I’m totally deflated. I’m in a daze, I’m just gutted,” are not words you expect to hear from a boxer who has just defended his world title for a first time.
Yet it was more than the presence of two North East boxers in the ring which made Saturday’s IBF world bantamweight contest a bit odd.
Under the glare of the live television cameras absent when he won his Commonwealth belt in December, this was meant to be Martin Ward’s shot at overdue respect.
He received plenty, but only for the way he and champion Stuey Hall handled a most unfulfilling three minutes 35 seconds of boxing. The “Clash of the Clans” ended with a clash of heads requiring 14 stitches above the West Rainton challenger’s right eye – ten to a superficial wound, four to a deep one – and forcing a technical draw.
Hall offered Ward a rematch and a pint, but he will have to wait.
The 34-year-old has a mandatory defence first against the winner of Friday’s contest between Kohei Oba and Randy Caballero in Japan.
Despite talk of London, promoter Dennis Hobson is determined it should be in the North East. The IBF’s deadline is June 21 but in reality it is the 12th, when the football World Cup takes over the television schedules.
Unless Hobson can win leeway, Hall may be back at Newcastle Arena on the 7th. Ward was visibly upset in the ring, as was his brother Tommy, a points winner before spectators were allowed into the building. Afterwards, though, he was magnanimity personified. He said: “The fans have been robbed. Everybody knew Stu was the stronger lad. Stu feels deprived of saying he was world-class and I feel deprived I have not had the chance to prove I am at the same level.
“The North East still has a world champion. He is the best bantamweight in the world. All we can do is apologise. He is a true champion. I’m just disappointed I didn’t have chance to dethrone him. He rolled to get out of trouble like a good fighter would. As he pulled out, I did, and the heads came together. The referee (Markus McDonnell) called it an accidental head clash.”
Hall, who had enjoyed a good opening round to the first all-North East world title fight, was as unhappy as Ward. He said: “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.”
Even the suggestion Hobson should look to Darlington’s former football ground could not deflect Hall from the idea of returning to what his promoter calls “the capital of the north”.
He said: “I can’t wait to come back because there’s a big buzz and the next one will be even bigger.”
The fight of the night came when Sunderland’s Kirk Goodings stopped Fishburn’s Gary Fox after eight rounds to retain the English lightweight belt. Yet the masterclass came from Bradley Saunders. Poor Mitch Prince, a fighter of pedigree, took five standing counts and was punched through the ropes during a four-round battering.