Darlington fighter turns his life around to earn world-title shot

The Northern Echo: READY TO GO: Stuart Hall will fight for the world bantamweight title at Leeds' First Direct Arena tomorrow READY TO GO: Stuart Hall will fight for the world bantamweight title at Leeds' First Direct Arena tomorrow

THERE are plenty of boxers who claim the sport helped them turn their life around, but few can offer a redemptive tale to match that of Stuart Hall.

“If I hadn’t come back to England and started fighting again, I honestly think I would be dead,” says Hall. So while tomorrow’s IBF World Bantamweight title fight with Vusi Malinga is the biggest moment of the North-Easterner’s career so far, he has already faced far more momentous battles and come out on top.

Having taken up boxing at the age of nine at Darlington ABC, Hall turned his back on the sport in his teenage years and, by his own admission, “went off the rails”.

He travelled to Ibiza for a holiday at the age of 19, and pretty much lost the next five years of his life, a period of hedonism that rapidly took its toll on his body.

Had he continued to live the same lifestyle indefinitely, the 33-year-old shudders to think what he might have become.

Returning to England saved him, with the commitment and discipline demanded by boxing helping him to bring the rest of his life into line.

“Don’t get me wrong, parts of the whole Ibiza thing were brilliant,” said Hall, who boasts a career record of 15 victories from his 18 professional fights. “I flew over there with one of my mates, and at that point I’d never even been on a plane or abroad before.

“I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing at first. It was mental from the word go, and I met loads of different people and got drawn into a certain lifestyle.

“It was just a huge slippery slope, and by the time I was a couple of years in, it was getting harder and harder to get out.

“If I hadn’t made the decision to end it all when I did, I’m pretty sure I would be dead by now. My life was going nowhere and, thankfully, something went off inside me telling me enough was enough.

“I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day and thinking, ‘What are you doing to yourself?’ I was abusing my body, and it was time to stop. So I got a flight back to England the next day, and was back in the boxing gym before the following weekend.”

Initially, Hall linked up with Paul Hamilton in his gym in Darlington, and then shortly after, he began to train at a club in Spennymoor.

He reached the ABA finals in the amateur ranks, and initially held off turning professional in the hope of winning an England vest.

With international recognition proving elusive, however, he made his professional debut at the Engineers’ Club in Darlington in 2008. Five-and-a-half years on, and it is safe to say his profile has soared.

The Northern Echo: BELT UP: Darlington's Stuart Hall with the British bantamweight belt last year.

“Back in the day, I remember being really disappointed about not getting the England call up,” said Hall. “I was boxing out of Spennymoor, and it seemed the right thing to hang about for an England vest.

“I was 28 by the time I decided to give the pro game a go, and a lot of people were saying that was much too late and my best chance of achieving anything had gone.

“Well, I’ve won a Lonsdale Belt outright and I’m just about to fight for a world title. I don’t think that’s too bad for a lad from Darlo who was being written off as over the hill.”

May’s victory over Sergio Perales paved the way for tomorrow’s world-title shot, and while Malinga will start as favourite given that he has already fought for a world crown on two separate occasions, Hall will enter the ring at Leeds’ First Direct Arena in a confident mood.

“I honestly don’t think I could be in better shape,” said Hall. “I’ve never been at anything like this level for any of my previous fights, and I just can’t wait to get going now. The training has gone exactly to plan, and the sparring has been brilliant.

The Northern Echo: HARD-EARNED WIN: Stuart Hall, right, beat Martin Power to retain his British bantamweight title

“I’m not sure Malinga knows what he’s got coming, you know. I hope they’re under-estimating me, because they’re going to get one hell of a surprise if they are.

“Malinga had better be ready for a battle, because that’s what he’s going to get. I feel like my whole career has been building for this, and I’m not going to let this opportunity pass through my hands.”

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