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Stuart Hall: Santa Cruz Used Malinga as a Punching Bag

Fighting for a world title seemed an impossible dream for Darlington bantamweight Stuey Hall when he was embarking on a five year ‘bender’ in the bars and clubs of Ibiza during his early 20s.

But since finally committing to the pro ranks at the ripe age of 28, the one time ABA bantamweight finalist has been as dedicated and driven as he was once wayward and wasted.

After seeing off three ex champions to land a Lonsdale Belt outright, the 33 year old hard man overcame a brace of European title setbacks to land the Commonwealth and IBF Inter-Continental straps last season.

And when IBF king Jamie McDonnell was stripped of his crown for failing to meet mandatory deadlines, the north-east golden nugget needed no second invitation to contest the vacant belt.

On Saturday evening at the fabulous First Direct Arena in Leeds, Hall makes his improbable world title challenge against veteran South African southpaw Vusi Malinga.

With his preparation almost complete, the likeable, straight talking Durham man chatted to boxing writer Glynn Evans about his career thus far and the fight which could effectively change his life.

Remaining tickets are available from the First Direct Arena on 0844 248 1585 or www.firstdirectarena.com

Darlington is a notoriously tough town. What’s your recollection of growing up there?

I came from quite a rough estate, as most boxers do and, from a very young age, I was a bit of a handful. I was always tiny but I was rough and even got into the rugby team as a winger at comprehensive school because I was game and got ‘stuck in’.

I was a nightmare to be honest and regret my childhood a bit. I was a bit of an idiot and never got invited to the other kids’ parties.

When did you become involved with the boxing? How did you fare in the amateur code?

Me Dad first took me to a boxing gym when I was nine and I was just 11 when I had me first fight. Back then, you’d box every other week. I flitted in and out but still must have had about 90 to 100 bouts.

Darlington is notorious for its large travellers’ community. There’s a few very large camps and the boxing gyms are full of travelling lads. They’re rough boys, bred to fight and some of them are also very good technically, real class. I had some brutal spars and several became proper good friends. Unfortunately, when they hit 17, 18, and find the booze and girls, they pack up. I got to a few schoolboy quarter finals and semi finals but it was a real chore for me to stay off the streets when I was a teenager. I was never that dedicated. I never really had the mindset (to succeed) and knocked about with the wrong crowd.

In 2005, I finally did everything right and I got to the ABA final but there was no way I was getting a decision over the selector’s Golden Boy, Nick McDonald. I didn’t get a fair shake and, after that, I lost interest.

That said, if it hadn’t been for the boxing I don’t know what would have happened to me. It wouldn’t have been anything good.

Much has been made of your early adult life spent on the beach in Ibiza. How far did you slip from a boxer’s regime?

Massively. At one stage I was over 11 stone and I see photos of me back then where you couldn’t even recognise me. I ate whatever junk I wanted and got drunk seven nights a week. Sometimes, the benders would last for three or four days at a time. Occasionally, I’d go to a weights gym but I never did any boxing. I had plenty of tear-ups in the West End, mind. No gloves involved!

Still, you live and learn. I was there for about five years from the age of 19 and I’d not change a thing. A great life experience. I met some fantastic people.

You were already 28 when you finally joined the pro ranks in April 2008 yet won a Lonsdale Belt outright within a dozen paid fights. What attributes enabled you to make such rapid progress?

I decided that if I was going to try the pros, I’d really give it 100%. I didn’t want to be sat in a pub years later having regrets.

In my second fight, I was matched with Dougie Walton from Coventry who was unbeaten in seven. I was brought up there to get beat but I’ve a lot of friends in Birmingham and the midlands and was right up for it. I outboxed Dougie in the early rounds then chinned him in the sixth and final round. That was a really good feeling.

Mick Marsden worked as cuts man in my corner that night. He sounded like he knew the score, spoke a lot of sense about the game so I started working with him and he really brought me on.

I think it was my dedication and my power that allowed me to be so successful at British level. I never had an easy fight to get that Belt; beating Ian Napa, Martin Power, Gary Davies and John Donnelly. All were good, rated lads yet I stopped them all. Winning the Belt for the rest of my life was fantastic.

You’ve previously been quoted as saying that Mick Marsden, your manager and coach, is your ‘biggest attribute’. In what ways?

Mick keeps me grounded. Whoever we’re fighting, he always stresses it’s going to be tough. That keeps me on my toes and makes me a bit nervous which is a healthy thing. Also, he always focuses on getting me into the best possible nick, and getting my tools sharpened, rather than on my opponent. He shies away from the limelight and doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves.

