Winning for his mum will be motivating Martin Ward in Newcastle tonight, but the 25-year-old will try not to let family ties distract him from the biggest fight of his career.
The bantamweight from West Rainton takes on Gabriel Odoi Laryea for the vacant Commonwealth title at Newcastle’s Centre for Sport. Also on the bill will be his 19-year-old brother Tommy, who meets Qasim Hussain. It threatens to be more of a hindrance than a help.
“We boxed at the Stadium of Light together (in July) and that was a bit nerve-racking with it being my little brother and knowing how much he looks up to me,” admits Ward, who has a 50-50 record in title fights after winning the English title in 2012, but missing out on the vacant British belt in April.
“When I was fighting I was a little bit on edge thinking about him.
“Neil Fannan’s told me I’m not allowed to watch Tommy this time. He’ll probably be coming out of the ring as I’m making my entrance, so I’ll have to watch it back later. I watched just about all his fights, amateur and professional.”
Martin is not Tommy’s only committed fan. The brothers’ parents have been watching them both since their amateur days with Birtley.
“My mam and dad will be there, they’re my No 1 fans,” Martin says proudly. “It’s my mam’s birthday on the 7th. She’ll be more happy with me winning the belt than a bottle of wine!”
With just five professional bouts to his name, Tommy is still making his way as a featherweight, but the signs are exciting.
“He’s 19 and at that age you feel like it’s you against the world,” says his older brother. “It’s not like that, but it’s a stage I went through.
“He’s with the right man because (trainer) Neil Fannan knows what he’s doing. He’s with Dave Garside too and now (promoter) Mark Clauzel’s taken him under his wing. To have Mark as a friend is a big thing. That will be fantastic for Tommy.”
Further down the track, Martin’s own career is heading in the right direction despite April’s British title defeat to Lee Haskins.
“It was a bit of a setback losing to Haskins but there’s no shame in that because he’s ranked No 1 in Europe,” he says.
“My progression overall has been pretty good. Neil Fannan says I served my apprenticeship for the first two or three years, and now it’s time to kick on.
“I’ve always felt I had the ability to get to the top, but it’s a case of proving it. I’ve got to show it’s not all hype and I can finish the job and win titles.”
Winning titles in the bantamweight division is not easy, though. With Darlington’s Stuey Hall meeting Vusi Malinga for the world title in Leeds later this month, Ward is not even the best bantamweight in the North East.
“It’s a pretty good division,” he says. “I’m ranked No 4 in Britain but there’s no disgrace being behind Jamie McDonnell, Stuey Hall and Lee Haskins. Fights in the future with any of those three would be exciting.
“You look at some divisions and there’s maybe two British fighters at the top, but there’s four in the bantamweights.
“You’ve got a world champion in McDonnell, someone who’s fighting for a world title this month (Hall) and Haskins has challenged as the Commonwealth super-flyweight champion (as well as having won British, European and Inter-continental titles).”
Ward is at least established now as a title fighter. It is a step-up he has not really noticed. “Every fight’s a big fight,” he insists. “If you don’t win the fights leading up to the title fights, you don’t get them. That’s the way I look at things.
“I was a top amateur and won a lot of national titles and that prepares you for it because you’ve conquered the expectations. I don’t really find it any different.
“It’s a longer distance, but that’s the only real change.
“I’ve never boxed 12 rounds before. I’ve done 10 twice (beating the experienced Ian Napa and Jason Booth) and sparred 12 rounds in thegym but sparring’s not the same as fighting.”
Tonight’s card: Martin Ward v Gabriel Odoi Laryea (for the vacant Commonwealth bantamweight title); Andrew Buchanan v Gary Boulden (middleweight, 10x3); Anthony Hardy v Lee Gibbons (welterweight); Anthony Nelson v Anwar Alfadli (super-flyweight); Tommy Ward v Qasim Hussain (featherweight); Robert Ismay v Lee Duncan (cruiserweight); Lewis Scott v TBA (light-middleweight); Danny Hughes v TBA (heavyweight); Peter Cope v Sean Hughes (featherweight).