MARTIN Ward won the English bantamweight title he craved yesterday but was made to battle all the way by an opponent who fought like his career depended on it – which it probably did.
Jason ‘Too Smooth’ Booth has been in the last chance saloon on several occasions – quite literally after retiring through alcoholism before battling back from the brink.
The 34-year-old though has been a top performer in his time and was desperately unlucky not to win the decision in a European super-bantamweight title fight at the Stadium of Light this summer.
But after four defeats in a row, luckless or not, Booth needed this win and if Ward was going to win their fight at Hartlepool Borough Hall he knew he would have to do it the hard way.
Because of the quality of his opponent, Ward had trained harder than he ever had before in his career and it was clear from the opening round that it was just as well he had done.
Neither boxer let the other settle in those first three minutes but the round was Ward’s – the West Rainton man hitting his opponent with more, and better, shots.
Suitably encouraged, Ward spent much of the second round in the centre of the wing pushing back his opponent but with 30 seconds remaining an overhead left detonated on the home fighter’s forehead.
Ward shrugged it off and finished the round with a flurry of punches but it was clear Booth was going to be no pushover.
The Nottingham man started the third looking to get in close and work the body, a tactic which did not work as well as he might have hoped – Ward scoring with jabs to the face in what was an even round.
Booth was to continue with the tactic though, just as Ward was to continue with his and for a while the question seemed to be would it be Ward’s ribs or Booth’s face which crumpled first?
The fight really started to open up in the fourth – Booth’s best round so far and Ward had to recover from a crunching blow midway through the round and a couple of powerful body shots at the end.
By the fifth round, Ward was holding his hands a little lower and fighting on the counter as Booth came forward but it was the West Rainton man who finished stronger.
Round six saw Ward reasserting himself, building on his positive opening rounds, the head shots doing their job, half-a-dozen unanswered at one stage – but Booth him him with a straight right and continued to work the body continually.
Though he had lost the sixth, Booth stormed back in the seventh – his best round of the whole contest. “It was the only one I knew for certain I’d lost,” Ward later recalled.
Ward started it well, scoring with the crisper shots before Booth made connection with jawbone with a flailing right which stunned his opponent before following it up well.
Booth kept the ferocity up in the eighth but was now looking to tie his man up before looking for a big shot while Ward scored with the more accurate punches.
Booth’s corner were roaring encouragement as the fighters got in close and the fight became a real war.
Ward needed treatment for bleeding from the nose in between rounds and Booth came out all guns blazing in the ninth, bossing the opening minute but Ward was resilient and scored regularly.
Booth had clearly left plenty in the tank for that final round and came out like a train but Ward gradually reasserted himself, firing off another volley of facial punches.
Overall, he had been the fitter, faster boxer and though Booth made the fight one to remember, he had no arguments at the final decision – a unanimous points victory for Ward.