STUART HALL is determined to hold on to his IBF World Bantamweight title when he makes North-East sporting history against Martin Ward at the end of next month.

Having claimed the world title when he beat Vusi Malinga in Leeds in December, Darlington-based Hall will make the first defence of his crown at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle on March 29.

The fight, which was formally launched earlier today, pits him against West Rainton-based Ward, and represents the first ever world title contest between two North-Easterners.

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It will be a historic evening whatever happens, but having battled so hard to see off Malinga, Hall is not about to cede his world title now.

“It was an unbelievable night winning the world title,” he said. “But now the hard work starts. Everyone wants this belt, and I've got a lot of respect for Martin Ward. I'm good friends with Neil (Fannon), his trainer.

“I know they are coming to try to take this belt away from me, but I'm going to be ready to keep hold of it and make a successful defence.”

Ward claimed the Commonwealth crown at the start of December, and is making a major step up as he tackles the world level.

However, the former Birtley ABC fighter is confident of springing a surprise in front of what is expected to be a crowd of more than 5,000 spectators.

“I'm looking forward to the challenge,” said Ward. “I've been in the gym since winning the Commonwealth title so I'm in good shape.

“I watched the (Hall) fight with Malinga and I know what he's like as a fighter, and I know how to beat him.”

The undercard of next month's show will feature Newcastle's Jon-Lewis Dickinson attempting to win the Lonsdale Belt outright and Sedgefield's Bradley Saunders in a WBO ranking contest.

“This is history in the North-East,” said promoter Dennis Hobson. “We've got our second world champion from the region in Stuart Hall, and he produced one of the best fights I've ever seen to beat a real warrior in Vusi Malinga.

“Martin is the reigning Commonwealth champion and has earned his own shot at a world title. It's something I'm very proud to be involved in.”

* Tickets are priced at £35, £55, £75 and £150 and are available from the Metro Radio Arena box office.