Hartlepool boxer Savannah Marshall defends AIBA Women’s World Championship in South Korea

CHAMPION: Savannah Marshal. Picture by FRANK REID

CHAMPION: Savannah Marshal. Picture by FRANK REID

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SAVANNAH Marshall is less than 24 hours from the start of her World Championship defence.

The tournament gets under way tomorrow in South Korea with the Hartlepool boxer the reigning middleweight champion and the number one on the planet.

Marshall is eagerly awaiting the draw at the venue on Jeju Island where she is expecting “tough competition” from a big field.

“It’s great to be here and finally getting the chance to fight,” said the 23-year-old. “We have had a good camp in Japan and we arrived here a couple of days ago.

“It has been a big build-up and now, you just want to box.”

Marshall struck U75 kilo gold in China on her 21st birthday back in May 2012 and is one of the favourites for the title here over the next 10 days.

The England star is braced for a strong challenge, especially from the North American contingent of Claressa Shields and Ariane Fortin.

Her major rival will be Olympic champion Shields.

The teenager took advantage of the quarter-final exit for Marshall in London to clinch the title.

Marshall had beaten the then 17-year-old in the 2012 Worlds in China, where the wonderkid – the red-hot favourite for gold – was outboxed 14-8. It is the only defeat on the American’s awesome 44-bout record.

“I know what Claressa can do,” Marshall told SportMail. “She’s strong, aggressive and has very fast hands.”

And the Headland ABC star knows there is danger from further north – Canada’s Ariane Fortin.

The 29-year-old pushed the Poolie all the way in this summer’s Commonwealth Games final with Savannah taking gold on a split decision.

“Ariane is a tough fighter and a southpaw – she comes forward, she’s strong and aggressive and she’s as good as anyone out there,” said Marshall.

A number of the top 10 are not in Jeju – number three Sweden’s Anna Laurell, a semi-finalist at the 2012 worlds and Olympics, nor is China’s Jinzi Li, the number five who Marshall beat en route to success in Qinhuangdao.

Germany’s Sarah Scheurich (rated 10) is out through injury but there is no lack of talent as Marshall points out.

“Qian Li is the new China boxer, she’s dead tall and fast,” said the 23-year-old. “Love Holgersson is the Swedish fighter – she’s an up and coming boxer who is maturing into a top operator.

The principal Euro threat will come from old rival, Noucka Fontijn.

The Netherlands fighter is one of the few girls to boast a win over Marshall – in the 2011 Europeans, though the world number one avenged that in the EU Championship earlier this year.

“It’s 1-1 between me and Nouchka, she’s a tough fighter,” she said. “There are a lot of decent boxers in my weight, not just the ones I’ve mentioned.

“In my view there are a good seven or eight who are capable of doing well.

“The 75 kilo division is a tough competition, probably the hardest out here of the Olympic weights.

“Katie Taylor is the favourite at 60 kilos with Sofya Ochigava her main rival and both the top girls at 51 are injured, Nicky Adams and Mary Kom.”