Martin Ward knows he must deliver the boxing performance of his life to become British super-bantamweight champion.
The 27-year-old will face James “Jazza” Dickens tonight at the Rainton Meadows Arena, where he challenges for the Scouser’s Lonsdale Belt.
Ward is, without doubt, one of the most naturally-gifted boxers in the country, but he is ready to fight in the trenches to wrest the title from his old friend and rival.
The West Rainton boxer acknowledges the size of the task – rating Dickens as just below Britain’s world champions in the 8st 10lb division, Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg.
“I think he’s a better boxer than he is a fighter and I’d probably say that about myself,” said Ward.
“I believe I’ve got the ability to beat Jazza.
“But it may come down on the night to who wants it the most and who has the biggest heart.
“It might be a night to have to go to trenches, but if that’s the case I have the best trainer in the world to guide me.
“Neil Fannan brings out the best in people and brings out the best in me.
“If it becomes a war and the fight ends up in the trenches I believe I can perform in there.”
Dickens will start as slight favourite at the Houghton arena, where he makes the maiden defence of his crown.
The 24-year-old, who has lost only once, is, like Ward, a southpaw.
And the Dave Garside and Neil Fannan fighter hopes it’s not a case of third time unlucky tonight.
Ward has been beaten just twice in a 25-bout career – both by southpaws, Mickey Coveney and Lee Haskins.
But the challenger says that he has trained dilligently for a ‘portsider’.
“I’ve been sparring with Kid Galahad who’s as good a southpaw as there is in the country so I’ve done all the preparation I can do,” he said.
“I can’t do any more, it’s a case of roll on the fight.
“I’m expecting Jazza to start very sharp, because that’s what he does.
“I think he will slow – I’m not saying he’ll run out of gas but I think he’ll slow.
“One of the things I think I have in my favour is that I have a terrific engine, I don’t slow down.
“For me, I just can’t wait for the fight – boxing is my job and I love it.”
It is Ward’s first major fight since a cut eye ended his bid for the IBF world bantamweight against Darlington’s Stuart Hall in Newcastle – the North-East derby ending in a technical draw.
“Everyone’s ambition is to fight for the world title,” he said. “I don’t count that.
“I participated in a world title bout, which unfortunately went wrong. I never got the opportunity to fight.
“I know some people say I was lucky to get that fight and maybe they are right.
“Those who went to watch that night at the Metro Radio Arena never got to see me fight.
“I want people to watch me and say he can fight. If I do that, and win, then I’ve achieved something, haven’t I?
Ward always cuts a relaxed and friendly figure, certainly outside the ring.
The ex-Commonwealth champ is as confident as this writer has ever seen him.
“There will be a few nerves on the night, but I am just looking forward to it more than anything,” said Ward, who weighed in at 8st 9½lbs, half a pound lighter than his rival.
“I just love boxing, there’s always a smile on my face
“I believe, on my day, I’m as good a super-bantamweight as there is in this country, so why wouldn’t I be relaxed and confident? It’s another night at the office for me.
“I believe I’ll become the British champion, but if he beats me – and it’s a big if – then I’ll be the first to shake his hand. I’ve never been a bad loser, so if he does beat me, fair play to him. But he won’t.”