MARTIN WARD has been handed a dream opportunity - a shot at the vacant Commonwealth title on home soil.
The stylish Hartlepool-trained bantamweight will take on Africa’s Gabriel Odoi Laryea at Houghton-le-Spring on Saturday, October 19.
It is something of a surprise development but certainly a welcome one after Ward lost in a challenge for the British championship to Lee Haskins in Bristol in April.
Ward had been expected to defend his English belt in the autumn but the Commonwealth belt has become available after Co Durham neighbour Stuart Hall vacated.
Hall was lined up to face mandatory challenger Laryea but with a high world ranking to protect, the Darlington fighter and his management team have decided to give up their crown.
Promoter Phil Jeffries moved in and will stage Ward v Laryea at the Rainton Meadows Arena in eight weeks.
Ward has begun his preparations at Neil Fannan’s Brierton gym and his coach says there is a level of excitement and anticipation already in the camp.
“It’s brilliant to get this opportunity,” Fannan told SportMail.
“Martin’s the English champion but there was no movement on that front so to get this chance is fantastic.
“I don’t think Stuey and his manager thought a fight with Laryea was their best option so they decided to relinquish the title.
“We were lucky enough to be able to step in and we’re excited.”
It is perhaps no great shock Hall has decided not to risk his Commonwealth title against Laryea - the Ghana fighter looks a very hot prospect.
After losing the first two contests of his career, Laryea has put together an 18-fight unbeaten stretch, 11 of his wins coming inside the distance.
But Fannan says that Ward is relishing the showdown which takes place almost on his doorstep.
“Laryea is certainly no gimme,” said the coach.
“He looks a proper live opponent and won his title eliminator against a good boxer, Cobbina Johnson, by a wide margin.
“But Martin is not fazed by the task at all.
“He believes he belongs in the top class and he’s looking forward to trying to win this title.”