PROMISING Durham boxer Martin Ward took the latest step on the road to the top when he claimed a comfortable win over the experienced Jason Booth to win the English bantamweight title yesterday.
The 16th win of a 17-fight professional career at the Hartlepool Borough Hall was the strongest indication yet of his ability and now the southpaw is being lined up for a crack at a British belt.
Booth, himself a former British champion during a 46-fight career, never gave up, showing the sort of spirit which has become his trademark for more than a decade in the sport, but there was a sense that Ward's time has come.
There is a confidence from within the 24-year-old's camp that he has the talent to go all the way - if he proves he wants it that badly.
"I have him down to go as high as he wants," said Hartlepool-based trainer Neil Fannan. "If Booth had the quality to fight for world titles then I don't see any reason why Martin can't.
"I don't see any point in defending this title because there is no-one out there. We are hoping we get a little help off the board (British Boxing Board of Control) now. He showed his next fight should be a British title fight."
Ward, a product of the reputable Birtley ABC, has a touch of arrogance inside and outside the ring, which is the trademark of the best champions, and he is keen to build on his success yesterday. The judges handed him the contest 96-95, 97-94 and 97-95
He said: "I promised my mam and dad I would take them to Las Vegas one day. Whether that is for a holiday or watching a fight, we are going to go one day. Hopefully it's to watch me fight for a world title.
"Everyone has to start somewhere. For me it's winning the English title, anyone who wants to get it on in the bantamweight division will get it on."
Booth's fifth consecutive defeat - the 11th of his career - always looked on the cards from the first round when Ward started the stronger.
Despite picking up a blooded nose in the seventh, Ward had built a strong lead and Booth required something special to turn things around.
However, Ward had other ideas. Despite Booth's intent in the final round, the North-East boxer still picked his shots off with greater accuracy to claim his seventh win in a row.
"It was an unbelievable fight," said Ward, who is ten years younger than an opponent seemingly in the latter stages of his boxing days.
"You have to give credit to Jason Booth. He turned up and gave absolutely everything. For him it was make or break. Unfortunately for him he came up against me.
"If it had been anyone else he probably could have won because he boxed out of his skin. He showed everyone there that he is not done. I have just proved it's a young man's sport.
"Being partly Irish and drinking Guinness I know that the best thing comes to those who wait."
In the other contests on the bill there was a clean sweep for the North-East.
Newcastle's Rob Ismay was the first to record a comfortable 40-37 win over Scunthorpe's Jody Meikle in the lightweight division.
Middlesbrough's classy Mohamed Waqas made it three wins from three by edging to a 39-37 success over Stoke's Brett Fido.
There was a hometown triumph for Hartlepool's Callum Winton. After a surprise draw on his debut at the Stadium of Light in July, he defeated Mansfield's Rob Sharp 39-37.
Horden's Greg O'Neill made his fight look easy. He had Lithuanian Andreas Capur on the canvas three times in four rounds before winning 40-35.