Hall exudes confidence as big-fight build up continues with face-to-face showdown

The Northern Echo: FACE OFF: Vusi Malinga and Stuart Hall go head to head next weekend FACE OFF: Vusi Malinga and Stuart Hall go head to head next weekend

Next weekend, Darlington fighter Stuart Hall will take on Vusi Malinga for the IBF World Bantamweight title. Yesterday, the two boxers met for the first time at Leeds' First Direct Arena and Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson was present to witness the scene

BOXING is as much about theatre as sport, and with Stuart Hall's IBF World Bantamweight title fight with Vusi Malinga now just seven days away, yesterday witnessed one of the stage-managed productions that supposedly adds to the show.

For the first time, the two challengers came face-to-face outside Leeds' First Direct Arena, the venue for next Saturday's showdown. And this being boxing, you can take the term 'face-to-face' literally.

Hall, who is hoping to become Darlington's first world boxing champion, thrust his jaw into Malinga's chin. Malinga, who left his native South Africa for a training camp in Manchester at the start of the month, refused to move his eyeballs from Hall's line of vision. With the pantomime season now in full swing, it was all good knockabout stuff.

Unlike some of the more memorable boxing press calls, such as last month's heavily-hyped meeting between Carl Froch and George Groves, there was no acrimonious scuffling or trading of slurs.

It was all very amicable, respectful even. But as the pair peeled away to fulfil their various press duties, it was possible to detect a mutual glance that spoke of battles still to come.

The Northern Echo:

Next time the pair meet, they will be stripped to their underpants on a weighing scale. Twenty-four hours later, and they will be going hell for leather in front of thousands of baying fans.

“It's the first time I've seen Malinga, but to be honest, I'm not really interested,” said Hall, after the initial hubbub had subsided. “It doesn't bother me who he is or what he does because it's all about what I do on the night. He won't be able to handle me, it's as simple as that.

“I've just got to be the best I possibly can be, and make sure I get my game right. If I do that, there's only going to be one outcome and that's me leaving with the belt. Whatever Malinga does doesn't matter. It's about me. If I get things right, I'll be coming away as the world champion.”

Confidence is surely a prerequisite if you're going to be laying your body on the line in as gladiatorial a setting as a world title fight, so in many ways, Hall's words are par for the course when it comes to talking up a contest.

Spend an hour or two in the 33-year-old's company, however, and it becomes clear that his comments are not empty bravado.

Hall might have taken up boxing when he was nine, but he fell away from the sport for the best part of a decade and returned with a fierce determination to make his sacrifices worthwhile.

Over the course of 18 increasingly gruelling fights, he has climbed his way to number three in the IBF rankings. That earned him a shot at the vacant title, and while he would probably never admit it, if things were to go wrong next Saturday, it would be unlikely that a similar opportunity would come round again.

This is Hall's one shot at stardom, a chance to transcend the North-East boxing scene and establish himself as a leading pull on the world stage. Whatever transpires in seven days time, he will not be passing it up lightly.

“I'm really happy with where I'm at now and the way the preparations have gone,” said Hall. “Everything's gone absolutely perfectly. I'm in the best possible nick I could be, and come fight night, I'll be going into that ring as the best possible Stuey Hall. Then, I'll be coming out as the world champion.

The Northern Echo:

“It's all about the final preparations now. I've just had my last spar with Rendall (Munroe), and it felt great. I felt really sharp. We'll have a last sharpener on Monday, and then we'll all be done. The camp has gone absolutely brilliantly, and there'll be no excuses on the night.”

It takes two to tango though, and for all that Hall will continue to talk up his chances, Malinga represents the toughest assignment of his career to date.

When Hall lost to Jamie McDonnell in a Commonwealth and European showdown in 2011, his lack of experience probably told. His 2012 defeat to Lee Haskins was a controversial one, but he claims it taught him a great deal and he more than atoned for it when he comprehensively outclassed Sergio Perales to claim the IBF Inter-Continental title in May.

Malinga, a squat, powerful southpaw, is a better fighter than Perales, and while his career record features four defeats to Hall's two, two of the South African's losses came in world-title fights with opponents from the very top drawer.

The most recent, against Leo Santa Cruz, came in June 2012, and Malinga has only been back in the ring once during the intervening 18 months.

He didn't look like an out-of-shape fighter yesterday though, and his decision to travel to England at the start of the month in order to lock himself away in a preparation camp run by Manchester-based trainer Lee Beard hints at a commitment and resolve that will surely stand him in good stead.

“I'm very happy to be here,” said Malinga. “I've been working very hard ahead of the fight and am just about ready now. The training over in Manchester has been very good. We've been training very hard and it's been great to work with Lee. I'd already started training back in South Africa, but since I've been in England, the work has definitely been tougher.

“I've watched some of his (Hall) previous fights and I know this will not be an easy evening. I came over to England a few weeks ago because I wanted to make sure I was completely prepared for him. I will not be taking this easy because it is something I have been waiting my whole life for.

“It would mean everything for me to be a world champion. It would complete my career and it feels as though everything I have done so far has been building up to this point.

“I've been looking for this title for a very long time now. I have tried on two times already, but it wasn't quite my moment. I believe that now is my time. I am well prepared and very fit.”

As a proud South African, Malinga will be taking time out from his training to watch Nelson Mandela's funeral tomorrow. Like the majority of his compatriots, he has been touched by this week's national outpouring of grief, and while it might sound mawkish, he intends to honour Mandela's memory in the ring next weekend.

“It's been a difficult few weeks to be a South African,” he said. “It has been a very sad moment and I have been keeping up with the news from home as much as I can. It is a time of mourning.

“A legend has died in Nelson Mandela, but as South Africans, we have to carry on and honour his memory. I must win this title for him. That is the attitude that I will be taking into the ring.”

And with that, there was a final grimace in Hall's direction before he headed for the exit.

It was all very managed, all very fake. Next weekend, however, it will be time for the theatrics to end and the very real spectacle of the boxing to begin.

Tickets for Stuart Hall's world title fight on Saturday, December 21 start at £30 and are available from the First Direct Arena booking line on 0844 2481585. Tickets can also be bought from M&D Travel on Houndgate, Darlington, along with return coach travel to and from Leeds, which is priced at £10.

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