MARTIN Ward’s bid for the IBF bantamweight title was cruelly ended on Saturday by a second-round stoppage after a clash of heads with champion Stuart Hall in the first.
With the fight lasting less than the four rounds needed for it to be an official contest, it was ruled a technical draw.
And that means Darlington fighter Hall holds on to his belt, leaving Ward’s world title dreams in tatters.
The 26-year-old West Rainton man tried to put a brave face on things as he sat ringside at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle with his opponent immediately afterwards.
But it was clear how hurt he was that he had trained so hard, only to be denied the chance to have made more of an impact on the night.
“The fight fans have been robbed,” he said. “It was only a round a and half and that would’ve been a terrific fight.
“Everybody knew Stu was the stronger lad, but I was sticking to my game plan and it was starting to gel nicely.
“Stu feels deprived of saying he was world class on the night, and I feel deprived that I have not had the chance to prove that I’m at the same level that I believe I’m at.
“The North East still has a world champion and good luck to him – he is a very good fighter. He is the best bantamweight in the world.
“Paul Butler is far too small in my opinion. Stu will keep his belt for longer.”
Hall, for his part, was generous in victory. “I’m just gutted at the way it has turned out,” he said. “The crowd has been robbed of a great fight.
“It’s one of those things in boxing, though, and I don’t really know what to say – it was a bad cut.
“I’m still champion and that’s the main thing in my eyes – I felt stronger and I started strong. Martin was warming up too, but I felt like I had the strength in there.”
The brief contest had only whetted the appetite for more – Hall coming out and imposing himself in the opening three minutes but Ward looking game and durable.
There were a couple of times the pair traded punches, with Hall coming out the best, but Ward had always planned for the long haul. And he had expected to take a great deal of punishment on the way to what he hoped would be the night he added a world title belt to the Commonwealth one he already owns.
Unfortunately, the boxing public were denied an intriguing contest by a clash of heads which opened up a wicked cut above Ward’s right eye.
Within seconds of the start of the second round, it was clear that the fight could not be allowed to continue.
Now Ward’s world title dreams are over – for the moment at least – with 33-year-old Hall looking to move on to fresh challenges.
Promoter Dennis Hobson said: “We’ve been robbed of a bit of drama.
“There is always drama in a fight of this magnitude – the first time two North East kids have fought each other for a world title – and there was a sense of expectation. But it was dangerous, a terrible cut.
“People are saying what about a rematch, but that’s a bad cut and he might need plastic surgery on it.
“IBF rules are that Stu should defend by June 21 and there are two kids fighting an eliminator for the number one spot, so we’ll see where we get to and will consult with the IBF.”