Boxing - Anti-climax as Hall retains IBF belt with technical draw

After all of the hype surrounding the historic world title fight between Darlington's Stuart Hall and West Rainton's Martin Ward, it all ended in disappointment when the fight was halted in the second round due to an accidental clash of heads.

Boxing - Anti-climax as Hall retains IBF belt with technical draw

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Stuart Hall (Getty)

Hall was defending the IBF bantamweight title he won against Vusi Malinga in December and the clash with ward was the first ever world title fight between boxers from the north east of England.

The scene had been set perfectly and the atmosphere at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena was electric as both men entered the ring. The local fans were split in their support and had earlier seen another local hero, Jon-Lewis Dickinson retain his British cruiserweight title in his third defence, meaning he was the first fighter from the region to win a Lonsdale belt outright.

Hall had won the title with what some people have described as a superhuman performance and came into the fight with his confidence boosted after winning the belt, particularly after what he had to go through that night. Ward, who remains the Commonwealth bantamweight champion, came into the fight on the back of his best win to date and although some questioned his shot at the title, he started the first round well with good movement and footwork.

Hall came on strong towards the end of the round and forced Ward to put more into his shots and it was beginning to look the all-action tussle we had been hoping for. Hall's assault in the last few seconds of the round brought an accidental clash of heads in which Ward came off worse and although the corner were given the chance to patch their man up, there was no way Ward could have continued as he could have sustained some permanent damage.

After 35 seconds of the second round, referee Marcus McDonnell stepped in and took Ward back to his corner and the decision was taken to stop the fight despite Ward's brave and genuine intent to continue. Sometimes the fighters need to be protected from their own bravery and this was certainly one of those occasions.

The questions which are now being asked is whether the pair will face each other in a rematch or if Hall goes on to defend against a number of options which lie before him. Liverpool's Paul Butler was at ringside pushing his claims for a challenge and there is also Doncaster's Jamie McDonnell who was unfortunate to lose the same belt outside of the ring. That match may bring its own political situation after promoter Dennis Hobson investing heavily to help McDonnell win the title, only for him to move stables to Matchroom soon after.

There is also an argument for Lee Haskins, at least from a domestic point of view. Haskins has wins over both Hall and Ward and has won all three fights since a failed attempt at the European title in December 2012. There are also unification options against the other champions, all from Japan, however their low profile may reduce the value of those fights and Hall's next match will most likely be against Ward, McDonnell or Haskins.

If Ward doesn't get the immediate rematch, it's not necessarily the end of his world title dreams. He still has the Commonwealth title to defend and if he gets one or two good defences under his belt, he can still manoeuvre his way back into contention. Time, as always, will tell.

Despite the anticlimax, there was soon good action for the fans to enjoy. Dickinson's defence against Yorkshireman Neil Dawson was not the barn burner that some had hoped for but the likeable County Durham man would have been silly to take on such a heavy handed opponent in a slugfest and he instead boxed in a very controlled manner, dominating on the outside with a solid jab and left-right combinations, as well as getting the better on the inside with attritional hooks and uppercuts.

Dawson was game throughout but was eventually stopped with 27 seconds remaining in round 10. Dickinson had shown good patience and when he saw the opportunity to close the show, he launched a non-stop assault and referee Phil Edwards stepped in to end the contest. There were no complaints from Dawson who was simply not able to land enough clean shots against Dickinson's solid, compact style.

With Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly moving up to cruiserweight, there are certainly options for Dickinson. There is also Tony Conquest on the domestic scene who takes on Ovill McKenzie in April so the winner of that may be looking to challenge Dickinson's reign.

In between the two historic fights for the region, Birmingham's Frankie Gavin and Sedgefield's Bradley Saunders had their chances to shine against some sterner competition and despite both men winning, it was Saunders who took his opportunity with both hands, stopping Scotland's Mitch Prince in 4 rounds with a superb display of timing, power and aggression. Prince has a narrow points defeat to Willie Limond on his record and came into the fight with ambition but that was soon knocked out of him and it was clear early on that Saunders was in complete control.

Gavin was not so impressive, although it should be pointed out that his opponent, Namibian Sacky Shikukutu looked a skilful opponent who carried a bit of a bang. So much so that he had Gavin down in the second round – the first time Gavin has been down in his career – and at that stage it looked like shaping into an entertaining contest. Unfortunately, the fight didn't catch fire and Gavin comfortably out-boxed his man towards a wide points win and the general feeling from those at ringside was that Gavin has failed to excite in recent fights.

When you turn pro after such a stellar amateur career, it is important to move forward at the right pace. Gavin's last two fights have not been at the required level and although he has won comfortably, it seems fans are looking for him to be stepped up. I'm sure Gavin will be looking for the same and if he wins his next fight in style, his recent performances will soon be forgotten.

One fight that was moved to later in the night and therefore not shown on Box Nation was Kirk Goodings' defence of his English lightweight title against Gary Fox. It was another local derby with Goodings hailing from Sunderland and Fox from Fishburn. There had been some spice in the build up to this one and Fox had assured fans ahead of the fight that he was going to leave it all in the ring and he certainly kept his word in that respect.

From the first bell, Fox was putting heavy pressure on Goodings and although it made for an untidy affair at times, it was absorbing throughout. Goodings was timing Fox well in the opener but Fox adapted well and tightened his defence in the second round and he was forcing himself on Goodings at every opportunity.

It was a fairly close encounter until the 6th round when Goodings opened with a body assault on Fox and this saw Fox back off for the first time in the fight. Goodings recognised this and started targeting the boxy and eventually stopped Fox with 26 seconds remaining in the 8th round. It was a great finish to the fight and although Fox fought bravely and gave it his all, he simply didn't have any gas left in the tank and there were no complaints about the stoppage.

Goodings continues to progress in a division which has incredible depth on the domestic scene and there are a host of options available to him. He is the first man to stop Fox, a man who went the distance with the highly rated Scott Cardle. He couldn't have been more delighted after the fight and it was his fans who went home with the local bragging rights.

It was a night of mixed emotions in the end but an overall success for boxing in the region. The Dickinson brothers continue to go from strength to strength with Jon-Lewis' brother winning the English light heavyweight title last weekend and along with the talent that is coming through, this will certainly not be the last big fight night to enjoy. Whether that next big night will involve a rematch between Hall and Ward remains to be seen. If not, there's no reason they can't meet a little further down the line.

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