Hall and Ward camps give their verdict on the biggest night in North-East boxing history

The Northern Echo: West Rainton's Martin Ward with Darlington's Stuart Hall, IBF world bantamweight champion West Rainton's Martin Ward with Darlington's Stuart Hall, IBF world bantamweight champion

TONIGHT is the night when Darlington's Stuart Hall will try to end another County Durham boxer's hopes of becoming the IBF bantamweight champion of the world.

The Northern Echo:
THE CHALLENGER: Martin Ward on his way to the English bantamweight title against Jason Booth at Hartlepool Borough Hall in 2012

It will pit the orthdox style against the southpaw and support for West Rainton's challenger Martin Ward has increased significantly over the last few weeks.

Hall, eight years Ward's senior, is still regarded as the favourite given the incredible performance he turned in against Vusi Malinga to win the vacant belt back in December.

There is no doubt, however, that Ward is capable of causing an upset at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena.

The Northern Echo:
WORLD CHAMPION: Darlington's Stuart Hall just seconds away from winning the IBF world bantamweight title against Vusi Malinga

The IBF belt will still be in the North-East when all of the action has finished on Tyneside tonight, but where actually will it be heading afterwards ... Darlington or West Rainton.

Northern Echo Sport has been with the boxers, the trainers and the promoters all week in the build up and there are differences of opinions when it comes to predicting who will win at the end of the first all North-East world title bout.

Here's what some of those close to both camps have had to say.

British cruiserweight champion Jon Lewis Dickinson

"I've known Martin Ward since I was 14 and he's one of the classiest boxers you'll ever see. He's got such fast hand speed and a good boxing brain. I can see him outboxing Stuey.

"Stuey's going to be throwing a lot of shots but Martin's not going to be there to hit. He's got that bit extra up here (points to head), he's a bit cleverer.

The Northern Echo:
Jon Lewis Dickinson (left) and David Dolan at the Stadium of Light ahead of their fight in July 2011

"Stuey's a great fighter and what he's achieved is amazing but I'd love to see Martin win a world title. I'm backing him to do it. Martin joined Birtley before I did. There's a great picture of me not much shorter than I am now and Martin's tiny! But we're really good friends.

"I can't even remember the first time I met him but I remember when we started competing in championships together. We were always competing together in different age groups. He's always been a really good boxer."

Martin Ward's trainer Neil Fannan, who was in Michael Hunter's corner when he won the lesser-regarded WBF bantamweight crown in 2002

The Northern Echo:

"Martin Ward is super fit, so there will be no problems like that. If the occasion doesn't get it to him, and I don't think it will, then he is in with a fantastic chance.

"The best thing about the fight is that nobody gives him a chance, so that means he has no pressure. The pressure is what he puts on him.

"Nobody has ever seen the best of Martin Ward. Nobody. I have seen flashes like when he beat Ian Napa and Jason Booth, he was good in patches.

"But he looked an improved fighter mentally when he won the Commonwealth title. I'm expecting a Martin Ward victory, I really am.

"Martin does seem the complete package. He is a different animal to Michael Hunter. Michael was everything on adrenaline, whereas Martin is a calm character. We have an ideal opponent for his calmness to prevail.

"My opinion is that if it goes the distance then it will be Ward all day long. If Hall can put him in trouble ... the only way Hall wins is by stoppage. I do feel that about any fighter in the world if they got in a ring with Martin Ward."

Stuart Hall and Martin Ward's promoter Dennis Hobson

The Northern Echo:

"This is Stuart's homecoming. He has climbed up the ladder very quickly. It's a fairytale and now Martin Ward is looking for his fairytale.

"Martin is a Commonwealth champion, as was Stuart. It is a special occasion. There are a lot of people writing Martin off, but it depends who imposes their style on this. Stuart is proven. We know what he brings.

"Martin is an unknown entity at this level and he can surprise. Great fights are about styles and when Stuart is in a fight he is always going to bring lots of blood and guts and plenty of heart. It's a great fight in prospect. It's a special occasion.

"Stuart has come to the fore at the tender age of 32 and 33. He is like a wine or a car which has done low mileage. He has a few years left in him. The thing about him is that through his experience in life and boxing, he is switched on. He can think for himself. He knows what it feels like to want to get there. He knows he needs to work harder to stay there.

"To have an opportunity like Martin has got is brilliant. He has leapfrogged a few people to get here because he hasn't been Commonwealth champion for a year.

"To get this opportunity is a fairytale. He will make history if he wins by becoming the first boxer from a travelling background to win a world title. There's a lot at stake."

Stuart Hall's manager and trainer Michael Marsden, who has also previously been in Martin Ward's corner 

The Northern Echo:

"It's a very good fight and it is a potential banana skin but I don't think it will be. The fight will be won because Stuart is a world-class operator.

