STUART HALL has been offered a starring role in British boxing’s biggest night of the year – provided he sees off Martin Ward to retain his IBF World Bantamweight title this weekend.
The Northern Echo understands that Darlington fighter Hall has been lined up for a chief support slot on the undercard of the IBF World Super-Middleweight rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves at Wembley Stadium on May 31.
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Martin Ward is trained in Hartlepool and he was at Pool’s home defeat to Mansfield on Tuesday night
While talks remain at a formative stage, there will be a concerted push to stage a rematch between Hall and Jamie McDonnell, the Yorkshireman who was stripped of the World Bantamweight title last autumn.
McDonnell beat Hall in September 2011, but a series of contractual wrangles meant the pair were unable to meet again for the world title in December.
McDonnell was forced to relinquish the title, enabling Hall to claim the vacant belt when he out-battled Malinga. However, there has been a growing clamour for the British duo to lock horns again in what would be comfortably the biggest contest of Hall’s career.
Staging the fight as the chief support to Froch vs Groves would be fraught with difficulty, as Hall is currently being promoted by Dennis Hobson while McDonnell, who severed his ties with Hobson in acrimonious circumstances last year, is now under the wing of rival promoter Eddie Hearn.
However, the lure of fighting in front of 90,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium would almost certainly be sufficient for both camps to shelve their differences and stage the rematch.
Tentative plans are believed to be in place, although they will be rendered irrelevant if Hall fails to see off fellow North-Easterner Ward when they meet at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on Saturday night.
“I’m aware of a few discussions that have been taking place,” said Hall. “But at the moment, they’re the furthest thing from my mind. Other people can concern themselves with what happens next – my only thought is beating Martin Ward on Saturday.
“I’ve always said I want bigger fights than Martin Ward in the future, and whether those fights involve Jamie McDonnell or not remains to be seen.
“But the bottom line is that I won’t be thinking about any other fights unless I take care of Ward, and that’s the first thing on my agenda.”
Having survived a 12-round onslaught from Malinga when he claimed the world title in Leeds, Hall will start as a firm favourite when he takes to the ring against Ward in two days time.
Ward, who hails from West Rainton, has only fought beyond ten rounds once in his career, and while he claimed the Commonwealth title with an impressive victory over Ghanaian Gabriel Laryea in December, the 26-year-old boasts much less top-class experience than his opponent.
Nevertheless, Hall will not be taking anything for granted after an intensive training camp that has left him feeling even sharper than he was when he took on Malinga.
“I’m in ideal shape, and I know I’m going to have to be,” he said. “I’m not taking Martin Ward lightly. If anything, all this talk about what might come next has only made me even more determined to put on a show this weekend so I can take my career to the next level.”
While Hall is looking to match Glenn McCrory’s record as the North-East’s only two-time world champion, Ward is hoping to make history by becoming the first ever world champion from the travelling community.
Brought up on an Irish travellers’ site, Ward is hoping to go one better than the likes of Tyson Fury and Billy-Joe Saunders by claiming a world title.
The former Junior ABA champion is a regular at Appleby Horse Fair, and already has plans for this year’s festival if he is the holder of a world belt.
“Every year, I take my girls to Appleby Horse Fair, just as I used to go when I was a boy,” said Ward, who has been training under the watchful eye of Neil Fannon in Hartlepool. “This summer, hopefully, I’ll be able to stand on top of the highest hill at Appleby and show off the IBF belt.
“If I pull this off on Saturday, I doubt I’ll ever have to buy myself another drink! Other travellers such as Henry Wharton and Andy Lee have fought for world titles but nobody yet has won one.
“Travellers are a very close-knit community so you always have loads of friends, which is a marvellous thing. There’s also real competitiveness. I’d go the horse fairs and regularly would cross paths with other boxers from the travelling community. We’ve all become very good friends.”
Ward’s career to date boasts similarities to Hall’s – the pair have both beaten Ian Napa and lost to Lee Haskins – and while the southpaw might lack his opponent’s experience at international level, he will not be lacking in confidence when he enters the ring.
“Ideally, I’d have had a few more fights at Commonwealth level, but what was I to do - turn a world title shot down?” said Ward. “What I will say is that, forget world titles, I’ve had sufficient preparation to fight Stuart Hall.
“I may have had only 20 pro fights but that’s one more than Stuey and, if you study our cards, we’ve both only fought a handful of top guys. Add that I had a superior amateur record to Stuey and there’s not as much of a discrepancy as some people think.
“I’ve known of Stuey Hall since our amateur days. I know exactly what he’s about, and I know what I’m capable of.”