THE clash between local Lurgan hero Stephen Haughian and former world champ Junior Witter on September 17 has all the ingredients of a classic bout.
The stakes for both boxers are huge and the atmosphere, tension and pressure will no doubt be overwhelming. Belfast’s Kings Hall has seen it all before of course, but Haughian and Witter will need to be at their best to cope with a battle that will determine their futures in the sport.
But this is what top boxing is all about. Gambling that the sum total of all those past brawls will be enough for glory. All or nothing. Winner takes everything.
For Haughian it’s a real chance, maybe his last, to prove he’s now ready to step up to the next level and put himself in genuine contention for a crack at a British title.
His last defeat, against Scotland’s Kevin McIntyre for the Celtic title back in 2010, was a blow to his dream of becoming a British champion but he’s bounced back and hasn’t put a foot wrong since.
Victory will secure Haughian a coveted top ten ranking in Europe, while defeat for Witter will surely end any route back to the World, European, British and Commonwealth championship bouts that were his stock and trade as recently as just three years ago.
And despite suffering disappointment in June when the injured Jeff Thomas and Willie Thompson were both forced to pull out of Haughian’s last preparation fight – a defence of his Irish Welterweight title - the local Lurgan boy remains supremely confident that his time has come.
A tough fight was a vital component of plans for the Witter clash but luckily promoter David Murphy found a more than suitable replacement in the form of a sturdy Polish boxer who took Haughian the full distance, giving him plenty of opportunity to perfect his trademark left jab.
It turned out to be ideal practice for September 17 and what Haughian himself describes as the “biggest challenge of my career”.
“I know this is going to be a very, very hard fight but on the night it’s not what you have done before it’s how hungry you are and on the night I’m going to be more hungry than him and I believe I will win,” he says.
“In this fight I am stepping up a couple of levels from the opponents I have fought before but I will ready and I am very confident that I can do the job on September 17. I think Junior is in for a real shock.”
Haughian’s biggest fan, dad Maurice who trained his talented son as an amateur, believes Stephen won’t be daunted by the mammoth task ahead and is more than ready for the Kings Hall battle.
“I’ve never seen him as hungry for a fight before,” he says.
Not surprisingly Witter believes that despite his opponent’s impressive recent performances he’s still a class above the Irishman and brags that the fight won’t go the distance.
“I’m bigger, stronger and I still have the tricks,” he boasts.
“So you will need to keep your eyes open because I will knock him out. I am going to take titles and break idols next season and it all starts in Belfast.”
As a former WBC World Junior-Welterweight champ Witter has every reason to be confident and while he’s looking forward to fighting in Belfast the local crowd will be bellowing for his blood.
Haughian’s ultra-loud Lurgan fanbase will be out in force and could tilt the bout in their hero’s favour.
“I think the fans can make a huge difference at the King’s Hall, the atmosphere will be electric,” he says.
“I hope my fans can come out in force and help me beat Witter.
“The fans can really help you in a fight, they can drive you when maybe it’s not going your way and this is the kind of fight were they will be crucial.”
One fan who’ll be feeling the pressure more than most on the night is Haughian’s fiancé Naomi who admits to finding it difficult to watch her future husband in the ring.
“It’s hard to watch him taking punches and I can’t wait for the final bell,” she explains.
“But it’s great to have all my family and friends around supporting me and Stephen.”
Failure is not an option in the Kings Hall and no stone has been left unturned to ensure an Irish victory on the night.
Haughian has been sparing with Paul McCloskey, himself preparing for a WBA Light Welterweight title eliminator next Saturday (September 10) against Colombian Breidis Prescott, and Moroccan-born Yassine El Maachi who knows what it takes to beat Witter having defeated the former world champion back in June.
Lurgan’s Ryan Greene will also be going for glory against Willie Thompson when they face-up for the Northern Ireland Light Middleweight title but the real highlight of the night could well be victory for his fellow Lurganite, Stephen Haughian.
Tickets for the Kings Hall event on September 17 are available from Marty Toland on 079-55742271 or Maurice Haughian on 075-21358328. They can also be bought directly from McDonald’s shop in Shankill and in the Woodville