Following European title defeats to both Jamie McDonnell and Lee Haskins in the 2011-12 season (both pts 12), you must have thought that, already 32, a future at world level was unlikely.

No, that’s not really true. I’ll know when it’s time to pack in. There’s loads of other stuff in my life that I can do but I still thought I could get there.

However, the defeats certainly brought me back down to earth. I’d been getting away with too much. I’ve been a bit of a party animal all my adult life.

I was very confident going into the fight with Jamie and, though I was going to Mauritius to get married immediately after, I’d be lying if I said that was a distraction. What I will say is I had a bit of an injury the week before but couldn’t pull out because I needed the money for the wedding.

To be fair, Jamie was far better than I thought he’d be. He had fantastic movement, a great engine and was very tricky. He’d also had the experience of doing the full 12 rounds four times. At the time, I’d not been past round ten. I learnt that I needed to dig in harder; respect the opposition more.

Against Jamie, I fought well and came up a little short. Against Haskins, I just didn’t turn up. It was a bad night. If I’m honest, Lee got into my head a little bit with his chat, at the weigh-in and during the fight. He’s an arrogant little shit (laughs)!

I was pretty gutted and after walking out the ring I lost a bit of faith. But the Haskins defeat turned out to be a real positive. At that time I was living in the dark ages, I did no strength and conditioning.

After that, I started to spend more time training in ‘Darlo’ with a strength and conditioning specialist called Johnny Harrison. He’s such a positive guy. He assured me that I was still very fresh but just needed to change a few things.

Today, I’m so much stronger and drop the weight far easier. All my old confidence is back. In my two most recent championship fights against Josh Wale (Commonwealth) and Sergio Perales (IBF Inter-Continental) I could’ve done 15 rounds easily.

Retrospectively, it was a stroke of genius matching you for the IBF Inter-Continental belt against Texan Sergio Perales (22-1). Your emphatic victory resulted in a shot at the IBF world title and provided ideal southpaw preparation for Vusi Malinga.

Yeh, I’ve never been floored or stopped before but I’ve not been hit so hard in my life, as what Perales hit me. Last weekend, he rebounded with a first round knockout back home in Texas.

Malinga’s crew claim their man has mixed in better class but I think they’re seriously overlooking Sergio and Jamie McDonnell; a couple of world class fighters. In addition to having heavy hands, Perales was a really clever boxer, very tactical. I actually had the fight far closer than the judges (who had Hall winning six rounds (twice) and two rounds). I should’ve jabbed more and never felt comfortable.

Co-challenger Vusi ‘Marvelous’ Malinga has challenged for major world titles twice before, getting iced in one by Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa then shut out by Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz. What have you seen of him? How do you rate him?

I’ve only seen those two world title fights. The challenge to Santa Cruz bored me and I had to turn it off. Santa Cruz basically used him as a punch bag.

Whereas I get the impression Malinga and his people are overlooking me, I’m certainly not overlooking him. No doubt he’ll be well up for it, to win the world title for his country and his family, just as I am. From what I’ve seen, he looks tough and rugged, throws good uppercuts.

But I’ve improved so much recently. I’ve got 12 rounds to deal with him and that’s what I intend to do.

How has your preparation gone?

I was in training already when we got wind of the world title opportunity so I’ve been at it for at least ten weeks.  I’ve spent half my time at the ‘Mixture’ gym in Darlington and half my time with Mick in Leeds. Cutting down on the travelling is keeping me fresher.

I’ve been sparring (ex WBC super-bantam challenger) Rendall Munroe who’s currently about ten stone, and you’ll not get better. He’s constantly in my face but if I can jab him off, I shouldn’t have too much difficulty jabbing Malinga off.

You’re effectively fighting on home court. How important could that be?

It’s a world title fight. It’ll probably go 12 rounds and if the rounds are close, hopefully, I’ll get the edge. There’s over 400 coming over to Leeds from ‘Darlo’ which isn’t bad just four days before Christmas. They’ll make the noise of a lot more.

Why are you confident that you can become world champion on Saturday?

I’ll be sharper and I expect that sharpness to win me the rounds. I’m expecting it’ll go the distance. No doubt there’ll be times when I have to go to war but everyone knows I love that.

It’s a case of handling the nerves on the night. Since Haskins, I’ve become stronger mentally, busier and better conditioned. My defence and movement are better and my jab has improved so much. That’ll be the key.

Malinga’s tough but wait till he finds out how tough I am!

Hall v Malinga, for the Vacant IBF World Bantamweight title, is live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 547) also featuring as chief support is Commonwealth Welterweight Champion Frankie Gavin defending his title against Joseph Lamptey, plus an action packed undercard.  Join now at www.boxnation.com

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