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Darlington's Stuart Hall lands world boxing crown
DARLINGTON'S Stuart Hall emerged from 12 pulsating rounds of incredible boxing in Leeds tonight as the IBF bantamweight champion of the world.
The 33-year-old, with his left eye shut and covered in blood after an exhilarating encounter, showed his class with a unanimous victory for the vacant belt over South African Vusi Malinga.
It means Hall has become the first boxer from the North-East to claim one of the more respected world belts since Stanley's Glenn McCrory's success at cruiserweight in 1989.
More than 1,000 Hall fans were inside the impressive First Direct Arena in Leeds to witness one of the most exciting fights of the year.
It started brilliantly for Hall when he sent Malinga to the canvas in the third but somehow the visitor dug deep to make the triumph an even more memorable occasion for the ex-roofer from County Durham.
Hall, the former British and Commonwealth champion, was given the contest unanimously on points when judges Howard Foster (116-111), David Hudson and Eugene Grant (117-110) all scored in Hall's favour.
Malinga hoped to emulate his uncle, Sugar Boy Malinga, who won the WBC super-middleweight belt in 1996 by defeating Nigel Benn in Newcastle.
He was just a teenager then. Now, at the age of 34, he showed all of his experience and two previous world title defeats to take this meeting with Hall the distance.
Hall has never been one to be overawed and was glowing in confidence hours before the first bell when he walked on to the Elland Road pitch during the half-time of Leeds' goalless draw with Barnsley.
Malinga was also there along with the IBF belt, but Hall's focus was evident then and in the opening exchanges of the contest.
A year younger and six ounces heavier, Hall started brightly after a spine-tingling reception from his strong following from his hometown.
He probably threw more punches in the first round but there was very little between the two. But, deliberately, Malinga was rocked for the first 20 seconds of the second.
Hall charged straight for him and hit him with an explosive run of combinations near the ropes. Malinga composed himself, but Hall controlled the remainder and connected with a number of lefts.
Hall, wearing black shorts with a red trim, was also quick out of the blocks in the third. After teeing Malinga up with a left, he followed through with a strong right which blew the African champion to the canvas.
In fairness to Malinga, with blood streaming from his nose, he recovered to see out the remaining 140 seconds of the round.
Not just that, though, the man from Gauteng avoided a repeat of the hammering he took in the opening exchanges of the previous two rounds in the fourth. He also landed more lefts than he had in the others in a much closer three-minutes of boxing.
Suddenly Malinga's right started to connect more often and one struck the left cheek of Hall, although as the fifth developed the former British champion also landed a couple of great rights of his own.
The sixth was another even affair, with Hall edging. As Malinga appeared to lose its accuracy in tiredness as the seconds ticked by, his counterpart found a way through the guard.
Despite more blood appearing under Hall's eye in the seventh, he hit the bell in command. He was already looking strong before rocking Malinga on the ropes just before returning to his corner.
The eighth was an another explosive start from Hall. It looked as if he could end it but then Malinga, again, survived before throwing more of his own punches. Hall, though, still tended to land more.
Malinga's strongest round was the ninth. After a pulsating start which saw him strike Hall with six shots in a row, the North-East fighter just kept digging in despite his left eye bleeding heavily. Yet Hall still ended the round with a left hook which Malinga did well to stay on his feet from.
With Hall's eye worsening to the point of being closed, he somehow dug deep to keep finding the target with a number of shots. Malinga was successful with a number of his own too in a tight tenth.
And before the final round, Hall somehow conjured up enough in the 11th to bounce back in style. He must have been struggling to see, but returned to the corner for the last time the stronger.
Hall knew the belt was his provided he did nothing stupid in the last. He suffered some knocks, struck his own blows, but then jumped in to the arms of his trainer Michael Marsden after the final bell.
Darlington – and the North-East - has its very own boxing world champion. Stuart Hall.
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