Roy Kelly’s boxing verdict on Martin Ward’s world title challenge against Stuart Hall

DRAW: The referee signals the fight a technical draw
DRAW: The referee signals the fight a technical draw

THE end of the world.

It may feel like it today for Martin Ward, Neil Fannan and Dave Garside and the vast army of fans.

But the end of the road? No chance.

Ward’s dream of becoming IBF world bantamweight champion unravelled in the most freakish and dramatic of circumstances in Newcastle on Saturday night.

Just over two lively minutes into the North-East derby at the Metro Radio Arena, the heads of Ward and Stuart Hall collided.

It left the challenger with a wound gushing blood and just one minute for Tommy Conroy to attend to it in the, sadly ironic, red corner.

The veteran trainer did his best and there was renewed hope when Ward landed a good combination which found its mark at the start of round two.

But as soon as Hall’s fist connected with the head of the Hartlepool trained fighter, in stepped referee Marcus McDonnell.

A short walk to the corner ended with the London official waving it off. Hartlepool timekeeper Stewart Lithgo’s clock stopped at 35 seconds.

As it was an accidental clash of heads, it was declared a technical draw, with Hall retaining his belt.

Had it lasted four rounds-plus it would have gone to the scorecards of Phil Edwards, Steve Gray and Dave Parris.

But after just 215 seconds, they were not required.

It was one of the biggest anti-climaxes since the maiden voyage of SS Titanic, except, of course, no-one died here. This was sport. This was boxing.

But it was a desperately sad and premature end to a fight which had promised so much even just on the evidence of three minutes.

“There is no reason why we couldn’t do it again,” Ward told SportMail. “If I come through my first Commonwealth defence and Stuey Hall wins his mandatory fight then it could happen.

“The North East fight fans have been denied what I believe was warming up to be a classic.

“Stuey Hall knew he was in for a hard fight, especially when I caught him with a right hook and left hand at the start of the second round.

“I believe I am still a world class fighter – I believe I could have won but I acknowledge Stu is a great fighter and champion.

“But we’ll be back and will have another go if the chance comes.”

Promoter Dennis Hobson showed little interest in a re-match in the post-fight press conference.

The way the International Boxing Federation dealt with the aftermath of the Carl Froch v George Groves furore sugests they are a governing body with morals.

They ordered Froch to give Groves a return or face being stripped of his belt. The re-match was made.

But that was after a controversial stoppage.

Saturday night was the result of an accident and not a disputed refereeing decision.

The IBF will undoubtedly be sympathetic, but hopes of a return would be slim.

Hall has a mandatory defence in June and, should he come through that, there could be a clamour for a Battle of Britain with former champion, Jamie McDonnell.

Ward’s world hopes could come in another version of the bantamweight title.

Hartlepool legend Michael Hunter moved into the top 10 of the three major world bodies thanks to three successful European title defences.

The Dave Garside-managed talent could follow that same path and, as the current king of the Commonwealth, he has good foundations in place.

“I’m 26 and I’m in the prime of my life,” he said. “I’m maturing as a fighter and as a man and I feel stronger physically.

“I can see myself getting better and better.

“I am a champion and I want to stay a champion, whether it’s Commonwealth, British or European or hopefully world. I believe I belong at that level.

“I know Saturday was over very soon but people could see my confidence, how sharp I was. I’m just gutted that I never had the chance to prove how good I am.”

Ironically, the best chance of a re-match could come for the Commonwealth title.

Should Hall lose his IBF crown and should Ward keep winning the old Empire belt, it is a showdown the North-East would be desperate to see. For all the supreme confidence of both men, no-one knows what would have happened.

They will meet again at some point, it’s just a case of when and for what.