Liam Smith stopped Chris Eubank Jr with brutal and clinical authority in the fourth round of their middleweight contest in Manchester on Saturday night. His decisive victory, after an initially competitive and intriguing bout, settled the simmering animosity between the two men and has earned Smith the right to engage in far more prestigious fights. While no title was at stake in this domestic showdown between two fierce local rivals, Smith knew that a fourth defeat in his 37th bout would have been devastating for his future prospects. Eubank Jr, who is a year younger at 33, looked dazed and stricken beneath the percussive fists of Smith.
Pinned in his own corner early in the shockingly decisive round, Eubank Jr was caught by a blurring flurry of blows which culminated in a left hook and a cuffing right which sent him crumpling to the canvas. He was on his haunches, his right glove trying desperately to gain a grip on the ropes so that he could haul himself back to his feet. When he managed to get up Eubank Jr staggered drunkenly towards the referee, Victor Laughlin, but he was clearly hurt and confused. He spread his hands, questioningly, while Laughlin counted. It was as if he was asking the referee why he was still shouting: “Six … seven … eight.”
But that count was nowhere near long enough for Eubank Jr’s head to clear. Smith tore into him and even though none of the punches looked especially damaging, Eubank Jr was reeling. He went down again in a messy heap and Laughlin rightly stepped in to rescue him. The reality of his defeat suddenly seemed to spark Eubank into a futile act of defiance. He pushed the referee and ran haplessly towards Smith as if he wanted to continue fighting. Smith turned back to defend himself but his own cornermen jumped into the ring to save Eubank Jr from himself.
A horrible swelling began to grow visibly beneath his right eye as Eubank was led back to his corner. The end was shattering for a man who, despite having lost two of his previous 34 fights, had never before looked in any danger of being dropped. Ten days ago he boasted to me of his “iron jaw” which he claimed to have “inherited from my old man”. But even Eubank Sr was badly hurt in the latter stages of his career and his son should consider his future very carefully.
Smith has generally campaigned at super-welter – a division below an authentic middleweight in Eubank Jr. But he finished in dominant style in this crossroads fight for both men. The impressive Smith, his grey hair belying the verve and force of his punching, had been tested in the third round when a series of jolting Eubank Jr uppercuts landed. It looked as if Eubank Jr, who had boxed coolly behind his sharp jab in the opening two rounds was beginning to gain control after Smith’s early burst of aggression caught the eye.
There had been plenty of needle between the fighters in the buildup and Smith reacted stupidly at Thursday’s weigh-in when he resorted to homophobia. Eubank Jr responded with some class at the following day’s weigh-in where he wore a rainbow armband and showed why he had become a little more popular after years of being dismissed as a cold and arrogant boxer whose money-making powers were linked directly to his father’s status as a former world champion.
But this crushing defeat – following previous losses to very good fighters in Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves – should end any lingering illusions that he can match his father in becoming a world champion. Eubank Jr also told me recently that he worried about the brain damage boxing can cause and so it can only be hoped that he agrees to live the rest of his life on the safe side of the ropes.
Eubank Sr retired from boxing at the age of 32 and his 33-year-old son would do well to follow his lead. The likelihood, however, is that Eubank Jr will keep on fighting for he remains one of the biggest names in British boxing.
He had been a relatively innocent victim of the controversy surrounding the cancellation of his previous planned bout against Conor Benn last October. Benn had tested positive for clomifene, a performance-enhancing drug which boosts testosterone in men, but Eubank Jr was so eager to fight that he agreed to enter the ring, despite having to cut a dangerous amount of weight to make the 157lb catchweight limit for their manufactured but ridiculously lucrative contest. He admits that it would have been a travesty had the bout taken place and he soon agreed to the serious challenge of Smith – a bigger and far more experienced fighter than Benn. The impact of that weight loss and the chaos around a shameful incident in British boxing may have taken a toll on Eubank Jr.
But none of that should diminish the quality of Smith’s performance. He has been fighting professionally since 2008 and he came into this bout with a smart gameplan and an iron will. Smith can take deep satisfaction from his shuddering victory in Manchester and look ahead to far bigger paydays and significant battles in the year ahead. The contrasting fortunes of Smith and Eubank Jr, two such disparate men, could not have looked more stark at the violent end of a tumultuous night in Manchester.