World champion Stuart Hall believes Martin Ward will be in for his worst nightmare when he makes his first title defence this weekend.
The North East pair clash in an exciting local derby at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle on Saturday night, with Hall putting his IBF bantamweight crown on the line for the first time since capturing it against Vusi Malinga last December.
The Darlington ace dazzled in a gruelling, hard-fought, battle with Malinga in Leeds last year, winning a unanimous points decision that saw him follow in the footsteps of the North East's only other world champion in Glenn McCrory.
Hall's win has now set up the first-ever all world title fight between two men from that region, with the newly crowned champion vowing to make it an occasion Ward will want to forget.
"I don't believe Ward can hurt me," said Hall. "He's going to try and be slick and use his boxing skills but I'm going to take him somewhere he's never been before. That Malinga fight took me to places, and levels, I had never been before and was even unsure I had.
"It wasn't easy at any stage and that's how uncomfortable I'm going to make it for Ward. I came through, but will he?
"He's going to try and get away but I'll find him and then start working on him. He's going to wish that he never signed for the fight when he realises how hard it is in there with me.
"It will be a test on every level. He's thinking it's going to be his best night ever but I'm going to make sure it's his worst nightmare."
The 34-year-old, who dramatically changed his life around to become world champion, is only now beginning to come to terms with his new found status, and can't wait for fight night to do battle with the tricky Ward, who has won 18 of his 20 contests.
"I'm getting used to being world champion now. It's been a few months and it has finally started to sink in just what a great achievement it was," he said.
"I know Ward will be coming out there looking to take away that belt from me but now I've got it I'm not going to let it go.
"Ward's a good fighter, a southpaw, but I've fought two tougher southpaws in my last couple of fights. I believe I'm at a different level and intend to show that on Saturday night. I know the North East is going to be fully behind me - it will be one hell of an occasion."
A sizeable crowd is expected in the 11,000 seated Metro Radio Arena, with Hall getting the chance to fulfill a long held ambition of his by boxing in a top prizefight in front of his local fans, just like his idols of the past.
"It's been a dream of mine to fight as a world champion in front of my home crowd," said Hall.
"Bringing the belt back here and doing what I dreamed of when I saw [Joe] Calzaghe and [Ricky] Hatton and guys like that fight is really going to be something special for me.
"The atmosphere is going to be absolutely buzzing. Throw in the fact that this is a sort of North East derby with my fans and his fans it's going to be unreal. What an occasion - I really can't wait."
'Stuey' is looking for his reign at the top of the division to last for a while as he eyes potential showdowns with some of the other leading bantamweights.
One potential clash, should he come through Ward, is a rematch with former world champion Jamie McDonnell, a man that beat Hall on a close points decision in 2011.
"First I need to get past Ward but when I do I want Jaime McDonnell next," said Hall. "We had a close fight when we last fought and I was inexperienced back then. I've grown now as a fighter and as a person and I have no doubts that if we meet again I would beat him.
"I would go into the fight as the world champion and that gives you a belief that is hard to explain but I know I would be more than a match for him the next time around.
"There will be other options around like Paul Butler, who has moved up and wants the fight. I'm open to any of these guys, maybe even looking at a unification fight with one of the other champions out there like Anselmo Moreno or Shinsuke Yamanaka - bring them all on."
The bill will also see Jon Lewis Dickinson defend his British cruiserweight belt against Neil Dawson and undefeated rising star Frankie Gavin put his Commonwealth title on the line against Sacky Shikukutu.
Hall vs. Ward is live on BoxNation (Sky Ch.437/490HD & Virgin Ch.546) this Saturday from 7pm. Visit www.boxnation.com to subscribe.Tags: Stuart Hall