MESSAGES of congratulations have flooded in for bantamweight world boxing champion Stuart Hall, with calls for him to be given the freedom of his home town.
The 33-year-old, from Darlington, emerged victorious after 12 exhausting rounds to claim the title at the First Direct Arena, in Leeds, on Saturday (December 21) night.
His victory over South African Vusi Malinga was described by boxing commentators as one of the most dramatic bouts this year.
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The former roofer described his triumph as ‘the best night of my boxing career by a mile’.
He added: “Like everyone who starts out in boxing, I'd always dreamed of being a world champion, and now it's happened.
"I didn't sleep a wink on the night after the fight, partly because of the headache, but also just because the excitement wouldn't die down.
"I'm still not sure it's all sunk in, but I'm going to have a nice Christmas with the family and hopefully that will give me time to reflect on everything that's happened.
"I'm proud to have done this for the North-East, and I'm proud to have done it for Darlington.”
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman led the congratulations. She said: “This is a really significant sporting achievement. Well done Stuart. He is the toast of Darlington.”
Mrs Chapman agreed that some form of civic recognition for the boxer, from the people of Darlington, would be appropriate.
Such a gesture could have hinged on whether cash-strapped Darlington Borough Council could find the financial resources to host such a celebration.
But council leader Bill Dixon vowed that the money would be found, given the ‘exceptional nature’ of Hall’s achievement.
One way of securing funding for a celebration, particularly if it ends up being a high-profile, large scale event, could be to seek private sponsorship, said Coun Dixon.
He said: “At the very least, there will be a mayoral reception for him and his family and, if there is enough demand for it, we could look to do something in the Market Square, along the lines of the event that was put on for Darlington FC a couple of years ago.”
Emails have already begun circulating among council officials discussing the possibility of hosting a reception.
Any event would take place after the Christmas break and be held in accordance with the wishes of the fighter and his family.
Coun Dixon added that offering Mr Hall the freedom of Darlington was ‘not beyond the realms of possibility’.
The council seldom confers that honour, with car dealership boss and charity stalwart Alasdair MacConachie the only living freeman of the borough.
Asked about Hall’s victory, Coun Dixon added: “This is a great day for Darlington, Stuart has really helped put us on the map.
“Having a world boxing champion reflects very well on the town.
“Whatever people think about boxing, here is a guy that has excelled in his chosen sport and we should celebrate that.”
Congratulatory messages have also been left on The Northern Echo website, which carried a live blog of both the fight itself and the build-up.
One user, Arbroathsmokie, wrote: “A huge well done from all at Harrowgate Club, hope to see you in the club soon, with that shiny new belt.”
Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner took to Twitter to pass on his congratulations.
He wrote: “Well done to Stuart Hall on winning the title and a massive well done to [promoter Dennis Hobson] for making it happen for him.”