MARTIN Ward proved that boxing can overcome brute force when he lifted the Commonwealth bantamweight championship.
The 25-year-old from West Rainton produced a display of sublime skill and movement to bamboozle African KO king Gabriel Odoi Laryea over 12 one-sided rounds in Newcastle.
Saturday night’s confrontation for the vacant 8st 6lb title looked like being a clash of styles – the entertainer against the assassin.
Laryea had knocked out or stopped 11 of his 16 wins in his native Ghana and carried the reputation and ambition of a man intent on slaying the home hero.
But Ward and coach Neil Fannan had honed their tactics and then put them into practice inside the square ring at the Centre for Sport.
The slick southpaw put on the performance of his life, mixing the three Ds to perfection – defence, discipline and dynamism.
Laryea barely landed a glove on the English champion who won a unanimous points decision.
It was a faultless display, though the new champion, modestly, disagreed.
“I’m not sure it was faultless,” he smiled.
“I think it was a case of a job well done. I thought I boxed well but it was down to the gameplan Neil set out for me.
“Instead of going out and saying ‘we’ll get the first three or four in the bag’ or whatever, we decided we’d take it a round at a time.
“The idea was to stay sharp on my feet, keep switched on and concentrate for three minutes at a time.
“I think he landed two right hands for the whole 12 rounds. He was swinging and hitting thin air.”
Ward could not have summed it up much better.
While he hit and scored, Laryea lunged and missed.
Ward made a confident start, landing with his right jab and also connecting with the left to the head of his 23-year-old rival, who smiled twice in response. But you don’t win fights with smiles.
After moving forward and scoring, Ward would move back out of range and avoid the big swings coming back from Laryea.
And that was pretty much how it continued for round after round after round.
Ward’s defence was impeccable, his quick feet and reactions meant Laryea missed on a constant basis and when the Accra man got close, his guard was strong.
The away fighter began the ninth, 10th and 11th rounds with more aggression and by that stage he was that far behind he needed a KO.
But once he kept missing, Ward stepped back in with his handspeed to score repeatedly to the head of his rival.
And the discipline was such that not once did he allow himself to be carried away and get stuck in.
He maintained the tactics right through to the final bell rung, fittingly, but one-time cruiserweight champion, timekeeper Stewart Lithgo.
The decision was a formality, all three judges marking it big for Ward – John Keane and Andrew Wright both marked it 119-109 and Michael Alexander a 120-108 shut-out, the same scoreline as this reporter.
It was impossible to see which round Laryea actually won, but for Ward, it was all about winning the prize.
“I boxed well behind a good jab and there were some decent left hands and a few nice right hooks, a little bit of everything,” he said.
“But the main plan was to keep it long with a good jab.
“I think people saw a different Martin Ward to what you normally see, like the higher defence.
“It was something we’ve been working on in the gym. Yes he has a reputation but it was something I needed to work on.
“I am not the finished fighter by any stretch of the imagination. It was something I needed to polish up to become a better boxer.
“You can’t get hurt if you don’t get hit and that was the plan.”