British ace Stuart Hall captured the vacant IBF bantamweight championship by defeating dangerous South African Vusi Malinga via unanimous decision in Leeds, England, tonight. It was the final world title bout staged in Britain this year, and arguably the most savage and evenly contested of 2013.
The official scores were 117-110 twice and 116-111.
Hall (117.25 pounds) flew out of the blocks and outpunched his opponent with sharp combinations in the early sessions. His dream start then took a serious upswing, when he decked Malinga with a heavy right hand to the jaw in Round 3, but this savage fire fight was only getting started.
The crowd was in uproar when Hall, from Darlington, England, attempted to close the show, but the game South African sensed urgency and roared back with defiant attacks of his own. Malinga (117.5 pounds) was taking too many flush shots although slowly, but surely, the bout began to turn in his favor.
“I still feel unbelievable,” said Hall during his post-fight interview. “Malinga kept coming at me and I couldn’t stop him no matter what I tried. Domestically when I put them down they stay down, but this guy was world level, and he wouldn’t give up.”
By Round 6 Malinga, who fights out of the southpaw stance, was jabbing his way inside and unloading with fierce uppercuts, as the damage mounted on his opponent’s face. Still, despite strong punishment, the desire seemed to ooze from Hall’s pores as he bit down on his mouthpiece, accepted the pain, and fired back with impressive salvos of his own.
Malinga was on the ascendency as the fight headed into Round 9, and both men traded on the inside like mirror images of one another: Hall started, Malinga stopped, Hall stopped, Malinga started, without a single moment of respite, amidst crazy scenes. The noise inside the arena was deafening.
A left hook had hurt Malinga at the end of the ninth, but he resumed Round 10 with a reserve tank and both men went at it again. Although Hall would not be denied, several meaty head punches landed with an audible thud, as the British star gave it everything in yet another brilliant give and take session.
Hall’s left eye was now completely closed, but he kept firing off effective work, despite the handicap.
There were times when one felt the clock was ticking more on Hall than Malinga, but the home fighter was determined to reach the finishing line. The brave heart South African could not locate the equalizing shot, and the 33 year old closed out confidently with impressive combination punching in the eleventh and twelfth rounds.
“I was fighting with one eye,” said the new champion. “As the late rounds approached I just kept forcing out the left jab. All the doubters said I couldn’t do it, but Stuart Hall did do it. It’s one of the best nights of my life.”
Neither man is ranked within THE RING Top 10 at 118 pounds so, regardless of who prevailed, it was always going to be a metaphorical Cinderella story. Hall (16-2-1, 7 knockouts) was swamped by family and friends at the end of an emotional evening as Malinga, now a loser in three world title bouts, lowered his head in disappointment.
If Malinga does want a beer or two, in order to drown his sorrows, then he might want to join former IBF titlist Jamie McDonnell. In October, THE RING’s No. 7-rated bantamweight was stripped of his title, for failing to commence negotiations with Malinga, and tonight he looked on as a former opponent captured his old crown.
McDonnell actually handed Stuart Hall his first defeat in Sept. 2011, via unanimous decision, in a British and Commonwealth title fight and the talented technician, from Doncaster, England, must have watched most of tonight’s action through his fingers.
Expect rematch talk between Hall and McDonnell to commence in early 2014.
GAVIN DOMINATES PRYCE
Unbeaten British star Frankie Gavin feasted on two day substitute Bradley Pryce, dominating the former Commonwealth champion on route to a 10 round unanimous decision in a junior middleweight attraction.
The referee scored the bout 99-92.
Gavin (18-0, 12 knockouts) whipped in brisk bursts from the lefty stance, turning his opponent effortlessly throughout. Pryce was chasing shadows and barely landed anything significant in what must have been a very painful and frustrating experience.
There was small solace for the Welshman in Round 6 when Gavin appeared to hurt his left hand but, despite the setback, the twenty eight year old continued to score all the clean blows in the closing stages, and is now looking forward to big things in 2014.
“Next year we want Frankie to fight Amir Khan,” said promoter, Francis Warren. “I would pick Frankie to beat Khan any day of the week. That’s the fight we want.”
In 2007 Gavin won a gold medal at the world amateur championships and, five years into his professional journey, he is regarded as one of the finest craftsmen in British boxing. The cerebral southpaw uses the ring brilliantly, swoops in from awkward angles and hits hard enough to keep opponents honest.
Gavin was initially scheduled to face Joseph Lamptey, but the Ghanaian encountered visa issues and failed to make the trip. Brazilian Juliano Ramos was then set to fly into the UK on Thursday, only for an outdated passport to stonewall that particular back-up plan.
Credit to Pryce for stepping in at late notice but he was comprehensively outclassed.
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing