'I live for the moment': Stuart Hall interview
Ahead of Saturday's world title eliminator showdown against old rival Paul Butler, Stuart Hall tells Danny Winterbottom that he's in a positive frame of mind and enjoying life...
When Stuart Hall returned to his home town of Darlington with the bass heavy beats of Balearic house music still ringing in his ears following several years of excess on the Mediterranean party Island of Ibiza, the crushing realism and monotonous routine of everyday life almost proved too much to take before boxing saved him from prison, or worse.
“It took me a few years to grow up,” admitted Hall, who continued his wild ways back in Britain before the buzz of the fight game slowly but surely replaced the drink and recreational drugs that threatened to consume his life and ravage his body.
A British title victory over the classy Ian 'Dapa' Napa in 2010 eventually led to an unlikely world title victory, and now at the age of 37 the one-time party animal stands on the verge of another tilt at world honours should he beat old foe Paul Butler in an eliminator for the WBA 118lbs title held by Jamie McDonnell at the Echo Arena in Liverpool this weekend.
“I cannot wait for this fight,” stressed Hall when Boxing Monthly caught up with him on the eve of fight week. “People have been saying that Butler is an improved fighter, but how has he improved?
“He's fought nobodies since we last fought except when he got badly knocked out by [Zolani] Tete in 2015. He says I've done nothing but the fact is I am the fighter with the momentum coming into this. I have had 36 rounds against three world-class fighters in Randy Caballero, Rodrigo Guerrero and Lee Haskins. These are the facts. I've done 12 hard rounds with these guys and what has he done?
“Look at his record, most of the fights in his career he has got in the ring knowing that he was gonna win except when he fought me and Tete. My last fight was a six rounder, a tune up that I knew I was gonna win but his whole career has been like that. He's had nothing to fear since the Tete fight.”
Back in 2014 Hall had made one unsatisfactory defence of the International Boxing Federation bantamweight crown he won with an energetic display of attacking boxing against South African Vusi Malinga a year earlier, when Martin Ward suffered a cut eye that required 15 stitches and brought about a premature and frustrating ending to their bout at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena after just two rounds.
Hall was then matched with the up and coming Butler in the second defence of his crown, with the Ellesmere Port talent making the jump from super flyweight to bantamweight. However the night ended badly for the defending champion as he lost his title by way of a split decision in a nip and tuck affair that could have gone either way after a slow start to the contest cost him dearly on the scorecards.
“I think we saw the best of Paul Butler three years ago, “ said Hall. “Back then he was being touted as the next big thing by Frank Warren and that's why I think he got the decision [on the scorecards], but he then went and got himself knocked out [by Tete], Frank Warren binned him off and he's done nothing since.
"Back then when I was world champion I wasn't in a great place mentally,” admitted Hall. “I was having a few problems away from the ring and I found it hard to concentrate on boxing. I admit that he [Butler] got under my skin a little before the first fight because he's a bit gobby, isn't he? But I cannot stress how much I'm looking forward to the rematch!”
“I've been away from my family for nine weeks down in Birmingham training with the Yafai brothers and my trainer Max McCracken who is brilliant. I've only just got back home as I'm talking to you now after being stuck in traffic for five hours. I've missed birthdays and anniversaries but it will all be worth it come Saturday night.”
Both Hall and Butler have switched trainers since they first met in 2014 with Butler moving across Manchester twice in quick succession. From his original trainer Anthony Farnell he joined Oliver Harrison's gym following his KO loss to Tete before his most recent move to Joe Gallagher at Amir Khan's Gloves Community Centre in Bolton, where he trains alongside the likes of Anthony Crolla and Callum Smith.
Butler may have joined forces with a successful training team and switched promotional loyalties to the influential Matchroom Sport but Hall believes that his preparation under the guidance of Max McCracken will not have been bettered 100 miles away along the M6 motorway
“I have done 60 rounds with Kal [Yafai] and 60 rounds with Gamal [Yafai] and they are both as strong as Ox's,” said Hall. “Kal is a world champion [WBA 115lbs world champion] and could be a unified champion because he is very, very good, but these guys are over 10 years younger than me and I've been doing well against them,” he said.
“I have been quoted as saying that Butler has had a bad training camp but I was misquoted. I said I believe he's had mediocre sparring because I have no doubt that Joe Gallagher has trained him well and he will be in great shape.”
Hall has shown a dogged determination to overcome adversity and to come back from defeats throughout a professional career that started late at the age of 28 with a low key victory over one Abdul Mghrbel at the Darlington and District Club back in 2008.
Almost a decade later he isn't ready to be written off just yet despite a morale crushing loss to Bristol trickster Haskins just over 12 months ago with his old IBF world title at stake.
“Everybody keeps saying that at 37 I should be too old, but I've stuck at it and come back,” said Hall. “They said it when I beat Lee Haskins last year, everybody knows that I beat him on the night, and people said I was too old at 28 when I turned professional. I don't listen to any of that nonsense, I live for the moment. Me and you talking now is living, I might be dead tomorrow so I don't worry about what might be in the future if I lose this fight.
“I say enjoy life whilst you can and at the moment I'm a happy fighter. I've got Max McCracken talking to me everyday and Paddy Lynch, who has been in this game for 50 years, keeping me switched on and you can't beat that experience. If somehow Butler does beat me then all I can say is 'fair play' because I feel great at the minute and on Saturday you will see that this old man still has enough left to beat Paul Butler.”