WEST Rainton fighter Martin Ward has been handed a dream opportunity – a shot at the vacant Commonwealth title on home soil, writes Roy Kelly.
The stylish bantamweight will take on African Gabriel Odoi Laryea at Houghton’s Rainton Meadows Arena on Saturday, October 19.
It is something of a surprise development, but certainly a welcome one after Ward lost in a challenge for the British Championship to Lee Haskins in April.
Ward had been expected to defend his English Championship belt in the autumn, but the Commonwealth belt has become available after Stuart Hall withdrew.
Hall was lined up to face mandatory challenger Laryea, but, with a high world ranking to protect, the Darlington fighter and his management team have decided to give up their crown.
Promoter Phil Jeffries moved in and will stage Ward-Laryea in eight weeks.
Ward has begun his preparations and his coach, Neil Fannan, says there is a level of excitement and anticipation already in the camp.
“It’s brilliant to get this opportunity,” Fannan said.
“Martin’s the English champion, but there was no movement on that front so to get this chance is fantastic.
“I don’t think Stuey and his manager thought a fight with Laryea was their best option, so they decided to relinquish the title.
“We were lucky enough to be able to step in and we’re excited.”
It is perhaps no great shock Hall has decided not to risk his Commonwealth title against Laryea – the Ghanaian looks a very hot prospect.
After losing the first two contests of his career, Laryea has put together an 18-fight unbeaten stretch, 11 of his wins coming inside the distance.
But Fannan says that Ward is relishing the showdown.
“Laryea is certainly no gimme,” said the coach. “He looks a proper live opponent and won his title eliminator against a good boxer, Cobbina Johnson, by a wide margin.
“But Martin is not fazed by the task at all.
“He believes he belongs in the top class and he’s looking forward to trying to win this title.”
The time looks right for the Dave Garside-managed boxer, who has won 17 of his 19 appearances.
He showed glimpses of his ability during his British title thriller with Haskins in Bristol before being stopped in the fifth round by the European number one.
Ward bounced back from that setback when he defeated Hungary’s Adrian Fuzesi in the Summer Rumble at the Stadium of Light last month.
But the bout was somewhat scrappy, perhaps proving that the 25-year-old needs to be on the big stage to bring out the best in him.
Fannan believes a potential 12-round classic with the dangerous Laryea will certainly do that.
“Martin is the English champ and he beat Jason Booth to do it, which was an excellent win,” said Fannan.
“But English champions are not that well known.
“The Commonwealth title is a big one and if he beats Laryea then he will be right up there.”