Steven Ward: “I got a bit careless at one point and he shook me to my boots with a shot!”
The former World's Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson says he loved every second of his exhibition bout with ex-WBO European light-heavyweight champion Steven Ward – and has warned future opponent Eddie Hall that if he doesn’t take it equally as seriously then the Englishman will be knocked out in the first round.
Thor and Ward took part in an exhibition bout in Dubai on Friday, January 15, with the Northern Ireland boxer giving away a 130lbs weight advantage, as well as seven inches in height to the former World's Strongest Man known as ‘The Mountain’.
The 32-year-old from Iceland dwarfed the cruiserweight from Belfast, as he came out in his southpaw stance. Ward looked nice and relaxed and was very sensibly light on his toes.
Thor attempted to land a few hooks around a minute into the bout, but swiped the air instead. You could see the power and weight behind his attacks though.
Ward landed a jab and immediately ducked under a counter left hook. Thor was waiting too long to strike, Ward's movement and fluidity largely to blame for that, but when he did open up, it was laboured and telegraphed, which is to be expected for a man of his size.
30 seconds to go and the pair exchanged big blows in the centre of the ring, both landing heavily, but Thor's left hook to Ward's head was the most eyecatching of all.
Pundit Carl Frampton was impressed with Thor's skills as a novice boxer, stating that he adjusted during the round to improve with each punch.
Thor walked forward and Ward managed to land a neat straight right hand to the body, but without any weight behind it. He then landed a swift jab seconds later. Thor was trying to close his man down but he was too fleet footed for him, and when he did catch him, Ward rightfully held quickly.
As the second minute of the round started, Thor threw a straight backhand followed up by a right hook that glanced upon Ward's left shoulder blade and instantly knocked him down. The sheer weight of the blow on his back as he was turned was enough force to topple him over, although his back foot looked like it may have slipped from underneath him.
Ward responded by looking a little sharper as he backed Bjornsson up to the corner where he landed a a lovely overhand right to the head. Ward then swiped a right hand across Thor's midriff, which looked like it could have done damage to a fellow cruiserweight, but Thor responded with a triple punch combo that Ward managed to step away from. ‘The Mountain’ tried the same combination seconds later, but again failed to land any. He then tried his backhand again, the shot that set up the earlier knockdown, but Ward slipped it cleanly this time around. He then landed left and right hooks on Ward's high guard, hitting only gloves, but the weight of the shots would have shaken Steven still.
Ward ended the round on top, with Bjornsson backing up. The best punch of the fight so far was Ward's overhand right that landed on the button, producing blood, but the left and right hooks from Thor in the same round were also very good.
Thor continued to fall forward with his big swinging shots that Ward avoided with ease. The Icelander was bleeding from the nose, which could have been caused by the cruiserweight's superb overhand right in the previous round.
‘The Mountain’ was still swinging wildly, only swiping the air, but then Ward walked straight into his southpaw jab and his head was snapped back suprisingly under such a short shot.
One minute gone in the final round and Thor threw his backhand which Ward slipped under and took the opportunity to land a few body blows on the open target, backing him up to the ropes.
With one minute remainding, Thor came forward but Ward stepped back to avoid his attack and immediately leaned back in to land a lovely right hand counter of his own. The commentary team believed that he had hurt the bigger man with that swift shot. They may have been right as Ward continued to attack him on the ropes and the Icelander was forced to hold.
The pair were pulled apart and Ward landed another almost identical counter right again and the blood was visibly trickling down from the Nordic man's nose. 10 seconds later and there was yet another right hand that rocked the head of Bjornsson, again falling back into the ropes and holding on. In the final seconds of the fight, there was a short standoff, but you could easily the see the fatigue emanating from Thor. He looked good for the first six minutes of the fight, but the elevated action and damage sustained in that final three minutes really took it out of the big man.
There were no winners or losers as both hands were raised at the end of the fight. The three rounds with a professional boxing champion would have been invaluable for Thor, as he prepares to fight Eddie Hall next, in the bout billed as the heaviest fight in history. For Ward, his profile would have been elevated exceedingly and his next fight should hopefully attract a few extra fans.
‘The Mountain’ had plenty to say following the clash, “What I’ve seen from Eddie Hall doesn’t look good. He has to be taking it seriously. He just seems to be paying some poor guy to not punch him back. If you want to beat me, you have to spar and get punched in the face. If not I will knock you out in the first round.
“This feels great and I love it. Thanks to Steven Ward for doing this. He’s a really nice guy and not many people would want to face someone who weighs 130lbs more than him, so he has the biggest heart ever. For him to do this exhibition with me means a lot.
“Ward is the same height as Eddie Hall, so this was a good experience. I can’t wait to get back home and train to be even better. I’ve been doing this for six months and I have a huge respect for the sport and its athletes.
“I wanted to get my technique right first, and then I’ll focus on speed and everything else. The fight with Eddie will be six rounds, and I will be in the absolute best shape of my life. In September I will knock him out!”
Ward said: “I thought Thor looked great. I’ve never seen a man that size move so well. I got a bit careless at one point and he shook me to my boots with a shot!
“It’s great to be involved in this. Thanks to everyone that came out and to my management team MTK Global. They’re getting every boxer great opportunities.”