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'Irish' Micky Ward, famed boxer who inspired a movie, visits Hanover Area

Mar. 5—HANOVER TWP. — He may have been known as a relentless puncher who could give as good as he took, but former light welterweight pro boxer "Irish" Micky Ward included one message of non-violence to students at Hanover Area High School during a brief visit.

Being "a tough guy" is not about fighting and punching hard. "If you see a kid who seems alone or needs a friend, a tough guy talks to him and makes him feel good."

A three-time New England Golden Gloves champion who contended for the IBF title in 1997 and won the WBU title in 2000, Ward arguably became most famous for this "trilogy" of fights, three consecutive match ups with Arturo Gatti, two of which sent both men to the hospital. The Ring Magazine dubbed two of trilogy "Fight of the year."

Born in Massachusetts to Irish parents, Ward became famous for a relentless fighting style and powerful left hook to the body that, on more than one occasion, won bouts that he was believed to be losing on points. His life and pro career became the stuff of legends when Mark Whalberg portrayed him in the movie "The Fighter."

Ward recapped a childhood that included frequent scraps, the motivation prompted by his "crazy brother," and his decision to go pro in the light welterweight division.

"It's easy to go pro," he said. "Anyone can go pro. But it's harder to win."

Asked if he ever felt fear in facing another boxer he had a simple answer. "I never felt afraid." But he admitted sometimes he'd feel nerves and have to find ways to calm down. "Nerves will drain you."

Students twice asked him separately if he ever boxed Mike Tyson, undisputed world champion from 1987 to 1990. Ward chuckled and gave a firm "no."

"Mike Tyson would probably punch a hole through me," he said. "He's a heavyweight. I'm a 139 pounds."

Tyson's boxing weight at his prime was 220 pounds.

Near the end of the speech Ward conceded tacitly that he likely suffers brain damage from his fisticuff days. He has agreed to participate in a study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. "When I die they get my brain. You can't tell if you have it while your alive, they need to cut it up."

CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma. It can be inflicted by powerful blows to the head that cause concussions, but it also can occur from other jarring blows that cause the brain to rattle about, resulting in "subconcussive hits." The telltale sign of CTE is a build up of tau protein resulting from tiny parts of the brain coming apart from repeated jarring — something that so far can only be observed post mortem in a dissected brain. Boston University, near Ward's home in Lowell, is a leader in CTE research.

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112