BEHIND the huge black curtains away from the ring where Stuart Hall and Martin Ward's historic world title fight came to a premature end, the two North-East boxers reflected on a frustrating night for them both.
This was not what either of them had been expecting at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena. After just one round of three minutes, sufficient damage had been inflicted on Ward, the challenger to Hall's IBF world bantamweight belt, for referee Marcus McDonnell to stop the contest at the start of the second.
“I think you owe me a pint,” smiled Ward after Hall had suggested he couldn't even be bothered to go for a drink at the after-show party. He arguably did.
Hall is unlikely to encounter an easier way of retaining his world crown than this.
But frustration was also written all over Hall's face.
This was a man who had gone through the hardest night of his career in December, when he finished with one eye closed to defeat South African Vusi Malinga and claim the vacant belt over 12 adrenaline-fuelled rounds.
Among the crowd were Glenn McCrory, the former World Bantamweight champion, seated alongside Jack Charlton, the England 1966 World Cup winner
This time around, in his native region and surrounded by thousands of his own fans, he walked away with the IBF belt again - only without the 17th win he prepared 12 weeks for for on his 19-fight record.
An unexpected, and unfortunate, clash of heads between the two in the corner towards the end of a first round, which Hall had started confidently, had proven costly.
“I am just gutted the way it has turned out,” said Hall. “It's one of those things in boxing and I don't really know what to say. I felt stronger and that I started strong, Martin was warming up too.
“I felt like I had the strength in there. Who knows what would have happened. It has never happened to me before. I am in a bit of a daze. I am still champion and that's the main thing in my eyes.”
Hall and Ward on the walk to their stage
A technical draw, the rulebook outcome of a stoppage inside four rounds courtesy of an accident, was not what Hall wanted on his boxing CV. Yet, unlike Ward who faces plenty of hard work to be given another shot at that level, he knows his rising reputation remains intact.
Despite turning 34 last month and with his schoolboy dreams of becoming a world champion fulfilled, Hall has no intention of relinquishing his belt. How long will he keep going?
"My life's been mental. Where I've come from to where I am now, I'm living the life as long as possible,” said Hall. “I am living the life I want, I can't even be bothered to go for a drink these days, I want to stay world champion.
Martin Ward is treated by his team at the end of the first round – but despite their efforts there was nothing they could do to close the wound and the fight was stopped shortly afterwards
“If I'm keeping that belt I have to stay in great shape. This is my life and if you want to stay world champion you have to live like a world champion. Who knows how long it is staying with me. Ryan Giggs is still going at 40 ...”
Whoever Hall faces next, with the American Randy Caballero or Japan's Kohei Oba his likeliest next defence in June, he at least has the security of another outing as world champion.
For Ward, proving his qualities outside of the ring by revealing his admiration for the reigning champion, he is not sure where he will turn next. Once his head wound, which required ten superficial stitches, heals, he will look to defend his Commonwealth title before stepping up once more. “Everybody knew Stu was the stronger lad,” said Ward, who recorded his first draw on a 20-fight record boasting 18 wins. “Stu feels deprived of saying he was world class and I feel deprived that I have not had the chance to prove that I am at the same level I believe I am at.
Martin Ward gets out of the way of a Stuart Hall attack
“But the North-East still has a world champion and good luck to him. He is a very good fighter. He is the best bantamweight in the world. Stu will keep his belt for longer. I'm just disappointed I didn't have chance to dethrone him.”
The way Hall had opened the contest suggested a routine defence. Ward, however, has shown before he will dig in and push until the final stages.
And with ambitions of becoming the first boxer from a travelling background to win a world title at stake, he is unlikely to have given in cheaply despite boasting just one previous 12-round appearance.
Promoter Dennis Hobson, who also looks after the West Rainton fighter, will be focusing on Hall's next big date in the short term, but said: “We want to give Martin an opportunity to show what he can do.” Where that leads, only time will tell. And for Hall?
The disappointment is clear to both Stuart Hall and Martin Ward as referee Marcus McDonnell calls the bout a technical draw
Hobson said: “Stu is going to be an absolute superstar in the North-East. He looks a mountain at bantamweight. He looks a tremendous athlete. Stuart will take some beating for a long time to come.”