Tommy Ward is at British title level and ready to bring the Lonsdale Belt to the region.
That was the message from the unbeaten 21-year-old after beating Robbie Turley at Houghton to set up a championship showdown with James “Jazza” Dickens.
I hope everyone believes I can do it and bring the title back.
Ward outboxed a very determined Turley over 10 gripping rounds in this a British super-bantamweight title eliminator, taking victory via a unanimous points decision.
Turley, who has previously gone the full 10 rounds with Carl Frampton before his IBF and WBA world glories, brought energy, enthusiasm and a never-say-die approach at Rainton Meadows Arena.
But Ward brought quality to the ring to win on all three judges’ cards, John Keane (97-93), Andrew Wright (98-92) and Graeme Williams (96-94).
It was the 17th straight victory of the Neil Fannan-trained boxer’s career – and the best – and sets up an intriguing Liverpool v Hartlepool match in the 8st 10lb division, probably later this year.
Dickens, ironically, made the maiden defence of his British super-bantamweight crown against Tommy’s elder brother, Martin, in the same Rainton ring last November.
The Scouser is first looking to show he is world class by fighting Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban who is considered the best super-bantam fighter in the division and one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet.
But Ward proved on Saturday night that he is certainly at British standard.
“Jazza Dickens is a good fighter, but so am I,” said Ward. “I wanted to prove on Saturday night that I’m on that level for title fights.
“I can fight, I can box, I have heart, I have power, I have speed. I have what it takes.
“I hope everyone believes I can do it and bring the title back.”
Tommy will not fear the Scouser after showing class and guts against the redoubtable Turley.
The opener was tight but Ward had the edge and he set about confirming that from the second onwards.
Using his superior footwork and handspeed, the 21-year-old took control and seemed to have won all five rounds in the first half of the contest, his beautiful counter-punches finding the target.
Turley, to his credit, would not take a backward step, even after taking a right flush to his chin in the sixth.
The 29-year-old, from Cefn Fforest, had a point deducted for holding by referee John Latham in round seven.
But that seemed to encourage Turley forward and while he missed with as many shots as he landed in the eighth, it demonstrated he was not going to bow out with a whimper.
And Dave Garside-managed star, though the more gifted boxer, proved he can stand and fight too .
However, it was Ward’s accuracy which always had him in front, finishing that session with two left upper cuts. Turley was like the Duracell Bunny, he just kept going and going and he competed strongly in the ninth and got the better of the 10th on ‘my’ very amateur scorecard.
But Ward was the better and sharper boxer and there was no doubting the winner.
Even before the MC announced the winner, Turley was congratulating Ward who was carried around the ring by proud brother Martin.
“Full credit to Robbie,” said the younger Ward. “It was a great fight and I hope everyone who watched enjoyed it.
“He is a tricky, very tough fighter. I caught him flush on the chin but he kept fighting and gave it everything I got.
“I stood and fought with him a bit which was silly of me because I should have stuck to my boxing.
“It’s not that I needed to show I can fight as well as box, but if I need to, I can.
“If someone puts it on me and thinks they can get me out of there, I’m not going anywhere. This was the perfect stage for me to show I can box, fight and win.”