Even the formidable case Stuey Hall carries it around in underlines what an impressive prize the IBF world bantamweight belt is, especially to a man from the title-starved North East. But to his challenger Martin Ward tonight, something even more valuable is on the line: respect.
Four months ago, Hall had little in the wider boxing community.
With the cameras rarely daring to travel this far north, little was known about the Darlington man’s talent. An epic 12-round win over Vusi Malinga in the run-up to Christmas showed he had plenty, and even more spirit.
Tonight it is Ward who is being belittled as unworthy of a title shot and he plans to win over the boxing community in just the same way at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena.
“Of course it spurs me on but it’s starting to get on my nerves now that people are starting to say I’m not in Stuart Hall’s league, which is absolute rubbish,” says Ward, eight years Hall’s junior but with a remarkably similar record. “He is a good fighter but I’m a good fighter and it’s going to be a good fight.
“People are jumping the gun a little bit. They’re forgetting there will be two men in the ring, not one.
“I’m pretty confident we’ll put on a good show for the fans and I’ll be crowned the new world champion.
“I just need the chance. It’s two men, a 50-50 fight and anything can happen. You can have a clash of heads, take a lucky shot, get caught cold, even trip and hurt yourself. So why write one man off so much?
“I’m looking forward to proving people wrong. I’ve been doing it all my life. Being from the travelling community it’s been hard work getting accepted but I’m looking forward to the challenge.” Hall insists he is not falling into the trap Malinga did with him, but his own self-confidence means he cannot help but be dismissive of his opponent’s chances.
“I am not under-estimating him,” he is at great pains to point out. “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 did not expect to put him down in the third (round). I’m glad he didn’t stay down, I am glad I finished with a shut eye because 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.
“I broke Malinga’s heart in the tenth round. I’m pretty sure his trainer was telling him he would walk through me for the six weeks building up to our fight. They did under-estimate me, which was a big mistake. I know what Martin is capable of. But I am going to drag him into 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’m not bothered whether people should be saying it is a closer fight because on Saturday night people will be saying that they were right, that Stuart Hall was the better fighter and was always going to win. I will do whatever it takes to beat him.
“His friends think he has a chance. Look at his record, who he has fought, who he has been beat off – he has been chinned twice (stopped by Lee Haskins, one of only two men to beat Hall, and Mickey Coveney). 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.”
Following Glenn McCrory as a North East world boxing champion is clearly suiting Hall.
“I’m relaxed, the most I have ever been for a fight,” he says, convincingly. “I am loving the build-up. I think that’s how it feels when you are world champion. I’m soaking it up and enjoying being an inspiration to kids.”