This Saturday an all British IBF bantamweight title bout will be contested between champion Stuart Hall and challenger Martin Ward in Newcastle, England, while a third British star lurks ominously in the background.
Former IBF titlist Jamie McDonnell handed Hall his first defeat in 2011 and the opportunity to avenge that setback is never far from the new champion’s mind. Even with a world title bout at hand, Hall made it abundantly clear that his sights are firmly locked on his old conqueror.
“I’ve had an offer to fight Jamie McDonnell and I’m more than willing to take it,” said Hall, who is 16-2-1, 7 knockouts. “The plan is for us to fight on the undercard of Carl Froch versus George Groves in London on May 31.
“I’m the champion and if I get past Ward then I’ll be stating my case to get the rematch with Jamie. The promoters may bump heads but I want it, Jamie wants it and the public want it – let’s get it done.”
Hall is referring to the fact that McDonnell, after winning the IBF title last year, severed ties with Dennis Hobson Promotions, who now represent Hall, and anticipates that this could cause serious problems in negotiations.
McDonnell was stripped of his IBF strap, for failing to strike a deal with mandatory challenger Vusi Malinga, and Hall entered the fray to claim the title with a dynamite showing against the game South African in December.
The 27 year old McDonnell has been fighting on Matchroom shows since late last year, although no formal promotional agreement has been announced.
Hall said, “It’s my legacy and my career, and although there’s history with Jamie and my promoter, this fight has to be made. Jamie didn’t lose his belt in the ring and in his head he’s still champion.
“To me, I’m the champ, so let’s see who deserves the belt.”
The 34-year-old Hall certainly earned his title in the ring. The victory over Malinga was arguably the finest performance posted by any British fighter in 2013, but there was a price to be paid for the bravery he displayed that night.
“It took about three weeks to fully recover,” said Hall. “My left eye was closed for a week, which included Christmas, and I had stitches around both my eyes. The hard part was when I tried to pick up my one year old and she was scared to come near me, because my face was a mess.
“Still, when I look back on the fight, I’m glad it went the way it did. On the night I was hoping Malinga would stay down, when I dropped him in the third, but I gained some respect by coming through in an absolute war.
“The fans have given me a lot of credit.”
So what about the forgotten man in this equation? Martin Ward, who is 26 years old, has a record of 18-2 (4 knockouts) and is ranked just inside the top 15 with the IBF. Does Hall foresee the crafty southpaw as a potential banana skin?
“Not really,” said the champion. “Ward is from a travelling community and they all talk the talk, but now he has to walk the walk. I’ve given him the shot, he’s mouthed off a bit and that makes this a big fight for the North East of England.
“One thing is for sure I haven’t taken my foot off the gas and I’m hungrier than ever. Ward might be quicker than Vusi Malinga, but he won’t be anywhere near as tough. Vusi was an extremely hard opponent and you can’t buy the experience I gained that night.
“Ward will be Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday, moving and trying to outbox me. That’s the only way he can possibly win, but I’m going to drag him into deep water and make him fight.”
Hall’s world title shot came a little quicker than even he expected, but the Darlington man has been enjoying his new found status.
“I’ve been in the public eye a lot more,” said Hall. “I received invites from schools and had the chance to speak to the kids. It’s great to be an inspiration to them, and I’ve also been asked to get involved with Age UK, which is a support organization for the elderly. I like helping charities, anyway I can.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing