Hall stands on the brink of history - not to mention the greatest North-East sporting achievement of the year (From The Northern Echo)
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Hall stands on the brink of history - not to mention the greatest North-East sporting achievement of the year
AS 2013 draws to a close, it is possible to reflect on some memorable moments in North-East sport. The Ashes coming to Emirates Durham ICG, Durham’s thrilling County Championship triumph, Spennymoor Town’s emotional FA Vase win at Wembley.
It has been quite a year – but despite only 18 days remaining, the best could still be to come. If Stuart Hall beats Vusi Malinga in Leeds a week tomorrow to claim the IBF World Bantamweight title, his triumph will be the greatest North-East sporting achievement of 2013. In truth, nothing else will really come close.
Durham’s cricketers are probably the only group of sportsmen or women who could argue otherwise, but for all that their team was supposed to be in transition at the start of the summer, they are seasoned winners who have now claimed the County Championship crown in three of the last six seasons.
Hall’s success would be so leftfield, so uplifting and so representative of what the power of sport is supposed to be about that it truly would be something worth celebrating. As a festive story of success against the odds, you wouldn’t get much better.
After all, it is not as though the Darlington-born 33-year-old is your average sporting champion. Whereas most young boxers are carefully nurtured through the amateur ranks, Hall was barely even interested in the sport as a youngster.
After leaving school at 16, he worked as a roofer, or at least he did when he was in this country. By his own admission, he went on holiday to Ibiza one day, “and pretty much didn’t come back for the next five years”. Whatever he was getting up to out there, it’s safe to assume it didn’t involve many early-morning sessions in the gym.
Suffice to say, he has lived a little, but around 2007, he decided he wanted to settle back down in the North-East and achieve something. The roofing paid the bills, but it didn’t really inspire him, and he began to train with Paul Hamilton in his Darlington gym.
Showing signs of promise, he travelled to Leeds to work with his current trainer, Michael Marsden, and in April 2008, he won his first professional fight when he outpointed Syrian Abdul Mghrbel at the Engineers Club on Darlington’s North Road. Six months later, he really hit the big time – he fought in Birmingham’s Holiday Inn.
Fast forward five years, and it is almost inconceivable that the self-same fighter will enter the ring in front of around 10,000 spectators on Saturday to fight for a world title.
His stunning rise through the ranks, which has occurred over the course of 18 professional fights, owes much to his dedication and commitment, not to mention his unshakeable belief that he belongs at the very highest level.
There have been setbacks along the way, most notably the 2011 defeat to Jamie McDonnell that denied him the Commonwealth and European titles, but he regrouped to beat Josh Wale in order to claim the Commonwealth crown and recorded the biggest success of his career to date when he outperformed Sergio Perales to win the IBF’s Inter-Continental title in May.
A win in eight days time would trump that by a distance, and complete a journey that has seen Hall earn his stripes on the North-East boxing scene at venues like Hartlepool’s Mayfair Suite, Darlington’s Dolphin Centre and Rainton Meadows at Houghton-le-Spring before progressing to national, and now international level.
Last Thursday, Hall was a guest of honour at The Northern Echo’s Local Heroes Awards. His presence was fitting given that he has appeared on the pages of the grassroots sports supplement more times than he would care to remember. It’s a fine weekly pull-out, but it’s not normally a breeding ground for world number ones.
Hall will be exactly that if he wins a week tomorrow though, and while his opponent, Malinga, is ranked a place above him on the IBF rankings, there is every reason to believe it will be the North-Easterner holding the world belt above his head once the fists become becalmed in Leeds.
He expects to be the harder hitter, and while Malinga boasts more experience at international level than Hall, a number of the South African’s victories have come in relatively low-grade contests in Africa or Asia.
His two previous attempts to claim a world title have ended in failure – the first, back in 2009, ended in a first-round knock-out as he was obliterated by Japanese bantamweight Hozumi Hasegawa – and he has only had one low-key domestic contest since he was comprehensively outclassed by unbeaten American Leo Santa Cruz in June 2012.
He has been training in Lee Beard’s Manchester gym since the start of the month, so is clearly taking next weekend’s fight seriously, but his sharpness cannot be taken for granted and his willingness to go to the end of a 12-round slog is open to debate.
With both boxers liking to fight on the front foot, no quarter will be asked or given, and Hall’s previous record suggests he will still be there throwing his punches at the end. If the same is true of Malinga, it will have been quite a contest.
If you’re a sport fan looking for a pre-Christmas night out, then I’d heartily recommend heading to Leeds because it’s not exactly every day you get to see a North-East boxer win a world title.
In the entire history of the sport, it has only happened once. As the region’s only previous world champion, Glenn McCrory has had the stage to himself for quite a while now. Here’s hoping that by the end of next Saturday, he will have been joined in the record books by Hall.
CHAMP OF THE WEEK
The centre-half looked to be on his way out of St James’ Park in the summer, but has established himself as one of the key players in the team and performed superbly as the Magpies won at Old Trafford for the first time in 41 years last Saturday.
CHUMPS OF THE WEEK
It can’t be much fun facing Mitchell Johnson at speeds of more than 90mph, but most of England’s dismissals in the second Ashes Test were dreadfully naive. Leg-side slogs, ill-advised hooks and wafts at wide deliveries – a huge improvement is required in Perth.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
CHARLIE DONAGHY’S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH AT THE LOCAL HEROES AWARDS
Having just been crowned as The Northern Echo’s Local Hero for 2013, Charlie hijacked the stage to shamelessly plug tonight’s charity night at Tow Law Town Football Club in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. ‘Mr North-East grassroots sport’ simply doesn’t switch off.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Tomorrow’s big race is the Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and it’s worth taking an each-way chance on Attaglance (9-1), trained in North Yorkshire by Malcolm Jefferson. He’s been threatening to win a decent prize for a while, and looks well weighted.
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