By Cliff Rold
Like father, like son?
Not exactly. 27-year old Chris Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KO) learned the sting of defeat earlier than his Hall of Fame candidate father. He didn’t manage to snare a (full) belt at 160 lbs. before arriving at super middleweight either.
It doesn’t mean he can’t join Senior in the title circle sooner than later.
Eubank, who holds the IBO super middleweight title, is poised to move into a position of opportunity in the super middleweight division this weekend if he can get by over 37-year old Arthur Abraham (46-5, 30 KO). The bout will be televised in the US on pay-per-view (2:30 PM EST/11:30 AM PST). The winner of this bout will enter the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) as the third seed in the fall to face Turkey’s 25-year old Avni Yildirim (16-0, 10 KO).
There are some notable names in the class missing from the super middleweight tournament field. James DeGale and Gilberto Ramirez, arguably the two top fighters in the division, are absent. Only one of the four most recognized titlists in the class, WBA titlist George Groves (26-3, 19 KO), is participating. Yet, while not as deep as a cruiserweight counterpart with the potential for a four-belt unification, this tournament promises a chance for a star to emerge.
Depending on how the brackets shake out, it could also take healthy advantage of the red-hot British market. Four of the eight participants are UK products. Groves, as the top seed, will face countryman Jamie Cox (23-0, 13 KO) in the opener. Rounding out the field, 27-year old #2 seed Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KO) will face Sweden’s 26-year old Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KO) and 38-year old #4 seed, and former WBA ‘sub-light heavyweight beltholder, Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KO) will face a 26-year old American middleweight, Rob Brant (22-0, 15 KO), who is moving up for his chance at a title and healthier purses.
There is a reasonable chance we could see a Eubank-Groves semi-final if Eubank can get past Yildirim. He won’t be in line for either fight without a win this weekend.
Eubank may best be known on this side of the Atlantic for talking a lot about a fight with Gennady Golovkin that didn’t get made. There’s more to him than that. Since narrowly losing a split decision to current WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders in 2014, Eubank has grown as a fighter. He managed to capture an interim WBA middleweight title with a stoppage of then-unbeaten Russian Dmitrii Chudinov in his first fight after Saunders.
It was the start of a six-fight knockout streak that brings him face to face with a man who was once among the biggest punchers of his generation.
While Abraham never quite became the destroyer at super middleweight he sometimes appeared to be during a long IBF title reign at middleweight, he’s never lost to a genuine lesser light. All five of his losses (Andre Dirrell, Carl Froch, Andre Ward, Robert Stieglitz, and Gilberto Ramirez) came to men who had or would hold titles. Twice he held the WBO 168 lb. crown.
That he’s still around may feel surprising. Since going 1-3 in the Super Six tournament from 2009-11, he’s fought only once outside Germany in the loss to Ramirez. This weekend, he heads to London and he’s clearly the underdog. His chance is a puncher’s chance. With only two knockouts in eleven fights dating to the start of 2013, he faces long odds.
It doesn’t mean he can’t land a bomb or two along the way and make things uncomfortable for Eubank. This is just one of those fights with the old feeling of ships passing. New fighters replace old fighters. The game never stops or slows down in that regard.
There is something exciting about Eubank entering the WBSS field if he can win this weekend that makes this a ship worth watching go by. The potential for a showdown with Groves is one thing. The possibility of an all UK final if Smith emerges from his side of the bracket is a little mouth watering.
Fans of a certain age will remember the wonderful battles at super middleweight in the late 1980s and early 1990s between Eubank Sr., Nigel Benn, Michael Watson, and eventually Irishman Steve Collins. Wild fights, and some massive crowds, saw a domestic round robin as exciting as anything in boxing at the time.
While the WBSS is going on, DeGale (23-1-1, 14 KO), the IBF titlist and 2008 UK Olympic Gold Medalist, can continue to ply his trade and hope the Union Jack is waving at the close of the WBSS. There could be a mega-fight built by then if DeGale stays winning.
Will Eubank be the man primed for the payoff? That question probably won’t be answered until 2019. It won’t be asked at all if Eubank doesn’t take care of business this weekend.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]