In a back-and-forth thriller that had to wait out a nerve-wracking judges' decision, IBF world bantamweight titleholder Stuart Hall saw his reign end Saturday night against unbeaten 25-year-old phenom Paul Butler in Newcastle, England. The final scores were 115-113 (Hall), 115-113 (Butler) and 117-111 (Butler).
The fight went one way and then the other. Butler came out as the aggressor, but heading into the latter rounds, Hall found his form and started punishing the younger opponent. When Butler bounced back to fight through the adversity in the latter rounds, it proved to be enough to squeak out a split decision.
BoxNation captured just how close the fight was:
There was no love lost between the two boxers heading into Saturday's fight, and that might be an understatement. But the time had come for them to decide all of it—and the title—over the course of 12 rounds.
In the wake of his biggest career victory, Butler wasn't shy about offering up a rematch, per BoxNation:
As things got underway, it became apparent that the younger, smaller and quicker Butler was going to take advantage of those qualities against an older, bigger and stronger Hall.
Hall connected on two straight right hooks at the first-round bell to shake Butler a bit, but that wasn't enough to wipe away the challenger's energetic start. He came out inspired, controlling the pace and not ducking to the pressure as many had expected.
Butler's supreme energy continued into the middle rounds, as the younger boxer started finding more and more openings. Hall was protecting himself well and started to match his opponent's flurries at times, but Butler kept on asserting his dominance and widening the gap.
The body shots were there for Hall, and boxing promoter Dave Coldwell was wondering why he wasn't taking advantage:
The 34-year-old Hall proved his experience despite trailing, using his obvious advantage in strength to shoo off Butler and chip away at him. But it wasn't enough to give Hall serious contention in any of the early rounds as Butler's lead seemed to grow.
Butler continued to have the upper hand heading into the fifth round, when a seemingly incidental butting of heads caused a cut to open up over Hall's left eye.
Shortly after, Hall started to turn things around. He got Butler against the ropes multiple times with a couple of flurries, using his strength once again to beat down the challenger—giving him the obvious edge in Round 6.
Hall used that momentum to fight a revitalized couple of rounds, squashing Butler's stranglehold on the fight. But instead of wilting, Butler continued to grapple and didn't fall victim to Hall's strength through eight rounds.
At that point, it seemed as if Butler's advantage had completely vanished, per BoxNation:
As Round 9 began, Butler started receding more and more. Hall stood his ground and kept driving his opponent to the ropes, landing open hits as Butler looked to be overpowered by the sheer will of Hall's attack.
But when the fight got into the final couple of rounds, both fighters brought their A-game, knowing how close the fight had been and how few opportunities were left to impact it.
Round 11 could have been split either way after both fighters went after it. Hall seemed to find a bit more in Round 12 than Butler, but it was also awfully close.
Heading to the scorecards, both fighters celebrated like they had won, and Boxing Ireland was among the many who couldn't figure out a victor:
When it went to the judges, nobody really knew who would get the nod. The first score of 115-113 was called in Butler's favor, then the second card of 115-113 to Hall was announced—meaning it came down to the third judge.
An announced score of 117-111 made it obvious—Butler's early dominance and late resurgence were enough to give him a big victory in the eyes of that third and decisive judge.
The result marked the end of Hall's reign as a world champion, and even though he exited with his third career defeat, he fought to the end and made it interesting. If he had just been able to match some of Butler's early intensity, he would have defended his belt.
It's impossible to say that Butler didn't earn every ounce of that belt won on Saturday. Hall brought the fight of a champion, and it took a dominating performance in the early rounds for Butler to have a chance heading to the scorecards.
Saturday effectively marked the start of a new era in the IBF bantamweight division. The 25-year-old Butler has reached the pinnacle of being a world champion, while the 34-year-old Hall will likely track down a bounce-back bout to get another crack at the belt.