The 33-year-old Chris Eubank Jr went into his fight with Liam Smith with just two defeats to his name, both on points, but was stopped in the fourth round on Saturday night. What is next ?
There was always huge jeopardy for the loser of the high-profile all-British middleweight contest between Chris Eubank Jnr and Liam Smith. The shocking manner of the defeat for Eubank in Manchester, though, leaves his career if not his reputation, in tatters. He is faced with either a painful end or a very challenging comeback.
Boxing is always a brutal and, at times, cruel sport and an instant can change the trajectory of a fighter’s career or even life. That is why one of the sports often used epithets is to ‘expect the unexpected’. Without question this was one of those moments.
Eubank was brutally stopped in the fourth round by nine power punches from Smith and halted for the first time in his 12-year pro career. It is hard to see where he should or could go from here.
Is this the end for Eubank? Should he now retire?
Was it the very tough weight cut which he made for the aborted fight with Conor Benn the reason for his physical vulnerability? Had his body not had time to recover from that duress four months ago?
Many will say the Brighton boxer, son of the legendary Chris Eubank Snr, should retire after experiencing a major moment of hubris in his career, and in his life. There is a rematch clause with Smith, and as a proud fighter, the 33-year-old may invoke that clause and face the very tough challenge, mentally and physically, of stepping into the ring again with the Liverpudlian, a former light middleweight world champion.
There was no title on the line here, but huge bragging rights after a fairly rancorous build up. For Smith, all the spoils, and the prospect of fighting modern middleweight great Gennady Golovkin, or possibly Kell Brook. Brook is now talking of returning after he announced his retirement in an interview with Telegraph Sport 11 weeks after defeating Amir Khan last February. Both are very big fights. Or Smith could even choose to chase Jermell Charlo, the undisputed champion at light middleweight, given Smith’s high ranking in the 154lb light middleweight division. That looks like the least appealing prospect for Smith, now 34 and comfortable at middleweight. It goes without saying that this was a major moment for Smith, and arguably the greatest and most emphatic victory of his career, against a fighter whose name is synonymous with British boxing.
One suspects that as the dust settles, Eubank will lick his wounds and chase the Smith rematch, which he hinted at soon after the loss on Saturday night. It was not an outcome that could have been obviously predicted, not least because Eubank has rarely looked in real danger in his previous 34 fights against the likes of George Groves, a weather-worn James DeGale, Liam Williams and others.
But picking himself up from the brutal end to the contest will be a taxing proposition. There will also be questions asked over how his switch in style under trainer Roy Jones Jnr has affected his performances in the ring. Arguably, Eubank was caught with his hands down too low as Smith stalked him.
Indeed, few had put a dent in Eubank up to this point. Consider this: four months ago, Eubank was all set to face Conor Benn as a big favourite in a huge money-spinning contest at a catchweight 157lb, which was called off after it was revealed that Benn had tested positive (twice) for the banned substance clomifene. The contest, worth several million pounds for both fighters, had captured the public imagination. Perhaps the weight cut for that fight drastically affected Eubank’s physiology, perhaps he simply aged overnight in this fight, or to give Smith his due credit, Eubank was beaten by a man who had his number. Eubank had certainly talked increasingly of his deep disappointment at the fight being called off, critiquing Benn heavily for the failed tests.
Eubank, we understand, was being lined up to face either Golovkin or Brook, had he won on Saturday. There is still talk of him fighting Benn, or even Billy Joe Saunders (who defeated Eubank on points in 2014) in a rematch, but those fights are hard to imagine unless Eubank can prove that his harrowing dismantling by Smith was simply a blip in his life as a pugilist. There is still huge interest in the Eubank-Benn fight, a historical familial rivalry after their fathers indulged in two huge grudge fights 30 years ago, but it is hard to envisage the Eubank-Benn fight going ahead any time soon after the ignominy of Eubank’s defeat at the hands of Smith.
Benn, moreover, must clear his name as he continues to claim his innocence through contamination of the tests by Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. Robert Smith, secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, said that Benn’s team are yet to respond to their requests for information on the failed tests, with Benn having surrendered his licence with the Boxing Board last year. Benn, and Saunders, indeed, were quick to indulge in barbs at Eubank after his fall, both mocking him on social media.
Saturday night’s event may have been criticised as not worthy of being a pay-per-view event on Sky, but it was certainly a pay-per-view finish by Smith. The coming days will dictate whether Eubank, magnanimous as he was to Smith in defeat, will decide to either continue his career, or saddle up and leave the fight game behind. I suspect, though, that Eubank will return, as he remains a name. A fallen one, for now.