would he put me on one of his boxing shows?“He said I was a bit too old, but I told him I was as fit and fast as lightning.
“I told him to watch me spar. He did and I was good – I was knocking the younger guys about and he agreed to put me on against a Mike Tyson lookalike about 25 years younger than me and I just did a job on him.
“I have always been someone that if I have something in my head I have to go for gold and push it to the end and it all went good from there for me.”Ward admits he could not have got where he is without the backing of wife Louisa.
“She is a fantastic lady and I love her to bits,” he said.
“She does everything and without her I don't think all of this would have happened. They say behind every good man there is a better woman and there really is here.
“It made her part of it and it's nice to have her by your side, even to the extent of leading me into the ring with her friends.”
Ward intends to stay in the sport in a new role as global representative for the World Legends Championship.
The WLC has three categories - bronze 30-40-years-old, silver 40-50 and gold 50-65 in which he finished his career.
He will now help established boxers with match-making, medicals, fight locations and fight finance under the WLC banner.