LEEDS, England -- Stuart Hall claimed the vacant IBF bantamweight title early Sunday after a points win over Vusi Malinga of South Africa.
With his left eye swollen completely shut through the final four rounds, Hall took the fight unanimously 116-111, 117-110 (twice) on the three judges' cards after a contest which saw Malinga dumped to the canvas in Round 3.
"It feels unbelievable," Hall said. "I knocked him down but he came back at me. They're so much tougher at this level.
"I couldn't see anything out of my left eye for the final few rounds but I kept my focus and I always knew I was in front."
It capped a remarkable story for the 33-year-old Hall, who only took up boxing at the age of 28 after spending five years of his life engaged on a drink- and drug-fueled binge in Ibiza.
Hall had every reason not to be undaunted by his likely title shot, with Malinga the owner of an unremarkable 21-4-1 record, including a defeat in a challenge for the same title against Leo Santa Cruz in June last year.
Hall was an unlikely world title contender, having lost a British title fight against former IBF champion Jamie McDonnell in September 2011, and been defeated again at domestic level by Lee Haskins in July 2012.
Hall swarmed all over Malinga at the start of the second round, then landed a looping two-punch combination as the South African, edging forward behind a weak left jab, showed little inclination to get involved.
Hall had clearly claimed the early advantage and he emphatically built on that early in the third when a crunching right to the jaw dumped Malinga backward onto the canvas before he clambered up with the count at eight.
With Malinga looking wobbly and bleeding from the nose, Hall rushed in to try to finish the job but proved a little overeager and was caught by a pair of lefts coming in what proved an action-packed round.
Malinga had a little more success in the fourth and fifth, a swinging right temporarily halting Hall in his tracks.
But Hall responded superbly, troubling Malinga again with another sharp right.
So dominant was Hall it was hard to reconcile his performance against an unremarkable career record which until recently seemed destined to take him not much higher than domestic level.
Puffed up beneath the left eye, Hall did show the first signs of tiring through a busy sixth, and he shipped a lot more clean shots in the seventh but continued to ride them well and fire back with flurries of his own.
As the fight wore on Hall was walking into more shots and the damage around his left eye worsened significantly in the ninth, when he would surely have been better suited trying to stay away as Malinga sensed some hope.
But Hall saw the fight out by trading blows to the end.