Hall revels in title success
Darlington bantamweight Stuart Hall completed what his promoter Dennis Hobson described as a "real-life Rocky story" by claiming the IBF bantamweight title in Leeds on Saturday night.
Hall's unlikely journey from the drink-and-drug dens of Ibiza to world title glory was realised after a unanimous points win over South Africa's Vusi Malinga in a genuine fight of the year contender.
The 33-year-old Hall fought the last three rounds with his left eye clamped tightly shut and a cut over his right eye which required stitches, as did his bruised and vanquished opponent.
Clutching an ice pack Hall, who only started boxing at the age of 28 after belatedly bringing an end to what by his own admission was a wild party lifestyle, said the belt in front of him was beyond his wildest dreams.
Hall said: "I won the British title and I thought that was my world title. But I just dug in and took my chances. I know I've got a punch and I can hurt people, but this is just a dream come true."
Hall had lost a British and European title fight against domestic rival Jamie McDonnell in September 2011 and though McDonnell went on to win the IBF crown, he was stripped due to contractual issues and Hall got his chance.
Malinga came to Leeds with a reputation as a tough but unremarkable fighter and Hall, bidding to become the first world champion from the north-east since Glenn McCrory in 1989, belied his lack of top-level experience by taking the fight straight to him.
With McCrory urging him on in his corner, Hall landed a looping two-punch combination in round two and built on his lead in the third when a crunching right to the jaw toppled Malinga to the canvas.
The South African did well to survive and gradually edged his way back into the fight but Hall remained entirely undaunted, walking through Malinga's best shots and showing few signs of fatigue.
By the later rounds Hall had built a big points lead but his early exertions were beginning to tell, and the eye damage which began around the eighth gave Malinga a glimmer of hope.
"He's the toughest man I've ever shared a ring with," said Hall.
"I put him down but he got back up. He wobbled me a couple of times and there were scary moments. I panicked a bit sometimes but I dug in and I really wanted it.
"I couldn't see for the last two rounds because my eye was shut and he was targeting it. We told the referee it was okay but I couldn't see anything out of it. But I've done it and I've proved myself to all the doubters."
Hall's love for a tear-up threatened to edge him back into danger in the final rounds as he could have done more to protect his big points lead, but the verdict, when it came, was emphatic - 116-111, 117-110 (twice) scores on the judges' cards.
Inevitably talk switched immediately to the prospect of a rematch with McDonnell, who was involved in an acrimonious split with Hobson after being stripped, but who would provide the lure of a high-profile domestic showdown.
But in the early hours of Sunday in the bowels of the FirstDirect Arena, the badly bruised Hall was not inclined to think much about his next move. Those wild days are clearly behind him: "I was going to go out," he said, "but I think I'm just going to go back to the hotel and take it easy."