GLOBAL boxing champion Stuart Hall has warmed up for the first defence of his bantamweight crown in Newcastle tonight by asking challenger Martin Ward: 'I'm world class, are you?'
More than 6,000 North-East boxing fans will be packed inside the Metro Radio Arena tonight to see two of the region's hottest talents go head-to-head for a world title for the very first time.
Never before have two men from this area entered the ring together with such a prize at stake and Darlington's Hall, who won the IBF belt in December, is in no mood to let it slip away just four months after landing it in Leeds.
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Hall's reputation reached new highs that night, four days before Christmas, by defeating classy South African Vusi Malinga in a display of sheer guts and determination, despite being hailed the underdog.
This time around he faces West Rainton's Ward as many people's favourite, but Hall said: “I did think the Malinga camp under estimated me. I am not under estimating Martin Ward.
“They did under estimate me, which was a big mistake. The difference is, I know what Martin is capable of. I am going to drag him in to places he has never been before.
“I have so much will to win. Martin thinks he has a big chance but my will to win will overcome his will to win. I am a proven fighter, he is not a proven fighter yet. I will do whatever it takes to beat him.”
Ward, 26, aims to become the first traveller to win a world title and has only lost two of his 20 contests, winning 18. Hall has had one less outing, winning 16 and losing two. Both have previously lost to Bristol's Lee Haskins.
Hall said: “Both camps are saying the preparation has gone well. I am not under estimating him. People might be but I am not. I just can't wait to do a job on him and prove he is not in my league.
“When I look back on the Malinga fight, I'm glad he didn't stay down when I got him down in the third. I am glad I was sore for three weeks and that I finished with a shut eye. I gained a lot of respect that night.
“To get through a fight like that you have to be world class, I am world class. Has Martin Ward got that? We will see Saturday night.
“His friends think he has a chance. On paper you look at his record, who he has fought, who he has been beaten off. He has been chinned twice. I haven't been close to being chinned. I have too much of a hard chin. If he has a suspect chin then he is going to be in big trouble.”
With Ward a more tactical boxer and Hall renowned for his all-action approach, the clash of styles could lead to an explosive encounter in the ring tonight.
Over the course of the last few months, Hall has become something of a celebrity in the region, with regular public appearances.
He is not ready to give any of that up so soon and is determined to ensure he helps others along the way.
Hall said: “I am loving the build up. I think that's how it feels when you are world champion, you want it to continue. With more fights I think it gets easier. You have to embrace the other side of it. You just get more confident the more you do and I have. I am enjoying it.
“I'm soaking it up. I am enjoying being an inspiration to kids, I have really liked going in to schools, I will probably do a lot of charity work after this in the community.
“I have been in three or four schools now, I've talked to young kids from all ages, giving them advice. Where I have come from nobody knows the truth, a few friends do, and people will be more shocked.
“I have told the kids to stick in. Those are the best days of your life really. I was lucky to box and that has got me out of a hole because it has saved my life.
“These other kids coming through these days need to stick in, they need to get an education, that's the most important thing. I didn't get an education. That's what I am drumming in to others.”
His appearances have helped boost ticket sales for tonight and is relishing the opportunity to defend his belt in front of the North-East public.
He said: “I would have liked to have won the world title in the North-East. It had to be Leeds, but that was one of the greatest nights of my life.
“Newcastle is a dream come true. I watched Ricky Hatton win there years ago, the same belt I have got. Now I have got it. It's just a dream and I am enjoying every moment.
“This is a North-East fight. I want bigger fights and I want bigger fights than Martin Ward. This is just the next step up and he will not be getting in my way.”