'It's a big loss': Joe Ward's grief after death of his manager
In 2019, at a Dublin press conference announcing Joe Ward's move into professional boxing, his new manager Joe Winters said the Moate man had what it takes to become a major star.
"Joe Ward is a rare talent that comes along once in a generation," said Mr Winters. "We are excited for Joe's future. We believe he will become a superstar and a future world champion."
Sadly, Mr Winters will not be around to see if that prediction comes true, as the Long Island, New York, resident died from Covid-19 on Tuesday, January 5, aged just 54.
Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week, Joe Ward expressed his deep sadness at the death of his manager, saying, "You couldn't meet a nicer, more kind-hearted, or more down-to-earth guy."
His passing came relatively quickly, as Joe Ward had been speaking to him as recently as December 22.
"At that stage, he had Covid, but he was feeling fairly ok," he said.
"He was getting treated at home and he was in good spirits, so I felt like everything was going to be ok, and I was looking forward to a big 2021, with myself and himself, from the boxing side of things. Sadly, he passed away a few days later."
Joe Winters had boxed professionally and went on to have a successful career in business, running the Winters Bros waste and recycling company in Long Island.
"He was a great man, and he lived a great life but he had a lot more to offer, and it's very sad to see him go so quickly. He'll be a big loss," said Ward (27).
"For me personally, it probably never would have been possible for me to go pro without Joe Winters. He's the man who made it happen. He believed in me and trusted in me.
"I got to spend a lot of time with Joe's family in New York and they're lovely people. Joe treated me as one of his own, and that meant a lot to me. He was my manager but he also became my friend and let me be part of his family.
"That showed the loyalty and the respect that he had as a person. It wasn't just business for him, we had a strong connection, so it's sad. It's very sad."
Last month, after 14 months out of the ring, due to injury and then the pandemic, Joe had his second and third professional bouts in Mexico, winning both by first round knock-out.
"It was Joe Winters, especially, who went out of his way to make those two fights happen in Mexico," said Ward. "He pushed that because obviously he wanted me to fight, to get the ball rolling, and also to make me a bit more financially secure coming up to Christmas.
"We only knew each other for a (relatively) short space of time but the connection we had was powerful, so it's hard to take."
Mr Winters’ involvement in the sport was through a company, Times Square Boxing, which he operated with Adam Glenn. Ward said Times Square Boxing will continue to manage his career as he looks ahead to what will hopefully be a more active year in 2021.
He said it felt good to get back in action in Mexico last month, with two fights which came together quickly.
"It was just about getting back into the ring, getting moving, and getting back into that zone again," he said.
"I was pretty ruthless over there, but that's down to hunger and determination. The level I'm at is a million miles away from the level (of opponent) I was fighting, but you can only beat who's in front of you.
"As an amateur, my level was at the top. You don't get to the top overnight in the professional game, it takes time, but you just have to be ruthless in everything you do until you get the opportunity to be at the top."
He said climbing through the ropes again had helped rekindle the spark he felt toward the sport.
"With the lead-up to it, and the training, everything was just very positive and I realised how much I had missed it.
"Sometimes you can take things for granted but when you're out of boxing for a little while, when you can't compete, or when certain things can't happen, you realise how much you love it.
"You realise how much you miss being in there, having that adrenaline rush, getting ready and competing. It's the best feeling in the world."
He is hoping that his next fight will take place sometime in February or March, possibly in the US.
"I'm looking forward to a big 2021, with a lot of fights and big step-ups as the year goes on. I'm just looking forward to being busy, learning, and being in a great position for 2022," he added.
"God rest Joe Winters. He has passed away, but his passing gives me more drive and determination now to fulfil his dream and be part of something special.
"We're going to do everything possible to fulfil Joe's dream, and my dream, of becoming a champion," he concluded.