BY PETER SMITH CASTLEFORD'S Noel Wilders is on course for a world title after winning the vacant European bantamweight championship in impressive style in France last night.
The 28-year-old former British and IBO champion extended his 100 per cent professional record to 23 wins with a unanimous points victory over local fighter Fabien Guillerme in Nice.
Wilders, who had not boxed since last June, is hoping to use his new crown as a stepping stone to a world title shot within the next 12 months.
He seemed to win the fight more comfortably than scores of 115-113 (seven rounds to five) on two of the judges' cards and 116-112 (eight rounds to four) from the other.
Southpaw Wilders was in command from the opening bell, troubling Guillerme, a former French and European champion, with his fast hands and clever counter-punching.
There were no knock-downs but both fighters suffered cuts after accidental clashes of heads in the second half of the contest.
That left them and the referee covered in blood by the end of the bout but the Briton was not to be denied.
"I'm a bit tired as it's been a long time since I've been in the ring for 12 rounds," said Wilders.
"He was a rugged fighter. He never really came at me in the first half but did in the second.
"I got a couple of nicks and we had a couple of clashes of heads but he kept missing.
"I wanted to make him miss and pick him off at will and that's what I did.
"I'll now spend time and weigh up my options, but I've got a title back and I felt good."
Wilders frustrated Guillerme to edge most of the 12 rounds for a win that rarely seemed in doubt.
But manager Trevor Callighan was angered by the closeness of the winning margin and said: "He was in full control from start to finish. It really was one of his top-drawer performances.
"I'm surprised at the judging. Maybe in rounds four and five, away from home we'd have been lucky to get a draw, but that really was a bad reflection of the judging."
As for future opponents, Callighan added: "The name of the game is money. We'll see where he can make the most money. I know there are options out there."
Victory was especially sweet for Wilders coming after a catalogue of misfortunes.
He had decided to take control of his own destiny after being frustrated by a number of big-fight postponements during his time with promoter Frank Warren.
He was then further sidelined by confusion over a routine brain scan which saw him stripped of his titles.
l Howard Eastman called out the world's best middleweights after successfully regaining the European title at Nottingham Arena.
The Battersea fighter stopped Frenchman Christophe Tendil in the fourth round of a one-sided affair to win back the belt he had relinquished to challenge for the WBA title in November 2001.
Eastman's subsequent controversial defeat to William Joppy did him much more harm than good and the extrovert champion says the other world-ranked fighters are afraid to face him.
"I want to fight one of the top guys now, but you can bet your life on the fact that they are shaking," he said.