ESHAM Pickering is running scared of Michael Hunter.

That was the verdict of Hartlepool's British super-bantamweight and his manager Dave Garside after Hunter successfully retained his title with a faultless display last week.

Hunter tormented challenger Sean Hughes at Hartlepool's Borough Hall seven days ago, referee John Keane stopping the contest in the sixth round.

Next up will be a third defence of his title - with the aim of securing a Lonsdale Belt - but the bigger picture features European champion Pickering.

"I was strong, Hughes was no match for me,'' said Hunter. "Next I want to fight Pickering, but he doesn't want to fight me because he knows what he is going to get.

"But it's only a matter of time before we meet. In the long-term it is going to happen. All he has to do is pick up the phone, say yes and we will fight, it's as simple as that.

"Esham Pickering knows it. It will be one of the biggest fights out there for our weight.''

Hunter's manager and promoter Garside led the calls for Pickering to put his European belt on the line against Hunter.

Garside is flying to Gran Canaria next month to watch Pickering fight, and lay down the gauntlet.

"That will show him we mean business,'' he said. "Pickering is avoiding him, we all know it.

"Hopefully he will take up the challenge. At the moment he won't even talk to us. He will go anywhere to avoid Michael Hunter.

"It was a good performance against Hughes. You have to remember he was fighting a very, very awkward boxer - he's a southpaw, but Michael acquitted himself very well and he showed a bit more patience, which was pleasing.

"He is the most exciting super-bantamweight both in this country and Europe and at this moment in time I would say the world.

"His motivation is fantastic and his self-belief second to none.''

Hunter dumped Hughes to the canvas in the sixth, then swiflty finished the contest.

The opinion of officials from the British Boxing Board of Control was that Hunter is a better fighter than Pickering and the 26-year-old added: "I think I would give myself nine out of ten for that performance.

"He hit me with some awkward shots, but I was just too strong for him.

"I want to keep the belt, that's my next aim.''

Garside added: "Michael will defend his title again - that's what we are going for next. Maybe we will look to May or June for it.''

While Hunter took the headlines, there was disappointment for Darlington duo Argie Ward and Francis Jones.

Featherweight Ward tied 58-58 with Peter Allen and Jones lost his unbeaten tag against Ali Nuumembe of Namibia.

"Argie won that fight,'' said Garside. "Everyone knows it - there was only one person in the Borough Hall who thought otherwise.

"Francis put in a great performance against a strong opponent. He lost his contentration a bit, but then got it back.

"His opponent was very, very good, but Francis gave a good account of himself.''

Jones is back in action tonight when he takes on Matthew Hatton in Doncaster - preview in Local Heroes