From the Cathedral city of Durham, rising from the dormant coal mines that had become synonymous with life in the North East, fighting men were ten-a-penny. Whether it was older blokes arguing over something menial outside their local pub or young amateur boxers, challenging Southern dominance at the ABAs – grit was hereditary.

Following the emergence of former British champion, Lewis Ritson and former Olympian, Josh Kelly as electrifying professionals, boxing has made a welcome return to the top of the country. Despite shows hosted in Newcastle’s Metro Arena, some of the area’s best fighters continue to fly under the radar and, despite achievements of their own, are forced to travel in search of championships.

“I don’t actually know”, said Thomas Patrick Ward (26-0, 4KOs) when asked about his lack of British promoter. “I didn’t really know any big promoters or anything like that [when I turned professional]. I work with Neil [Fannan] and Dave [Garside] and we said we’d get a few fights under our belt and then look for the big promoters, but things were going well, so we didn’t really look to change. You need the big promoters because they’ve got the TV.”

“You see some of em’ now, young fighters being built up and they’re saying they’re the next best thing and then all of a sudden – they get beat. The media has built them up to be something they’re not, no disrespect to the guys, it’s the media doing that to them. At this present moment, if I had a big promoter I would probably be world champion by now. We’ve done everything ourselves, but we’ll be happy if the big promoters wanna sit down and talk. [Dmitry] Salita’s coming up with some bits and bobs, so I guess we’ll see what’s on offer.”

The former British super-bantamweight champion was fresh from a triumphant trip to the United States. After defeating domestic names such as James ‘Jazza’ Dickens and Sean Davis, he’d cemented himself as the best on on British shores, before comfortably beating three travelling foreigners sincerely out of their depth. It wasn’t the progression Ward had been expecting.

As the man from County Durham plotted his next move and climbed the world rankings, it was a message on Facebook that had alerted him of a potential clash Stateside, televised on Showtime. A typically unusual cocktail of modern boxing and social media, seemed to provide the exposure he’d craved from the major promotional companies in his own country. After an excellent career as an amateur, travelling was nothing new, but as Thomas explained, negotiating the terms of the bout wasn’t quite his specialty.

“I was happy about the fight. They contacted us’ through Facebook and asked if I wanted the fight, I said yeah, but you gotta contact me’ trainer and me’ manager. They spoke to them, a deal was struck and I was more than happy to go to America and fight on Showtime, fighting on a big show. I was really looking forward to the fight as soon as I got there. It is [mad that it was arranged on Facebook] but I don’t think their managers knew who me’ trainer or manager was, so they just contacted me. I gave them the details and we got the fight made.

“I don’t think they really knew much about me, at all, to be fair. On YouTube, there’s only me’ fights with James [Jazza] Dickens and Sean Davis. There might be one or two early ones on there, but they didn’t really know who I was! They thought I was gonna go over there and he was gonna knock me out – they obviously got a shock with that! It was no surprise to us, though.”

Ward continued, “We went to the States off our own back, we do have a one fight optional deal with Salita Promotions. The fight might happen again with Hernandez, but we’ll see what the offer is. I’ll leave that to my manager. I’m just happy when they give us’ a date and we can get ready to fight, I don’t care who it is. As long as I’ve got enough time, I’m happy enough to fight anybody!”

His performance in the WBO world title eliminator, when facing Jesse Angel Hernandez, was sublime. That solid amateur grounding, slick movement from the waist and perfectly timed counter-punching had shocked the home fighter. The crowd were unaware of the tenacious Ward and his seemingly endless ability before the first bell, however after four rounds they’d watched their charge being scraped from the canvas after a classy, thudding left hook from the flowing stylist.

Now ranked third in the world by the WBO and thirteenth by the IBF, the battle with Hernandez was a calculated risk that had paid dividends. Travelling to the States, he took his friend Lewis Ritson as well as his loyal team, determined to make it on their own terms. His link with Salita Promotions could lead to further exposure in America, however Ward wasn’t resting on his laurels. Reigning world champion, Emanuel Navarrete was set to face dethroned British-Ghanaian Isaac Dogboe in a rematch, with the gem of the North East setting his sights on his next outing.

“I’m closing in on the world title shot. For me, I wanna fight any of the world champions cos I wanna be a world champion. But, do I sit and wait? Dogboe and Navarrete are fighting again. TJ Doheny and [Daniel] Roman have just fought in a unification. You got [Rey] Vargas fighting Tomoki Komeda the. All of those guys are busy, I wanna go out there and box. I’m a fighter, so I wanna fight. I’m always in the gym and I’m always training, so I’d rather get out again instead of waiting on that title shot, because it doesn’t look like it’s gonna come until the end of the year.” 

When asked about his potential opponent for his eventual world title tilt, Ward added, “I thought Navarrete won [his fight with Dogboe]. He was the more dominant fighter. To be honest, the two of them went at it hammer and tongs, there wasn’t really much skill involved. I thought there were gonna be a knockout either way, but fair play – they showed good chins, they can both take a shot. It was a very good fight and it’ll be interesting to watch again. I think he’s a bit deceiving [Navarrete], cos he doesn’t look that big, but when he gets in the ring he’s a big lump! Obviously, Dogboe is very small, but wide. He’s only 5’2, I think. A big good un’ will beat a good little un,’ you know?” 

The diminutive Ward was keen to push on, determined to continue his growing fanbase, benefited by his appearance as the Showtime headliner. Winning that fight in style had opened him up to a new audience, preparing him for another jaunt overseas in the near future, it would seem. Never one for social media persistence, Thomas had vowed to become more present in light of recent media attention.

As Josh Kelly fights on the Matchroom show on April 20th and the always-exciting Lewis Ritson recovers from a tougher than expected debut at 140lbs battling German Argentino Benitez, the North East is undoubtedly on the rise. The days of Jon-Lewis Dickinson and Glenn McCrory are long gone, but the new wave look set to rival their elders as boxing reaches new heights in the United Kingdom. Thomas Patrick Ward was described by Steve Bunce as the ‘best pure boxer in Britain’, but words mean little without the world titles the twenty-four year old is certain he’ll capture.

“I’ve always said for a long time, the North East has got some exceptional boxers up here that are willing to fight. They should have big fights back up in the North East. I’m not sure why, but the bigger promoters stopped coming up here. Now, they’re coming back and Lewis Ritson has started selling out and doing very well in Newcastle. It’s really good, but we could do with more big nights up here.

“That’s why I’m trying to win a world title and get North East boxing back to its best, we could put on a big show and get the North East boys on it. That would be the dream.There’s some very good talent up here and I think they get overlooked. I’d like to get them opportunities they deserve on the big undercards.

“The main thing is being a world champion. I’m nearly there and I will achieve that. I want to bring the big promoters and the TV back to North East.  I wanna be a world champion, a multiple time world champion, I want to leave my legacy. I want to be the best fighter to come from the North East and one of the best in the UK. Then, the big promoters and the shows will come.”

Article by: Craig Scott

Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209