|Bob Halloran recounts
Micky Ward's fall ... and rise.
OTHER IRISH BOXING ARTICLES FROM WGT:
By Mark Connor / TheWildGeese.com
Five years after "Cinderella Man" and six past "Million Dollar Baby," the "Irish brand" in the ring is again on display on the silver screen with "The Fighter," a new film from producer Mark Wahlberg and director David O. Russell highlighting the grit and determination of "Irish" Micky Ward.
"The Fighter," winner of two Oscars during Sunday's awards ceremony, was informed by a 2007 biography by former ESPN reporter Bob Halloran. In hisbook, "Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward," he chronicles the ascension of the Lowell, Mass.-based fighter to the upper ranks of the light-welterweight division.
Halloran recently sat for an interview about Ward, his biography and the Irish brand in boxing, as well as the hit motion picture that shares his book's focus. Halloran served as a technical advisor for the film, starring Wahlberg as Ward; Christian Bale as Ward's crack-addicted brother, Dicky Eklund; Melissa Leo as Ward's mother, Alice; and Amy Adams as Charlene, Ward's sweetheart and eventual wife.
While Halloran's 338-page book covers much more than the film ever could, the 47-year-old New Jersey native admires how the producers condensed over 13 years into the cinematic presentation. Recounting the yearlong research and writing of the book, Halloran discussed the unique Irish working-class crucible that helped temper Ward's character and skills.
|Photo courtesy Bob Halloran
Bob Halloran (left) and Micky Ward
"A phrase that kept coming up several times — and one of the reasons Micky was given chances that other fighters were not," Halloran explains, "was the phrase, 'He's a white Irish kid who can fight.' So each of those elements was important to the whole thing. The fact that he was a white Irish kid meant that he would have a backing, a following, people who would pay to see him. The fact that he could fight was very important, too, because you didn't want to have a tomato can up there getting knocked out."
Halloran continues: "So the fact that he was a prideful Irish fighter, the kind of fighter—I'm sure it's true of other ethnicities, as well, but it does feel to me that a lot of the Irish guys are this way—who absolutely will not quit; Micky was like that."
Ward's record bears that out, as does the dramatic story of the real-life challenges behind it. Ward had a 51-fight career, beginning June 13, 1985. Disappointing losses, family problems and management issues led him to retire in 1991, but he returned to the ring in June 1994. By final retirement at age 37 in June 2003, he'd fought six world champions and a slew of continental champions, compiling a record of 38 wins, 13 losses, 0 draws and 27 wins by knockout. These successes reflected not only his toughness in the ring, but also his ability to maintain focus while in the midst of a perpetual storm outside it.
Mark Wahlberg (Micky), Melissa Leo (Alice) and Christian Bale (Dicky) in a scene from the award-winning film "The Fighter."
Ward came of age in The Acre, Lowell's working-class Irish neighborhood, during a troubled time for the city, in the 1970s and 1980s, when the city faced an epidemic of drug abuse. Eklund, Ward's older half-brother and eventual trainer, was a fringe world-class boxer in the 1970s who went the distance in a 10-round loss to rising star Sugar Ray Leonard. Eklund eventually succumbed to crack, and this led to much agita for Ward.
Halloran explains that Ward, seven years younger, really looked up to his brother, adding, "I think it's another credit to Micky that, when his big brother fell into crack and drugs and crime, Micky didn't follow him into it. ... I always thought Micky was in the eye of a hurricane. There was so much wildness around him, and he stayed right in the center of it—focused, determined, hard-working, didn't get caught up in any of that stuff."
There was also the failed attempt of their mother, Alice Ward, at managing Ward's career and the stress of his seven sisters, "any one of whom," Halloran explains at one point in "Irish Thunder," "could barge into his locker room drunk at any time." Although not mentioned in the film, Halloran recalls that even Sal LoNano, the manager who steered Ward's career to bigger fights, came into his life because Ward's father, George, met him while both were incarcerated. But in the middle of the tumult, Ward glimpsed clarity, a combination of fatherly guidance from a trainer and a characteristically Irish resolve leading him to it. WGT
WGT Associate Editor Mark Connor, the editor of the webzine BoxersAndWritersMagazine.com, resides in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has been interested in Irish heritage and history all his life and spent six months of 1998 in Ireland working at a homeless shelter, traveling, and writing about the conflict in Northern Ireland. Mark was Upper Midwest Golden Gloves Lightweight Champion in 1987, at age 17. He still trains with professional boxers and runs a personal training business in Minnesota.
This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and Doug Chandler, and produced by Joe Gannon.
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Connor and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.