NORTH-EAST sporting history will be made when Martin Ward challenges Stuart Hall for the IBF World Bantamweight title in Newcastle next month. As the West Rainton fighter told Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson, however, another boxing landmark is at the forefront of his mind
WHEN Martin Ward takes on Stuart Hall for the IBF World Bantamweight title next month, he will write his name in the record books thanks to his participation in the first all-North-East world title fight. However, it is another piece of history that the West Rainton fighter really wants to make.
As a proud member of the travelling community, Ward is determined to become the first traveller ever to win a world title.
A few have come close, most notably York’s Henry Wharton, who took on Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Robin Reid for the WBC and WBO Super Middleweight titles, only to come up short on each occasion.
Another traveller, Tyson Fury, has been tipped as a future world champion, but Ward will get his shot first, and for all that he will be going into the ring as an underdog given that he has only ever had one 12-round fight in his life, the 25-year-old is adamant that his time has come.
“I’m hugely proud of my roots, and the chance to do something that no other traveller has done before is a challenge in itself,” said Ward, who claimed the Commonwealth title when he beat Ghanaian Gabriel Laryea in Newcastle at the start of December. “Henry Wharton did really well against Nigel Benn but came up short, and Andy Lee, another traveller from London, fought (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jnr (in 2012) but came up short too.
“To be the first one – bearing in mind Billy-Joe Saunders and Tyson Fury are knocking on the door – would be incredible. To get in front of them and hopefully achieve it, I’d always been known as the first, and one of them the second. That’s something to really aim for.”
In order to make history though, Ward will have to do what highly-rated Vusi Malinga couldn’t manage and see off Hall.
When Ward claimed the Commonwealth title last year, there were whispers that a possible match up with Hall could be in the offing if the Darlington fighter claimed the world crown in Leeds.
NORTH-EAST RIVALS: Stuart Hall, left, and Martin Ward will go head to head in Newcastle next month for Hall’s world title
As a result, Ward watched Hall’s heroics against Malinga with interest, and like the vast majority of observers, the former Birtley ABC prodigy was impressed with what he saw.
“I was impressed with Stuey’s heart, but I’ve sparred him before and I know how tough he is,” said Ward. “I know what he can give, he’s a terrific fighter.
“He’s a solid performer and he’s always, always super, super-fit so I know I’ve got to be exactly the same. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and that’s going to make me train harder and better.”
Nevertheless, Ward saw enough potential weaknesses in Hall’s performance to convince him that the reigning champion is beatable next month.
December’s victory over Laryea was easily the biggest win of Ward’s career, and confirmed that the southpaw is on the same upward trajectory that carried Hall to successes over Malinga and Sergio Perales.
The pair’s career record boasts a number of similarities – they have both beaten Ian Napa and Adrian Fuzesy, they have both lost to Lee Haskins – and while Hall has undoubtedly improved markedly in the last 12 months, so Ward also feels he is at the peak of his powers.
Throw in the added pressure of Hall having to defend his title, and the ingredients for an upset could be in place.
“You can’t fight every fight like Stuey Hall fought Malinga,” said Ward. “They’re one-offs. Will Stuey Hall be able to give that much against me if times get hard? Like he said himself, he hasn’t got the luxury of being a challenger, he’s the champion now. He’s got pressure on him.
“I’ve got the luxury of coming in with nothing to lose and my style of boxing, me being looser, makes it so much easier for me to go in there with not a care in the world and put a performance on to take the world title.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve been in the gym since winning the Commonwealth title in December and I’m already in great shape.”
Outside the North-East, a number of boxing fans have questioned Ward’s right to a world-title shot given that, two fights ago, he was contesting a non-title six-rounder on a low-key bill at the Stadium of Light.
His IBF ranking entitles him to be a voluntary challenger though, and while he might not be a household name when he enters the ring at the Metro Radio Arena, he is determined to be one when he steps out.
“A lot of people probably don’t know who I am,” he admitted. “If you mention Martin Ward, a lot of people think you mean the London lad who used to be in the GB (amateur) squad.
“So to finally get a bit of exposure for people to know who I am, that’s good. And on March 29, the whole world will know who I am.”