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Battled scarred Hall enters pantheon of North-East sporting greats
ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Stuart Hall after receiving the belt which confirmed him as IBF bantamweight world champion
AFTER the bell had rang for the final time, Stuart Hall jumped in to the arms of his trainer, Michael Marsden, in the centre of the ring. After 12 rounds of blood and thunder, the former roofer from Darlington had done enough to be crowned the IBF bantamweight champion of the world.
With his left eye completely closed, his vision was impaired as more than 1,000 of his followers inside Leeds' First Direct Arena rose to their feet to applaud one of the North-East's finest sporting achievements.
For almost 25 years the region has waited for another of its own to hold one of the recognised world title belts. Fittingly Glenn McCrory, the only man to have had the honour before, was ringside to see the drama unfold.
After emerging from an exhilarating battle. resembling a confrontation of pure hatred rather than a boxing duel, with South Africa's Vusi Malinga with a unanimous decision triumph, Hall joined McCrory in the pantheon of North-East sporting greats.
Such is the enormity of the achievement, in another 25 years Hall and McCrory could still be talked about as the only two boxers from the region to have ever achieved such heights.
“I always wanted to make history in this fight,” said Hall, who only turned pro five-and-a-half years ago aged 28. “That gave me a drive. I knew Glenn was the only world champion from the North-East and I was desperate to follow what he did. It was fate that I got this chance because a lot of things fell into place for it to happen.
“It was meant to be. It was brilliant to have Glenn down here walking me into the ring and talking to me. He was a big help. Just knowing he was a world champion helped, and I felt like he was really backing me.”
The judges – justifiably scoring the contest 116-111 and 117-110 (twice) – awarded the belt to Hall which meant he joined Carl Froch at super-middleweight, Scott Quigg at super-bantamweight and Ricky Burns at lightweight in finishing 2013 as a British world champion.
That is exceptional company to be in for a 33-year-old who was, in many respects, an unlikely world title challenger after genuinely wondering where his career was going when he lost to Jamie McDonnell and then Lee Haskins not too long ago.
Yet it could quite easily be argued that Hall's title success on a December night in Yorkshire was even better than Froch's barn-storming win over Dane Mikkel Kessler in May – just without the national fanfare.
The County Durham boxer was never going to cave in on his dream during 12 incredibly exciting rounds which were brutal at times.
Hall said: “What a warrior Vusi was. He's the toughest man I have shared the ring with, without a shadow of a doubt. I lost to Jamie but this man is miles harder. He hurt me loads. He was a true, true warrior. It was a great fight.”
Marsden was full of pride for his boxer. He said: “It's unbelievable. I had an IBO world champion, but this is a proper belt. That's the box ticked now. It's everything I wanted to achieve in my career.”
Malinga, living up to his marvellous stage name after a sloppy start, looked like suffering an early stoppage when Hall, a year younger and six ounces heavier, started the brighter following the raucous reception he got from his strong following inside the Arena.
The first round was tight, but Malinga was rocked for the first 20 seconds of the second after Hall charged straight at him with an explosive run of combinations.
Hall, wearing black shorts with a red trim, repeated that in the third and Malinga was dropped to the canvas with a telling right which suggested the African champion would struggle to recover.
Malinga, whose two previous shots at a world crown ended in frustration, said: “I give all my respect to Stuart Hall. I tried my best. Hopefully he will give me another chance, he can defend against me. I was very surprised. I thought he would come straight at me, but he moved around.”
From that point on Malinga had blood pouring from his nose but he recovered. The Gauteng southpaw started to land more shots and when he struck the left cheek of Hall in the fifth, it became clear the North-Easterner would have to go to the limit to achieve his dreams.
After an even sixth and edgy seventh, Hall's eye started to lose blood at an increased rate even though he was still in command. When Malinga bossed the ninth – his strongest round – and the eye started to close, concerns for Hall's extensive lead started to creep in.
Yet Hall kept digging in and still ended the round with a left hook which Malinga did well to stay on his feet from.
After emerging from the corner for the tenth, Hall's eye soon closed and Malinga kept planting his jab on it in the belief it could cause referee Phil Edwards to step in.
Marsden said: “He was going out for the tenth and he told me he couldn't see. The referee asked if his eye was all right, and we just said it was sound! The worry was that he was going to walk on to a shot after fighting so well because Vusi was throwing some big shots.
“That's always a worry, but it made the fight didn't it? We all expected that type of fight, but we didn't expect it to be as good as that. We knew it would be a cracker because of the way that both fighters fight, but we didn't expect the knockdown and the drama with the eye. I'm sure that will be voted as the best fight of the year.”
There was still work to be done for Hall to make sure the “best fight of the year” would end favourably. Partially unsighted, he somehow conjured up enough in the 11th to return to his corner for the last time stronger. Provided he did nothing stupid in the final round, the IBF belt was his.
EYECATCHING: Hall is caught by a right hand from Malinga Mick Marsden, second right
Hall said: “He wobbled me a couple of times, and I'm being totally honest about that. But I just dug in. I was having a sneaky look at the rounds, and when it came to the end of round six, I was thinking, 'God, am I only halfway through'.
“There were still six rounds to go, but once I saw round nine, I could see the finishing line was there. Mick was unbelievable in the corner and he kept me going. I couldn't see in the last two rounds and they were scary moments. We knew it was going to be a tear up, and it was.”
When the scars and pain from his wounds ease, the reality will eventually set in. Darlington's Stuart Hall is a world champion.
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