DARLINGTON'S first world champion Stuart Hall suffered the heartache of losing the second defence of his IBF bantamweight title to challenger Paul Butler tonight.

After a fast and furious start from 25-year-old Butler, Hall, 34, composed himself and fought his way back in style to cause a split in the judges' decision.

But after a pulsating 12 rounds at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, Hall lost the crown he won in December, defeated by a split decision after a gruelling battle with Butler.

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After Ellesmere Port's Butler was awarded the contest 115-113 by one judge, Hall then heard that he had levelled things up with another judge's score of 115-113. However, despite the closeness, the third and final scorecard had Butler clearly in front by 117-111.

That meant Butler's big night had ended in glory, while Hall was left frustrated.

Hall said:  "Fair play to Paul, he is a great fighter and there is respect there from me. He was sharp. He was hard to nail down. I thought I had done enough. I just wish it was not a mandatory because we could get it on in ten weeks. But I will be back."

Butler said: "I thank Stu for giving me the oppoirtunity, he didn’t need to take this. I thought I had won the first six rounds comfortably. He came back in to it. I felt I won round 11 as well and I think Stu nicked the 12th. But I thought it was mine."

* For a full report and reaction see Monday's The Northern Echo.