CRAIG Gardner was delighted to get ringside tickets for this weekend’s world title boxing fight between Martin Ward and Stuey Hall at the Metro Radio Arena.
And he’s hoping the IBF bantamweight title fight, heralds a special era for boxing in the North East.
The Sunderland midfielder has always been a big fight fan, and is best pals with fellow Brummie - boxing champion Frankie Gavin who defends his Commonwealth welterweight title on the same bill as Ward and Hall.
Gardner has continued his love of boxing since moving to the North East and is a regular visitor to Sunderland promoter Phil Jeffries’ gym, where he has built up a friendship with English bantamweight champion Kirk Goodings - another fighter on the Arena bill.
Gardner told the Echo: “ It’s great to see all these fights where it’s not just a case of fighting journeyman.
“The North East lads are stepping up to the plate and boxing fans will like that.
“I’m a really good mate of Kirk Goodings and I think he will do the business on the night.
“Just looking at the way he trains is great, his heart, his desire, it’s second to none - he’s a good lad too and I’ll be rooting for him - but I’m also looking forward to the Martin Ward fight and I’ll be rooting for my mate Frankie Gavin who is fighting too.
“I think it’s going to be a great night of boxing generally, there’s a lot of talent coming through in the North East I think and it would be great if there were more national and world title fights in the region further down the line.”
Gardner, who is hoping for a place in the Sunderland squad on Monday night for the game against West Ham.
He and a few of his team-mates will be getting in the mood for the warrior mentality needed on Monday by watching a series of boxing show-downs this weekend.
But the footballer admits that while in some ways football and boxing requires similar discipline, in other ways they are chalk and cheese.
“Individually, I think the boxer’s dedication to sport is unbelievable,” he said.
“As well as being an athlete you have to take physical punishment and the willingness to get knocked down and get back up again, you have to be a warrior to get in the ring.
“Football is a different sport, it’s a team game.
“But I can relate to the need to keep yourself in tip-top condition all the time.
“I love my boxing and I’ve got into it into the North East and I think it’s great that we have a show as big and exciting as this on our doorstep.”