By Terence Dooley
ExCel Arena, London - The chief supporting bout was a contest between a fighter with everything to prove and one with everything to lose when Brighton’s Chris Eubank Jr. challenged Hatfield’s Billy Joe Saunders for the British, Commonwealth and European middleweight crowns.
Many people have compared Junior to his illustrious two-time WBO title winning father, who won titles at middleweight and Super middleweight, but he has declared that he will “Do things my own way”. He kept to his word during the ring walks, striding out to an instrumental version of Dre’s Stil Dre, rather than Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, his father’s anthem.
Saunders (11st 5lbs 10oz) came out to Run This Town, singing the words as he made his way to the ring while Eubank (11st 5lbs 4oz) remained impassive yet purposeful throughout.
It was experience versus unfounded confidence in the early going, but Eubank showed flashes of ability as it progressed only for Saunders to uncork a straight left in round three, the best punch of the fight up to that point. Eubank, though, passed his first test, taking the punch without any adverse effects.
Although the fight was still in Eubank Junior’s grasp, London’s Jimmy Tibbs out-worked Senior during the corner battles, telling his charge to lash home the straight left while Eubank uttered esoteric missives that could take up to two-minutes for the normal boxing brain to unpack. Leaving the question of whether his son was on his wavelength.
Junior’s main problem was his own left hook, he kept winging it wide, rather than tightening the trajectory of the punch and didn’t get it going until the sixth—his best round of the fight up that point.
“Get him out of there, what’s the matter with you?” asked Ronnie Davies, his official trainer and the voice of practicality in the Eubank corner. Eubank responded with some tasty right uppercuts, but he still could not adjust his feet in time to land the left.
Eubank made a huge drive at Saunders in the ninth, the round his father stopped Nigel Benn in to win the WBO 160lb title in November 1990, only for Saunders to roar back. Eubank, though, seemed to land enough shots to bloody the champion’s nose, although referee Michael Alexander attributed it to an accidental head butt, but, again, his balance left a lot to be desired.
It was a question of whether Eubank could plant his feet correctly—something his father had asked him to do after the first round—to land an accurate, hard shot going into the championship stretch. Davies implored him to win the remaining rounds after the tenth, letting the 25-year-old know he was falling by the wayside due to inactivity.
As was the case throughout, there were signs of promise from Eubank only for Saunders to use his nous to dig something out when it mattered and, importantly, maintain his work rate. Frustratingly for Eubank, the last round was one of his best yet it wasn’t enough to score the knockout needed to go from prospect to champion whilst skipping the contender stage, which should be his next step on tonight’s evidence—he can come again if he fixes a few basic issues. The genetics are there, he just needs some tweaking—and more input from the vastly experienced Davies.
Marcus McDonnell had it 115-114, Phil Edwards handed in a 113-116 card and Terry O'Connor scored it 115-113 for Saunders, who retained his belts courtesy of sounder boxing in the early going and experience of negotiating those tricky title waters. BoxingScene had it wider, 116-112 for Saunders. Saunders is now 21-0 (11) and will fight for the WBO crown next; Eubank is 18-1 (13), but may come again.
Eubank Junior was gracious in defeat, but disputed the scoring. He said: “It was close—I felt I won most of the second half of the fight, if not all of it. Hopefully we can do the rematch ASAP. He did what I thought he would do. He boxed to plan, came out strong and I thought I overtook him, but the judges made the decision. I’ll be back.
Saunders becomes the first traveler to win a Lonsdale belt outright; he declared that he is giving it to his dad before setting his sights on the world title. “Thank you for everyone who came out here,” he said. “Listen, fair play to Eubank Junior—he’s better than I thought he was, but he was too slow over the first six rounds. Next stop is the WBO world title. I’ve got a bit of learning to do yet, but I’m ready for the world title.”