STUART HALL is set to make the first defence of his IBF World Bantamweight title against fellow North-Easterner Martin Ward at the end of March.

The contest, which would be the first ever world title fight involving two North-East boxers, is provisionally scheduled for Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on Saturday, March 29, with talks between the two camps at an advanced stage.

Having been crowned world champion when he outpointed Vusi Malinga in a thrilling contest at Leeds’ First Direct Arena in December, Darlington’s Hall has the right to make a voluntary defence against an opponent of his choosing, provided that fighter satisfies the criteria laid down by the IBF.

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After discussions with a number of prospective opponents, his promotion team have settled on West Rainton’s Ward in order to set up the biggest contest ever staged in North-East boxing.

Ward is the reigning Commonwealth champion, having secured a unanimous points decision over Ghanaian Gabriel Laryea at Newcastle’s Centre For Sport last December.

Known as a tenacious southpaw, not too different in style to Malinga, the 25-year-old boasts a record of 18 victories and two defeats from his 20 contests as a professional.

His most high-profile defeat came at the hands of Lee Haskins in a British title bout last April, but he has subsequently seen off Adrian Fuzesy as well as Laryea.

Haskins also beat Hall in the early stages of his career, and the form lines including Fuzesy suggest the two North-Easterners should be reasonably well matched.

However, Hall’s last two outings have easily been the most accomplished of his career, and if he repeats the level of performance that accounted for Malinga and Sergio Perales, he should make a reasonably comfortable defence of his title.

Hall has already returned to full training after a break that enabled the eye injury sustained against Malinga to successfully heal.

The 33-year-old is likely to repeat the training regime that served him so well in the build-up to the Malinga fight, splitting his time between trainer Mick Marsden’s gym in Leeds and his home base in Darlington.

The contest with Ward should spark huge interest in the North-East, and it will be hoped that up to 10,000 fans will be packed into the Metro Radio Arena by the time the bell goes at the end of March.

The crowd should be swelled by an undercard featuring a number of North-East fighters, with both Jon-Lewis Dickinson and Bradley Saunders understood to have been approached to feature on the bill.

The night is likely to be televised by Box Nation, who provided live coverage of Hall’s victory over Malinga, and the full details should be confirmed within the next week or so.