MARTIN Ward is knocking on the Commonwealth title door already – after just 18 minutes back in the ring.
The Hartlepool star was in imperious form in outpointing Ghana’s champion Isaac Owusu at Rainton Meadows Arena.
It was Ward’s first outing since a badly-cut eye destroyed his IBF World title dream back in March against Darlington’s Stuart Hall.
But the 26-year-old put that disappointment and a long period of inactivity behind him in some style yesterday.
Owusu arrived in Houghton with an impressive record of 23 wins (18 inside the distance) and as a recent former Commonwealth title eliminator contender.
But the 29-year-old, the occasional big swing of his left arm aside, was given a boxing lesson by the Neil Fannan and Dave Garside boxer.
With Ward now committed to operating at super-bantamweight, Fannan hopes he can now get into the mix at 8st 10lbs.
“I think Martin is close to boxing for something good,” said the trainer.
“His two fights before this have been for the Commonwealth title and world championship so I think we’ll take anything really now.”
A shot at the Commonwealth super-bantam belt – or certainly an eliminator – would appear plausible.
The way Ward performed yesterday in Houghton, it was as if he’d never been away.
But, aside from the single round against Hall at the Metro Radio Arena which ended in a technical draw and 15 stitches, this was the southpaw’s first real action for 12 months.
Ring-rust could have been an enemy but Fannan was always confident the “entertainer” in Ward would prevail.
“It’s been a long time (since he boxed) but because of the injury, the longer the time the better,” he said.
“I’ve just let him tick over since the Hall fight.
“It was a career-threatening injury.
“When I spoke to a surgeon, he said something like that would be two years for complete rehabilitation.
“Obviously for a boxer that is not possible, but I have left him for as long as I could
“But it’s worked better in a way because he’s been champing at the bit.
“He couldn’t wait to get going and start entertaining people again.”
And Ward did just that on the Cream of the Crop show, despite a brief cut scare.
Thankfully, it was only a nick for the NES Securities-sponsored boxer and it was sustained over the left eye, not the right from the Hall match.
Fannan expertly attended to it after the second round and it caused him no more trouble.
Ward was imperious in the clash of the southpaws.
His sharp right jab was magnet-like to the head of Owusu and there were two superb right-left-right salvos.
The ultra-accurate right landed time and again and it was was often followed by some wonderful combos.
Owusu tried to load up his big left, but when he swung hard in the third he missed and Ward stepped in with a right to the body and a left to the head.
The African did get one to connect in the fifth just to remind the home star not to take things for granted and there was a minor rebuke for a low shot from Ward.
But those two incidents were a minor irritation.
This was Ward’s day.
Some of his movement and combinations were out of the top drawer and his series of right-left-rights which finished with shots to the body were worth the admission money alone.
Ward is back and it looks like a case of watch this space