Ask Stuart Hall about his age and he’ll get a bit defensive. At 33, the bantamweight contender from Darlington in Northeastern England is up there in age for a 118 pounder, as most sub-featherweights tend to peak in their late-20s.
Hall is quick to point out that chronological age and “boxing age” are two separate matters, and that the fact he didn’t turn professional until five years ago means that he has a lot more to give as a pro boxer.
“I’m a fresh 33,” stated Hall. “I know everybody keeps going on about my age but I beat a 26-year-old in Sergio Perales in my last fight, so it just shows you that age is just number. I haven’t been in many wars; I haven’t been in many tough fights.”
And indeed, his age matters far less on Saturday than in most previous fights, as Vusi Malinga (21-4-1, 12 knockouts), whom Hall will face for the vacant IBF bantamweight title at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, England, is a year older than he is – with a lot more experience in his career and mileage on his body.
The fight will be aired live in the United Kingdom on BoxNation, beginning at 7:00 p.m. local time. British welterweight prospect Frankie Gavin (17-0, 12 KOs) will also appear on the card, facing Joseph Lamptey (16-5-1, 11 KOs).
This world title opportunity, which came about after fellow Brit Jamie McDonnell was stripped of the title for not facing Malinga within the U.S.-based sanctioning organization’s deadline, will be Hall’s first. Malinga of Katlehong, South Africa is hoping to make good on his third title opportunity.
“His loss is my gain,” said Hall of the McDonnell strip. “I’m going to grab this chance with both hands because it might not come again.”
For Hall, the opportunity is one he could’ve only dreamed about in his early 20s. Though he had first walked into a boxing gym at age nine, he strayed away from the sport as a teenager, distraught by what he felt were bad decisions that went against him as an amateur.
Instead, he decided to live abroad, moving with a friend to Ibiza, Spain, a renowned party island in the Mediterranean Sea, at age 19. For five years, Hall lived day-to-day, working in clubs and bars and handing out flyers to party-goers to make ends meet.
It was at this point that he says he “went off the rails.”
“I lost all sense of being alive,” said Hall. “I was just out every night, drinking every day, getting out of shape, not looking after myself, eating junk. I was 11 stone (154 pounds) in Ibiza; I make 8 stone six (118 pounds) now. Just shows how much of a different lifestyle I’m leading.”
On returning to England, Hall went back to the gym, working to rehabilitate his physical appearance and self-esteem. Slowly, the rhythm returned and a thought popped into his head that had never before found root.
“I was out of shape, I was depressed. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Hall. “If it wasn’t for boxing, I’d probably be in a box now, know what I mean?
“I thought ‘I’m going to get in the pro game,’ just because I didn’t want to be one of these men in the pubs saying ‘I coulda done this, I coulda done that.’ I wanted to give this game 100 percent.
Hall turned pro in 2008 and stopped a fighter with a 6-0 record in his second fight. To supplement his boxing income, Hall and a friend opened up a roofing business.
With just nine fights to his name, Hall won the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC), or the Lonsdale belt as its commonly known, bantamweight title with a knockout of Ian Napa.
Hall won the Lonsdale belt outright (which is accomplished by making three successful defenses) before agreeing to meet Jamie McDonnell, a man whose fortunes would intersect with his own years later. Hall dropped a close decision in their 2011 clash and then lost a wider decision to Lee Haskins a year later.
While many would’ve thought that the dream was dead at that point, Hall pushed on, winning a fight two months after the Haskins defeat, and another two months later. When Hall managed to decision highly-rated Texan Sergio Perales in May, Hall knew he was right back where he needed to be.
Malinga has been a consistent fighter in his home country, but has fallen short when he has gone abroad for world title fights. He was knocked out in one round by Hozumi Hasegawa in a WBC bantamweight title vie in 2009, then lost a unanimous decision to Leo Santa Cruz for the vacant IBF bantamweight title last year.
Hall says that a title win – followed by a rematch with McDonnell – would be enough of a high note to retire off of before moving onto the next phase of his life. After all, just getting to this point is more than he could’ve imagined just a few years ago.
“I want to retire on a high, I don’t want to retire on a low,” said Hall. “I don’t want to be one of those fighters that stay on too long and wind up talking stupid. I’ve got Vusi Malinga in front of me, and after that everything else is a bonus.”
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.