Martin Ward lay flat on his back and could not move a muscle.
But this was not a KO defeat – this was the 27-year-old absolutely motionless in his changing-room at the Rainton Meadows Arena.
I wanted to win the title for Neil Fannan – he’s a great trainer and dedicated man.MARTIN WARD
As the doctor stitched one of the FOUR cuts he received in his brave British super-bantamweight title defeat to James “Jazza” Dickens, Ward was only able to move his lips.
The Hartlepool fighter was devastated that he could not deliver the title for his loving family, adoring fans and trainer Neil Fannan.
But he demonstrated he can fight and that he belongs on the top table of the super-bantamweight division.
Indeed, his words in pre-fight interview with SportMail would prove prophetic.
“I told you before the bout that I want people to say ‘that Martin Ward can fight a bit’,” said the challenger whose head looked as if he had been 12 rounds with a cheese-grater rather than the British champion.
“No-one’s really had the chance to see me fight before but I did here and I’d like to thank the fans for their brilliant support.
“I wanted to win the title for Neil Fannan – he’s a great trainer and dedicated man.
“I’m sorry I let him down, but I wanted to make him proud of me – he said he’s proud so I can’t ask any mote than that.”
Fannan was not upset at his boxer.
But he was angry at referee Victor Loughlin’s handling of the war at Houghton, claiming that the cuts – which required in excess of 30 stitches – were the result of head-work from the champion.
This reporter, who has never seen the inside of a boxing ring in his life – and would never have the guts to do what these warriors do – would not like to say that they were caused by deliberate actions or not.
But what I do know is that Ward proved himself a great boxer and fighter.
He did that in 12 ferociously-fought rounds between two old friends-turned-foes.
And the nature of the scrap was reflected in the differing scorelines.
Judge Dave Parris gave it to Ward 116-112, yet his colleagues at ringside marked it for Dickens – Howard Foster 115-114 and Phil Edwards 116-113.
For what it’s worth, this writer had his own very unofficial score as 115-114 to Dickens. Had Ward got it, only the most partisan of Dickens fans could have complained. It really could have gone either way in a magnificent spectacle.
Ward had predicted a quick start from the champion, but it was the challenger who was out the blocks.
The Dave Garside-managed talent jabbed and double-jabbed his way through the first round in some style.
Yes there were two lefts from the 24-year-old Scouser, but the quality and quantity came from the challenger.
The volume was down in the second but the class was still there, though Dickens began to find his range.
Ward suffered two cuts in round three as Dickens stepped up his assaults and while he missed with as many as he landed in the fourth he had – for me – done enough to win it.
But the ex- Commonwealth champ got forward in the fifth and produced the better boxing and was again trying to force the pace in the sixth.
Rounds seven and eight proved desperately hard to judge – you could not have got a cigarette paper between the fighters who slugged it out at close quarters in the middle of the ring. This reporter gave them to the champion.
Ward displayed the best boxing in the ninth and the 10th was another good battle which could have gone either way.
But Martin had the edge in the 11th and 12th sessions, coming forward and getting through with both fists and raising a number of great cheers from the capacity crowd when he made Dickens miss.
And while, ultimately, he was beaten on a split decision, he was certainly the people’s champion after a herculean effort.
Lesser men, feeling the claret stream down the head and face would have buckled.
But not Ward who fought to the very last ring of Stewart Lithgo’s bell.
Choosing a winner was almost impossible – did you go for the slicker boxing, the volume of shots, which came from Ward.
Or, did you side with the stronger punches of Dickens which may have been fewer in number but greater in impact?
“It was very, very close, but I thought I’d won it,” said the Fannan-trained southpaw. “I felt it came down to the last two rounds.
“I wouldn’t say it was a bad decision because it was a good close fight.
“I just think Jazza got it for some eye-catching shots.
“I don’t care what anyone says, I thought I was the better boxer, neater and tidier, but I believe he got it for those wild swings that landed.
“But he’s a good kid, a genuine top fighter, but so am I.”