STUART HALL’S reign as world champion is over, but his reputation as a top class boxer remains firmly intact. After 12 gruelling rounds of title boxing at the Metro Radio Arena, the best professional fighter County Durham has ever produced proved he has the desire to return to that level once more.

When the younger, quicker Paul Butler got off to an impressive start, displaying the fast hands and feet many felt would lead to the early undoing of Hall and was why the bookmakers had the man from Merseyside as the favourite despite being the challenger.

That was how it seemed until it became clear whatever Butler, the smaller man who had stepped up from super flyweight where he had won 15 from 15, had to throw his way, Hall could either resist or bounce back from.

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There could be no disputing that Butler claimed the first four rounds, even if it must have been easier for the judges to edge in favour of him over those purely because of his quicker style. Hall still landed the occasional shots, but survived the early pressure like he expected.

“Paul is sharp and was hard to nail down,” said Hall. “He was sharp early on and clear. He got a good start and I had to catch up. I thought I had done enough.”

When Hall suffered a cut above his left eye from an accidental clash of heads, the blood running down his nose raised concerns of a repeat of the severe wound he sustained during the brutal December fight with Vusi Malinga which earned him the IBF bantamweight belt in the first place.

But it never deteriorated to such a level, highlighting the belief from the Hall camp that Butler never really did much damage with the punches he landed and it was from that round onwards when Hall came in to his own.

And, despite Butler’s bravado before the contest, there was clear respect from his corner after the fight had been won. His coach, Anthony Farnell, said: “People don’t know how tough Stu is. I knew how tough he is and Paul got hit with a couple of big right hands.

“In the ring I had tape down and I told Paul he could not go beyond that tape, he could not come inside the corners. I was more than happy for him to win the fight by being boring off the jab, but it was far from boring.”

During rounds six, seven and eight, Hall appeared to edge them all. He grew in strength and found his composure, having initially been dragged in to some of Butler’s showmanship. Once Hall realised he should not get involved, he found the level of boxing which had got him to the top.

But when Hall, nine years older than his opponent at the age of 34, regularly got him to the ropes, gaps opened up for him to finish things off but he never took them.

“I made mistakes. I let him off a few times,” he said. “There were times when he stood and looked at me when I should have stayed on top of him. I would love a rematch with him because I would put it on him from round one. I would stop him within nine rounds. He had no power. I let him off the hook.”

In the end Hall’s hesitation proved costly, despite finishing the stronger. The contest could have been gone either way, highlighted by the split decision – even if Berit Andreasen’s crucial 117-111 scorecard was completely out of sync with both fighters deemed to have won 115-113 by the others.

Either way Hall’s seven month run as IBF world champion was over. He said: “I thought I had done enough to win the fight. Once they said 117 I knew I wasn’t going to get it. It should not have been like that. They got carried away with the flurries. He was scoring punches when he was hitting the gloves. But I’m sound and I will be back.”

All good boxing stories have to come to an end at some point, but a determined Hall is already planning the next chapter.