By Alexey Sukachev
First Direct Arena, Leeds - Fighting the fight of his life, IBF #4 bantamweight Stuart Hall (16-2-1, 7 KOs) seized the vacant IBF bantamweight title after a close but a well-earned unanimous decision over tough South African Vusi Malinga (21-5-1, 12 KOs). Final scores read as follows: 116-111, 117-110 and 117-110. BoxingScene had it 116-112 - also for the new champion.
The IBF title became vacant earlier this year, when it's previous owner Jamie McDonnell was stripped of it after having managerial and promotional issues after his poster win over Julio Ceja in May. Coming in were Hall and IBF #2 Vusi Malinga, the nephew of a famed South African super middleweight champion Thulane "Sugar Boy" Malinga. He has previously twice campaigned for a world title, being stopped in one by Hozumi Hasegawa in 2009 and then thoroughly outboxed by capable Leo Santa Cruz in 2012. At 34 this was probably his last shot at the title - and the first one for Hall, 33, who was previously defeated by McDonnell and EBU champion Lee Haskins.
Hall started very good throwing and landing strong jabs on Malinga. The South African marched forward to little effect. His punches were wide and inaccurate, while the Brit just couldn't miss with his right hand. The pattern came into the second round, Vusi still being too constraint. Hall got even bigger in the third, when he jumped on Malinga early on and landed a perfect right hand to the jaw of the South African, forcing him down for the count. Malinga showed poise in his comeback during that round but it wasn't until the fourth, when he finally began finding his range and point of power.
The mid rounds became a war of attrition. Malinga missed many of his power shots but when he did connect to the head of Hall, they were clearly seen and felt by everyone in the audience. The Brit fought in spurts, landing furious barrages, which weren't lengthy enough to keep Malinga at bay. The South African did a greater share of damage, almost shutting Hall's left eye. With one eye still open, Hall found the second groove in the tenth and began to operate like a surgeon. He took the last three rounds to punctuate this historic career win.
2007 amateur world champion Frankie Gavin improved to a comfortable 18-0, 12 KOs, with a workmanlike ten-round unanimous decision over late sub Bradley Pryce (34-16, 18 KOs). The sole score was 99-92 - for the British welterweight talent. Welshman Pryce is now 1-6 in the last seven fights, although against pretty tough opposition.
"Workmanlike" doesn't mean close or dubious. WBO #3, WBA #5 and IBF #9 Gavin, 28, was in full control of the action from round one. Fighting out of his southpaw stance, Gavin was elusive, tricky, almost invincible. The only problem left was that he was boring and the bout was mostly forgettable. The undefeated stylist used his speed and perfect lateral movement to get himself out of danger. Pryce, though a crude puncher, couldn't catch him and missed his punches. His only notable round was the ninth but Gavin easily came back to his barely watchable but very effective tactics to punctuate his win in the tenth. BoxingScene had it 99-91 - also for Gavin.
An upset alert is on in Leeds, England, where unheralded journeyman Dave Ryan (15-8, 3 KOs) was awarded with a bit of a controversial victory over former world title challenger Paul McCloskey (24-3, 12 KOs) in an eight-round welterweight fight. The sole score was 77-75 - for Ryan, 30, while BScene had almost the same score 76-75 - but for the NI native.
McCloskey, 34 and fighting for the first time in 15 months, looked sluggish in the opening round but then slowly warmed up for the task. He was fast, diligent and landed hard punches. Ryan was a hard nut but he wasn't giving back what he was getting in. In the fourth, McCloskey landed a heavy right hand to the solar plexus, forcing Ryan to take a knee. In the closing rounds Ryan boxed better but perception was that he hadn't done enough to get the biggest victory in his career. However, McCloskey didn't really protest the decision.
In a clash of battle-tested veterans former British super featherweight titlist Gary Sykes (26-3, 5 KOs) got a hard victory over Femi Fehintola (24-3, 1 KO). The sole score was 80-73 - for Sykes, who challenges undefeated Liam Walsh (15-0, 10 KOs) on Feb. 22 for a once-again vacant British 130lb title.
Sykes, 29, was more resilient than Fehintola, 31. Fehintola was fighting back with vengeance but Sykes punch rate was plain highter. Body shots were instrumental in his victory, as he repeatedly hurt Fehintola with those throughout an entire card. There were moments in the middle rounds, when Fehintola was close to being stopped but he summoned all his desire and all his character to pull it through. BoxingScene had it 78-74 - for Sykes.
Almost fifteen years ago British fighter Howard Clarke fought and lost to then-rising boxing star Fernando Vargas, opening the door for a lengthy career of professional loser. He ended it in 2007, having almost three times as many losses as he had wins. Another sample of this sort is durable journeyman Max Maxwell (16-34-3, 3 KOs). He was 16-11-3 just 15 months ago with a shot at BBBofC British title and a stoppage win of Brian Rose in 2010. Since then - nothing. Tonight Maxwell has lost his 23rd straight and 21st bout this year, dropping a sole score 80-73 to the feather-fisted prospect Lewis Taylor (12-0, 1 KO). Maxwell was an aggressor but Taylor was just too smooth to be dropped and escaped with an unspectacular but a well-earned win.