Boxers Stuey Hall and Martin Ward become rivals for a night

Stuey Hall and Martin Ward know just what each other are capable of, which is why the latter tells Stuart Rayner theirs could be the fight of 2014

Mike Egerton/PA Wire Stuart Hall in action against South African Vusi Malinga
Stuart Hall in action against South African Vusi Malinga during their IBF Bantamweight title fight at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday December 21, 2013. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

One of the many good things about being a champion boxer is once you hit the heights you can make the sport come to you.

On March 29, world championship boxing will be in Newcastle for the first time since Amir Khan fought Dimitry Salita for the WBA light-welterweight title in December 2009.

Both headline acts, Bolton-born Khan and Ukraine-born Salita, were imported from the United States.

Newcastle Arena’s next show will be an all-North East affair.

While Darlington’s Stuey Hall and West Rainton’s Martin Ward battle for the former’s IBF world bantamweight belt, Birtley’s Jon-Lewis Dickinson will defend his British cruiserweight title and one from Sunderland’s Kirk Goodings and Fishburn’s Gary Fox (to be decided in Rainton Meadows on March 7) will challenge Jamie Sampson for the English lightweight strap.

Local fighters Bradley Saunders, Josh Leather, Simon Vallily, Johnson McClumpha and Craig Dixon will also be on the undercard.

Not so long ago, Hall’s name was only known beyond the region to real boxing aficionados. Despite being the Commonwealth champion, Ward is probably still in that boat.

Hall’s courageous performance to defeat Vusi Malinga in what many regarded as the fight of 2013 catapulted the 33-year-old into North East sporting folklore as only the region’s second boxing world champion. That he fought the last three rounds unable to see through his swollen left eye only added to the fairytale. It also underlined Hall is nobody’s pushover.

Hall said: “When I look back, I’m glad the fight panned out the way it did. If he had stayed down when I knocked him down in the third round, it would have been a much easier night and I might have been able to honour the promises I made of meeting people for a pint after the fight.

“In the end, I wasn’t really in a state to do anything afterwards, but I’m glad that was the way things went.

“I’m glad he didn’t stay down and the fight turned into the kind of epic contest it became.

Boxer Martin Ward
Boxer Martin Ward
 

“In a way, I’m even glad my eye was closing the way it did because it shut a lot of people up and proved just what kind of a fighter I am.

“There were a lot of doubters, but I gained a load of respect from that win.

“I haven’t had any bad comebacks from that fight, and I think I got into a lot of people’s hearts by showing how tough I am.”

If Malinga perhaps underestimated Hall before Christmas, there is no danger of Ward doing that.

The man eight years Hall’s junior but with one extra fight and two more wins on his professional record said: “I kept it quiet but in December there were rumours if Stuey beat Malinga there was a possibility this fight could happen.

“I was watching with my fingers crossed praying for Stuey to beat Malinga, not just because he’s my friend and a North East fighter, but I knew I had the chance to possibly be the opponent for his defence.

“I was impressed with Stuey’s heart but I’ve sparred him before and I know how tough he is.

“He’s a terrific fighter, a solid performer and he’s always, always super, super-fit so I know I have to be the same.

“I have a lot of respect for him and that’s going to make me train harder and better.”

Ward added: “Other people have said Stuey doesn’t deserve it, of course he does.

“To come back after a lot of problems outside of boxing and do what he’s done, is a great achievement in itself. I know he respects me and I respect him.

“It’s a big statement to make but if things fall right on the night it could be fight of the year.”

If some were scared off by Hall’s heroics in Leeds, Ward has never been troubled by self-doubt.

He said: “If people had offered me the fight as a Northern Area title fight I would have jumped at it.

“You can’t fight every fight like Stuey Hall fought Malinga. They’re one-offs.

“Will Stuey Hall be able to give that much against me if times get hard?

“He does not have the luxury of being a challenger, he’s the champion now. He has pressure on him.

“I’m coming in with nothing to lose and my style of boxing makes it so much easier to go in there with not a care in the world and put a performance on to take the world title. “He has to defend his belt and he knows I’m a tricky opponent.

“He believes he can win – he’s a world champion – I believe I can win.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you today, I’d be at home with my feet up.

“I don’t think Stuey Hall’s out of my league. Some people will say, ‘Martin Ward doesn’t deserve it, he’s not good enough’ but ask people who know about boxing am I really the underdog in this fight? They’ll say not really. If you mention Martin Ward a lot of people think you mean the London lad who was in the GB (amateur) squad.

“To finally get a bit of exposure for people to know who I am, that’s good. On March 29 the whole world will know who I am.”

That Hall already knows should rule out any complacency.

He said: “There’s no chance of me taking this lightly. Listen, he has his chance and he’ll have the same hunger I had ahead of my last fight.

“I’ve only been training four days, but I was out running yesterday and could feel myself blowing as I started to go up a hill.

“Then something in my head seemed to say, ‘listen, you’re an elite, world champion. Now get on with it’.

“I went to another level. I could push myself even more.

“I’m a thoroughbred and I have to remember that. I’m not taking my foot off the gas at all.

“I know how big a deal it is being world champion, but it hasn’t changed me. I’m still just me.”

 
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