Stuart Hall vs. Martin Ward: Preview and Prediction for World-Title Fight
Stuart Hall (pictured) makes the first defence of his IBF bantamweight title on Saturday night against challenger Martin Ward at the Metro Arena in Newcastle.
The fight is notable for a few reasons. It marks the return of boxing to the North-East of England and it is the first world-title bout to be contested by two men from that region. It also gives Martin Ward the chance to become the first person from the travelling community to win a world-title.
It's also arguably the worst world-title fight ever held in the UK to be sanctioned by one of the four major bodies i.e. the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO, barring perhaps the early years of the WBO, before it established a veneer of credibility.
At least it can be said that, unlike some other dubious world-title contests, this should not be a mismatch—because neither man is a proven world-level operator.
The IBF belt was declared vacant when Doncaster's Jamie McDonnell was deemed to have failed to make his obligations and Hall won the vacant title against Vusi Malinga in December.
Hall has a record of 16-2-1 with seven stoppages while Ward is 18-2 with just four stoppages.
Both fighters have lost to Lee Haskins in the past two years, defeats that remain unavenged, whilst Hall also lost to McDonnell in 2011. It is therefore arguable that it is actually McDonnell and Haskins who are the top two British bantamweights.
The winner of this one may well defend next against another of the British contenders, with there being talk that Eddie Hearn would like to make a Hall-McDonnell rematch for the Froch-Groves undercard in May.
That assumes Hall makes his way past Ward—he is the clear betting favourite to do so. Now let's examine why that is.
Both Hall and Ward (pictured) have risen without a trace to the status of world champion and challenger, respectively.
Hall, 34, turned pro at the relatively late age of 28 having lived in Ibiza for several years before he decided to rededicate himself to the sport. Ward, 26, has been active since 2009.
Ward is a southpaw while Hall boxes from an orthodox stance. It is interesting to note that three of Hall's last five opponents have been left-handed, including his last two (Malinga and Sergio Perales) so he should be well adapted to a situation that can often cause problems.
After defeats to McDonnell and Haskins back in 2011 and 2012, the idea that Hall would challenge for a world-title, let alone win one, was laughable.
However, the boxing gods smiled kindly on the Darlington-born fighter and he got his shot against Malinga at the back end of last year.
Hall then pulled out the performance of a lifetime, decking the experienced South African in the third round before sticking firm to his task and winning a clear points victory.
While Hall was fortunate to get a title shot, he had won the Lonsdale Belt outright in his time— a great honour for a British fighter.
Ward has done even less in his 20 fights than Hall had to earn his chance at a belt. Since losing to Haskins last year, Ward's best win, which did earn him the Commonwealth title, came against a man BoxRec rates as only the sixth best Ghanaian bantamweight.
The real reasons Ward got this shot were because he was seen as a marketable opponent and a relatively easy first defence for Hall.
Reports that over 8,000 tickets have been sold, remarkable numbers for a bantamweight fight, uphold the first of those reasons. As for the second, we will have to wait until Saturday night.
Hall is notably the bigger man, standing 5'8", around two inches taller than the 5'6" Ward. He will look to impose his size and strength on Ward, pushing him around the ring and looking to gain a psychological advantage.
Neither of the two men is a serious puncher but Hall does have more in that department than Ward, as shown by his knockdown of Malinga, a feat that the much more highly rated Leo Santa Cruz did not achieve.
The right-hand which decked Malinga is Hall's best punch and, against the southpaw Ward, the style match should mean he has plenty of opportunities to throw it.
Despite two defeats, Hall had never been stopped and his size and toughness would make him a strong favourite if he can drag Ward into a firefight.
Hall also has the edge in experience, both in terms of having mixed in higher company, and having gone 12 rounds on five occasions, compared to just once for Ward.
Ward will rely on speed and movement in this fight as the way to nullify Hall's physical presence and power.
He told Glynn Evans at BoxNation:
Stuey showed in his losses against Jamie McDonnell and Lee Haskins that he struggles to cope with good, mobile boxers. He struggles with what I'm good at and, if I stick to my boxing, I'm going to give him a hard night.
Ward's best punch is a deceiving jab which will need to be at its best to overcome the slight reach advantage that Hall should enjoy.
