Craig Woodruff faces the most important fight of his career to date in Cardiff on Saturday night, as pro boxing makes its long-awaited return to Welsh soil after an 18-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Newport lightweight knows victory over unbeaten Frenchman Faycal Rezkallah at the Vale Sports Arena will put him in a great position to go for the coveted Lonsdale Belt.

Maxi Hughes vacated the British title earlier this month, leaving Woodruff, fellow Welshman Gavin Gwynne and English champion Myron Mills as the contenders to succeed him.

It is understood the British Boxing Board of Control wants to see each of the trio fight before deciding which two of them should clash for the vacant belt first.

While Gwynne is set to defend his Commonwealth crown, Woodruff is ready to take on Rezkallah (5-0-1) in the 29-year-old Gwent fighter’s first outing since last August.

He narrowly lost on points to Gary Cully on that occasion but earned plenty of praise from the Irishman, who then went on to claim European honours after being put on the canvas by Woodruff.

Woodruff had been due to fight Joe Fitzpatrick for the Celtic title this weekend.

But despite the contest being called off after the Belfast boxer tested positive for Covid-19, Woodruff’s coach Luke Pearce says the Rezkallah headline bout is still a hugely significant one for his man.

“The Board like boxers to fight for a title on the back of a win,” said Pearce, part of Team SMoA with trainer Johan Berendjy and manager Richie Garner.

“We’ve been told by the Board that Craig needs to win and he’ll be in a position to potentially fight next for the Lonsdale Belt.

“If Craig gets a win in this fight it puts him in a very strong position to fight for the vacant British title.

“Craig is fighting an international opponent and that would be great preparation for a title shot if he gets one.

“We’ve put in the hard work and taken Craig from 85th in the UK to number five, and we believe he belongs at that level.

“Craig fought future world title challengers in the past and that put him on the path towards the Lonsdale Belt.

“He is ready for that now and has done everything right in this camp.”

He continued: “This means everything to Craig, his family, the team of myself, Johan Berendjy and Richie Garner, and Newport.

“We’re doing this for Newport and we want to bring some sporting success back to the city.”

Woodruff fought on the last show in Wales, also at the Vale Sports Arena, on March 14, 2020, just before the first coronavirus lockdown.

And Pearce admits the 560 days between shows on Welsh soil has been tough.

He said: “Covid has been tough on all boxers, especially in Wales because of the lack of shows.

“When you’re not getting fights or opportunities, your head’s going to go down.

“I was on military operations for six months and I had to rely heavily on Johan to train Craig. But we’ve come through the adversity and I’d like to thank Johan for the fantastic work he did.

“If we get through this fight then we’d love to go for the Lonsdale Belt if that comes up, or reschedule the Celtic title fight with Joe Fitzpatrick.”

Rezkallah has won five and drawn one of six fights since his debut in January 2016.

“I have been waiting for an opportunity to fight in the UK for a long time,” he said. “I am going to be victorious over Craig and will remain undefeated.”

Pontypool’s Kieran Gething also features on the Mo Prior bill, as does Newport’s Kyran Jones, who makes his professional debut.