AN old Belfast story goes how, following a blood-stained 1982 Ulster Hall Irish title epic between Hugh Russell and Davy Larmour, English referee Mike Jacobs brought his crimson-covered shirt to his local dry-cleaners. When returning to the London establishment, Jacobs was instructed to the police station where he was questioned by the CID who believed that, such was the amount of blood on his shirt, Jacobs had been involved in a murder.

Steve Gray may suffer similar problems this week following a violent WBO European light-heavyweight vacant title fight between Steven Ward and Liam Conroy at the same iconic venue (promoted by MTK Global). Newtownabbey’s Ward gushed from a gash over his left eye which eventually forced an end in the eighth, while the scalp of his Barrow opponent streamed from the opening round of a sure-fire Fight of the Year contender.

Rarely does a bout swing as much as this scheduled 10. Conroy pinned Ward to the ropes in the second and looked moments from a finish. The assault resumed in the third as Ward remained on unsteady legs only for a Conroy to be then sent teetering in the closing seconds.

The ensuing bright start in the fourth from Ward was then undone as the Commonwealth Games silver medallist was sent down by a huge left hook. Again, however, the pendulum swung when, following a prolonged barrage himself, Conroy was stunned at the close of the fifth by the incredibly fit Ward, who did major damage in the fifth and sixth.

Conroy rallied in the seventh, getting Ward back to the ropes and hurting him severely but the fight would end one round later as, following a third inspection of his cut, deemed to be from a clash of heads, Ward was ruled unable to continue. Needing a technical decision to crown a champion, a clinical end contrasting the brutality, it was the narrowest of unanimous decisions, with Phil Edwards, Zoltan Enyedi, and Mihai Leu all edging Ward 76-75.

Blanchardstown super-lightweight Darragh Foley pushed throughout his vacant WBC International title fight with Tyrone McKenna but the Lenadoon character was too smart in the battle of the southpaws.

The longer and quicker McKenna was able to land straight shots on his onrushing foe and tied up when needed – which was too frequently for Team Foley.

As the 10 rounds of the chief support progressed, Foley became increasingly ragged, diving in off balance and tripping and slipping to the canvas – one such instance in the eighth saw him cuffed by an innocuous right hook that led to Victor Loughlin issuing a count. In the end, Francisco Rosa scored it 97-93 while Nicolas Esnault and Mark Lyson both had it 98-91, all to McKenna.

Lenadoon welter Paddy Gallagher reinvigorated his career with a third-round stoppage of Liam Wells. The fight never looked likely to go the scheduled eight, with Commonwealth Games gold medallist Gallagher breaking down the Rainham kickboxing convert and eventually having Wells out on his feet in the third, with John Lowey forced to jump in after 1-15.

Sandy Row welter Lewis Crocker had Karim Aliliche down within seconds of the opening bell following a clipping left hook but ended up being given a good test by the former French champ. It was a step up for the KO merchant, who claimed a 60-53 win on Hugh Russell’s card.

Frank Warren’s touted middleweight Caoimhin Agyarko was handed a Belfast debut and a step-up which he dealt with in entertaining fashion. The Glen prospect, an aggressive counter-puncher, was in an all-action encounter with Stranraer’s Paul Allison and emerged a 60-55 winner with Mr Russell.

There was disaster for Coalisland super-middle Taylor McGoldrick, who was stopped by Estonian Gennadi Stserbin. McGoldrick had the visitor hurt in the opening round of their four but rushed in and was caught on the temple, falling hard face first. McGoldrick managed to roll over and sit up but Mr Russell correctly stopped the count after five with 2-24 on the clock.

Starting off, Newington super-welter Owen O’Neill was given a scare by Nicaraguan Geiboord Omier, who hurt him with a right in round two, but the novice recovered to claim a 39-37 win on Mr Lowey’s card.

The Verdict Ward and Conroy serve up a sure-fire Fight Of The Year contender.

Steven Ward (174lbs), 12-0 (4), w tech dec 9 Liam Conroy (174 1/2lbs), 17-5-1 (9); Tyrone McKenna (139 1/4lbs), 19-1-1 (6), w pts 10 Darragh Foley (139lbs), 17-4-1 (9); Paddy Gallagher (151 1/4lbs), 16-5 (10), w rsf 4 Liam Wells (151 1/2lbs), 5-1 (2); Lewis Crocker (152 1/2lbs), 9-0 (6), w pts 6 Karim Aliliche (149lbs), 11-9-2 (2); Caoimhin Agyarko (161 1/2lbs), 4-0 (1), w pts 6 Paul Allison (163lbs), 6-3-1 (1); Gennadi Stserbin (175lbs), 2-4 (2), w rsf 1 Taylor McGoldrick (175 1/2lbs), 3-1 (1); Owen O’Neill (160lbs), 2-0, w pts 4 Geiboord Omier, 4-41-1 (3).