EVERETT, Mass. – When combat sports fans think of “Irish” Micky Ward, they think of heart and defiance. They think of an amazing story depicted in the movie “The Fighter” starring Mark Wahlberg. They think of his badass trilogy against the late Arturo Gatti.

All of these thoughts coincide with boxing, the most prominent combat sport of Ward’s competitive era. That doesn’t mean, Ward keeps his blinders on when it comes to the newer forms of combat competition. Simply put: Ward is an MMA fan – so much so, he would’ve dabbled in it had it existed in his heyday.

“I always liked MMA,” Ward told MMA Junkie at Calvin Kattar’s Combat Zone MMA event Thursday. “Guys fight kind of (like) they walk straight in. You know what I mean, that crazy style? I wish MMA was around when I was (fighting). I probably would’ve ended up doing that.”

While the narrative of “MMA vs. boxing” was often pushed in the former’s earlier days, Ward never saw it as a competition. It’s quite the opposite, in his mind. MMA and boxing coexist well together, highlighting the special skills each takes to succeed.

“It’s combat sports,” Ward said. “Boxing sports or whatever it may be, it’s combat sports. Why not? Plus, I’ll tell you. In boxing, you worry about one thing: the hands. This here, you have to worry about the feet and the elbows. That’s the worst part. I’d rather get hit with a punch any day in the head than get elbowed in the head or kneed in the head or kicked in the head. It’s tough.

“Boxing is a lot different than MMA. We have our strong points for this, that. But they’re both real combat sports and it’s something I love about it. It’s competition. It’s toughness. The core of toughness is this. You have to have a big will. It’s not your heart. Everyone has the same size heart. It’s your will to endure things and keep going. You have to have a big one to do this.”

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An unfortunate link between MMA and boxing is the end result for many fighters: physical damage. Ward, 56, speaks openly in interviews about his struggles with CTE symptoms. Headaches are rehabilitating at times. He currently is on medication and receives treatment from renowned concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu, a co-founder of the Boston University CTE Center.

Despite the post-career health issues, Ward still radiates positivity and his love for combat is palpable. Involved with boxing as much as he can be, Ward is still proud of his accomplishments and motivated to be his best self.

“I have CTE or signs of CTE,” Ward said. “I take medicine for it once a day. I’m good though. I stay healthy. I stay in the gym. I don’t drink much at all. I don’t do drugs. I’m good. If I was a big drinker or this or that, I’d be like ugh. I try to stay healthy and that’s the key when you’re retired. Just try to work and stay healthy.”

Check out MMA Junkie’s full interview with Ward in the video above, where he also discusses his favorite boxers today, the possibility of a sequel to “The Fighter,” and more.

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