Boxer Steph Ward says she is not just another Nicola Adams
THE PROFILE of women's boxing went through the roof with the historic achievement of Nicola Adams at the 2012 Olympics.
Representing Great Britain, she became the first boxer to win gold after the women's competition was accepted into the Games.
But for Barnstaple ABC's latest female contender, the role models are more likely to come from Russia – with gloves.
A year ago, Steph Ward had not even considered setting foot in the boxing ring. Now, on the eve of her second amateur bout, the sport is becoming a way of life.
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"I got into it before I even knew it was going to be in the Olympics," she said. "When I say I'm a boxer, people say, 'Oh, like Nicola Adams'. No, not like Nicola Adams, like me."
Ward, 21, is determined to make a name for herself, starting with her first home appearance for Barnstaple on Saturday, February 23, at Roundswell Community Centre.
After a narrow points defeat on her debut against Jen Davis, of Chelmsford ABC, she is raring to go for the rematch.
As a student at Leeds University, Ward is studying Russian and, in September, is heading to Moscow for a year.
Her heroes include Alexander Povetkin, the unbeaten heavyweight, Rakhim Chakhkiev, the undefeated cruiserweight, and Natalia Ragozina, widely regarded as the world's greatest female boxer.
But it is heavyweight world champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, from Ukraine, who first sparked her interest.
Plenty of young boxers have been stirred into action by movies like Million Dollar Baby, Rocky or Raging Bull.
"I saw the film Ocean's Eleven," said Ward, who boxes at middleweight.
"There's a short boxing scene with Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko. "I thought, 'What is this? Who are these guys?'
"I had a look online and started following Wladimir Klitschko.
"I saw a documentary about him and his brother and thought they were inspirational guys.
"They are unbelievably clever, so disciplined."
Ward's own training regime started at university in May and continued with Barnstaple, under the guidance of Mark Simpson, when she returned home for summer.
Back in Yorkshire, she now trains three times a week at the Burmantofts gym, the home of several professionals and the club where Adams started out on her road to Olympic glory.
Ward's wait for her first fight was frustrating. Having travelled back from Leeds to compete in Barnstaple's show in November, her scheduled opponent pulled out.
Finally, last week in Chelmsford, she got to compete against Davis, a fellow debutant representing the host club.
With Simpson, her coach, still travelling across from another show in London, the bout had to be pushed back to the top of the bill.
"It was nearly midnight by the time I boxed and I was starting to feel at bit woolly," said Ward.
"I was expecting she was going to be a lot like me, lots of jabs and quite cautious. "She didn't bother with any jabs, she just came swinging right in and I got caught with a few.
"I got hit with the first big shot and I was bewildered."
After the initial shock, Ward found her composure and looked strong in the closing stages while her opponent tired.
Although a split decision went with the home favourite, Ward received the trophy for the show's best away boxer.
Outside the ring, she then broke the news of her achievement to another tough opponent.
"My mum was really, really against me boxing," said Ward. "Since May I have been keeping it a secret. She knew I was training but she thought it was just for the fitness.
"She's not happy about it but we've agreed to disagree."
Ward is leaving nothing to chance for the rematch and has requested a DVD of the first fight.
"Hopefully I can watch myself being beat up from a third perspective," she said.
Increasing the training and placing more emphasis on faster footwork, the aim is to "dance like Ali".
"If I can move sideways and take her on a merry dance, I don't think she'll be able to keep up with me," said Ward.
It is only eight months since she first laced up the gloves but she has the fearless attitude so crucial for success.
"Lennox Lewis said boxing is the only sport that will keep you honest," said Ward. "If you're scared, it will show. If you have had too much cake all week, it will show. If you're in shape, it will show.
"Once I had the fight, I had a moment of clarity and I knew what all the training was for."
Tickets for the show at Roundswell Community Centre are on sale now for £8.
Super heavyweight James Turner is set to make his Barnstaple debut and there will be appearances from Raivo Sven Vidins, the heavyweight, and a return for Billy Hammett, at light middle. The full line-up will be announced next week.
To order tickets, ask at Barnstaple ABC, the Corner House or call Mark Simpson on 07749 231121.