IT'S very much a case of high-risk, high-reward for Steven Ward in Kazakhstan as he goes into the lion's den to face local superstar Kamshybek Kunkabayev.

The Kazakh is a decorated amateur, winning two World silver medals and in Tokyo, claimed bronze at super-heavyweight despite already being three fights into his pro career that had already seen him claim the WBO Asia cruiserweight title.

The vacant WBA Gold title is up for grabs when they throw down in Almaty on Saturday (live on IFL YouTube ) and whilst the Belfast man (13-1) accepts he has a huge task on his hand, he is more than happy to accept the challenge and believes he may be getting Kunkabayev (3-0) at the right time before the 30-year-old southpaw makes the full transition into the professional style.

"One of the best things from moving up from light-heavy is that I feel as though I brought my feet with me," he said.

"Kunkabayev is coming down from an amateur super-heavy, so I'm not confident he will have been in with as many people with potentially as good feet and movement as myself, which I'm hoping will give him a bit of trouble.

"You go over there and win it's phenomenal, but go over and lose and perform well, then doors can still open up.

"A couple of years ago, I maybe wouldn't have taken this risk. But after Covid and everything else, I just thought 'why not?'. Sometimes you do these things and they pay off. I don't think he is a massive puncher yet. Maybe in a couple of fights he may develop into a massive puncher, so maybe this is a good time to get in with him."

Steven Ward has not fought since last September when defeating Jone Volau, his first fight up at cruiserweight

Steven Ward has not fought since last September when defeating Jone Volau, his first fight up at cruiserweight

The pair were due to meet earlier this year, but Ward was battling with illness and was forced to withdraw, just as he was recently when matched with Mikael Lawal in a British title eliminator that was due to be broadcast live on Sky.

However, his eagerness to get back into the ring after a period of illness left him in a position where he overdid it in camp and it was back to square one.

The Kunkabayev opportunity reemerged and this time, feeling fit and back to full health, the challenge was accepted.

'The Quiet Man' last fought back in September 2020 when out-pointing Jone Volau, his one and only cruiserweight contest after moving up from the light-heavyweight division following defeat to Ricards Bolotniks two years ago.

The move up in weight has done him the world of good although he admits there is still a bit of growing into the weight left to do.

"Getting down to light-heavy was just too much," he admitted.

"It's such a massive jump, 25 pounds, and I still don't feel like a full-blown cruiserweight yet because when I got sick I had no appetite and was losing a lot of weight.

"I'm happy now as I've got this Kunkabayev fight. It's a big ask - I'm not stupid - but I'm willing to go in and give it everything I have.

"I'm under no illusion that I'll not be the favourite as it's in his turf in Kazakhstan. He is a superstar over there, but I'm bang up for it and think that sometimes, especially in the current climate, you have got to take risks sand I'm taking one."

It is certainly a huge test for Ward, going in against a man who is naturally bigger but has a sublime skillset and can punch out of his southpaw stance.

However, the former Monkstown amateur has proven his fighting heart in the past and has ring smarts he intends to employ to gain a foothold and ask questions of a relative pro novice in Kunkabayev that he hopes will tilt the balance his way.

"I'm hoping to go in an play it smart," he outlined.

"The plan is to feel him out for the first few rounds and see how it goes and then hopefully bring him into deep water.

"If I beat Kunkabayev, it's massive as he is one of the top amateurs in the world.

"He's a good fighter, a big, awkward southpaw and schooled very well. But pro boxing is a different ball game and I think that if I get it right I can do very well."

Rolling the dice in such a fashion is not always the done thing in boxing, especially in the modern era when many fighters are happy to play it a little safer.

However, Ward is aware the clock is ticking and the time is now if he wants to clear the hurdles towards the top.

Going to Almaty and shocking Kunkabayev would do just that and while he travels as an underdog, there is also a belief that if he performs, he can do something very special.

"It's a great opportunity - massive risk, but massive reward and I'm feeling really confident," he stressed.

"I haven't felt physically good for a long time and now I am after the health issues. It's been a slow burner with one fight in almost two years, but I'm 31 now so why not? Cruisers can go on for a while, but I want to give it a go."