The flip-side of Hall's advantage in experience is Ward's youthfulness. Ward's last fight was a much easier ride than Hall's so he could well be fresher. The question will be if he can carry that through 12 rounds.
There is some truth to Ward's opinion that Hall struggles with movement and could be outboxed by the quicker, younger man.
Speaking to Boxing News, undefeated prospect Paul Butler, who has shared a ring with both men, described Hall as "a bit stiff and upright," adding that, "his foot movement isn’t great."
As previously mentioned, Hall came through a tough night to win the belt against Malinga, and this is a relatively quick turnaround at the top level, coming just three months after that fight.
Hall told Tom Gray at The Ring that after his last fight, "It took about three weeks to fully recover—my left eye was closed for a week, which included Christmas, and I had stitches around both my eyes."
There is therefore a question as to whether Hall will be fully rejuvenated and operating at 100%.
Although Hall ultimately paced himself well against Malinga, he did look a little over-eager to go for a knock-out, particularly in the second and third rounds, risking emptying his gas tank early on.
Hall definitely thinks he can stop Ward but if he tries to force it that could backfire. Ward has even publicly commented on this:
I think Stuey believes that I won't be able to take his power so I expect him to charge out and put it on me. If I'm still there after four rounds - and I'm extremely confident that I will be - I'm confident that my superior boxing will take over.
Ward does have superior speed and movement in this one but he's not quite as elusive as he thinks he is and often takes risks by holding his hands low.
Having only been the full distance once against inferior opposition, there is a question as to whether Ward has the legs to stick and move all night long.
Hall, speaking to IFL TV, made this very point, acknowledging Ward's evasiveness but also that, "It's a 12-round fight. Once I get to him, I'm going to wear him down."
Paul Butler agrees, praising Ward for being "very slick and slippery...but you can’t really sustain those tactics over a 12 round championship fight."
Butler added that, "Physically, I don’t think he’s [Ward's] strong enough at top professional level and his chin might be a bit suspect. He’s been found out. Haskins just walked through him."
4. Mutual Opponents
The bantamweight division is relatively short on bodies, particularly in Europe, so it's no surprise that Hall and Ward have shared the ring with some of the same men.
There's two meaningful comparisons to be made—Ian Napa, who both men beat, and Lee Haskins (pictured), to whom both men lost.
Napa was a top domestic fighter, winning the Lonsdale Belt outright in his prime, as well as the European title. He fought Hall and Ward right at the end of his career, retiring after the Ward fight, having faced Hall in the bout immediately before that.
Against Hall, Napa was ahead on points when he retired after the eighth round, complaining of heat exhaustion on a sweltering June evening.
Then his contest with Ward went the ten-round distance with Ward winning a close decision. That came a year later and perhaps Napa was over-the-hill by then.
Ward's performance was slightly better but Hall, in only his ninth bout, did well to find a way to win against an experienced opponent.
Against Haskins, Ward was stopped in the fifth round whilst Hall went the distance, albeit losing on wide scores. This underlines the idea that Hall is far more likely to stop Ward than the reverse.
The two men have also sparred each other on more than one occasion and as recently as a year ago. Hall told IFL TV, "I was in total control," whereas Ward was more circumspect, reporting to BoxNation, "It was a good even competitive spar. Neither of us came out on top."
Stuart Hall pulled out the stops to win the title against Malinga and possibly over-performed. This fight will be a good measure of whether or not he can sustain that level of performance, or even improve on it.
Ward is not a great challenger but he does have a chance if he can use his speed and good feet to stay out of range, scoring points on the cards like a top amateur.
He even admitted he had little chance of winning inside the distance when making his prediction to BoxNation, "I'd like to say a stoppage but Stuey Hall's very tough so I'll say a wide points margin."
For Hall to be taken seriously as a world-champion he really needs to replicate Lee Haskins' performance and finish Ward inside the distance.
He probably doesn't have quite as much power as the Bristol fighter so a late-rounds accumulative stoppage is more likely than an early KO.
With a world-title on the line you can expect both men to raise their games. Hall has taken great pride in being a champion and going into the fight with that extra confidence and prepossession should see him through.
Prediction: Hall by late KO or Points