"Martin is a very good fighter, but through my own experience with Stu, to step up from domestic level to world is a huge gulf. Not necessarily in skill, but confidence and ability. "It's about being dragged into places where you've never been before. Stuart has done five 12-rounders. When he won that world title I could see in the sixth round in his face that he was in a place he had never been before.

"He had to fight every round like a world title round. Stuart has been there before. He is strong, hits hard. He is too much for Martin Ward. Martin has not been at that level of Jamie McDonnell or Vusi Malinga. Stuey has.

"Martin has a very good chance because he has a chance to prove everybody wrong, that can be huge. But I think Stuey will be too big too strong and has too much experience.

"The good thing is that it is a North-East derby. The complacency is not there because it's about the pride of the North-East as well. It's a good fight really."

Bradley Saunders' promoter Francis Warren, who has helped put the bill on Box Nation

The Northern Echo:

"I don't think anyone is questioning Stuart's right to be a world champion after what he did against Malinga. I was proud and privileged to be at the ringside that night and that smile he had on his face with the belt around his waist will live with me forever.

"As a result, I really can't see him relinquishing that title lightly. Martin wouldn't be in there if we didn't see it as a fair and genuine fight, and because this is a world-title contest, there are never going to be any gimmes. But having gone through a war to beat Malinga, it's going to take an unbelievable performance to take the title away from Stuart.

"Martin has never really been tested at this level and that could be a factor. I don't think anyone truly knows how he's going to cope, although if you could put any boxer into a trench and ask him to fight his way out of it, then Martin Ward would be right at the top of the list.

"He's a tough, honest fighter who'll never give in, but the performance Stuart produced against Malinga was almost superhuman. He was battered and bruised, but he still knocked down a fighter who had looked like he had a granite chin in his previous fights. If he reproduces that, he'll be exceptionally hard to beat."

The North-East's first world champion Glenn McCrory

The Northern Echo:

"I think it's a good fight. They're both champions. Obviously Martin Ward has done very well to get the Commonwealth title and then find himself fighting for the world title.

"I think they're both talented but I just think Stuey is the grittier. He's a bit more solid; he's got more substance. And I think that will be the difference.

"I think Martin will fight well and put in a good performance but I think it's Stuey Hall's time now and he wants to enjoy being world champion. And I think he'll be victorious on Saturday night.

"Martin can be flashy and has good skills, and Stuart's just determined and he's an old-time pro. No frills, just gets on with the job.

"I'll be there bringing Stuey into the ring and I'll be as proud as you could ever be. It will be my crowning glory."

Steve Wraith, North-East boxing promoter

The Northern Echo:
Boxing promoter Steve Wraith, left, with Earnie Shavers, centre, and his coach in 2008

“I really hope it’s gong to be a great night for North-East boxing and there’s a lot of friendly rivalry around the place. The region has been known as a hotbed of football, but now it’s a hotbed of boxing.

“Football have changed and now youngsters are looking at boxing and this will showcase the sport in a way we’ve never seen before. There’s been some poor title fights here before - Amir Khan, Joe Calzaghe fought nobodies up here. This is two of our own boxers for a world title, with 15 fights on a strong undercard.

“We’ve been promoting the sport over the years and this is the big one. I want people to walk away having had a very very good night.

“The main bout is hard to call. Most people will sit on the fence, not because we all know Martin and we all know Stuart. It is a very hard one to call, and it’s about who wants it the most.

“I’m certain Jon-Lewis Dickinson will win and walk away with the Lonsdale belt for keeps - even Glenn McCrory doesn’t own one!

“With Stuey and Martin, the latter is a bit annoyed at the negative comments - and Twitter and Facebook play a part these days. People say Stuey will win handsomely and he won’t take it for granted. He wanted it most in Leeds to beat Malinga and now it’s up to Martin to show that same attitude. It’s going to be a hell of a one to call - maybe we get a draw and then we can do it all again!’’

Billy Hardy, former British, European and Commonwealth champion, from Sunderland who will be commentating ringside tonight for BBC Tees

The Northern Echo:

“Stuart’s achievement to win the title was massive, not just for him but the whole area. He’s a true warrior. It’s a great chance for Martin - there would be easier fights out there for Hall. I’m pleasantly surprised that two North-East lads are fighting for a world title in the North-East. I’m more surprised he takes on Martin, who is a tough cookie. Martin is slick and hungry. He would have fought Hall for an area title, this is a world title. A tough night for both guys.

“It’s a big night for all, it could un-nerve Martin as it’s his biggest stage, but knowing him he can maybe block the crowd out and sometimes they don’t come into it. Stuey is used to the big crowds.

“Stuey wants to keep the belt, this is big, big ask for him to know now it’s all about the money. He needs to keep hold of the belt - it means so much to him.

“How will it go? I sit on the fence. This fight will be a cracker, it’s made for the North-East. I can’t even say a gut feeling, it’s an even fight and whoever wants it more on the night will win it.’’

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