After his Oct. 8 showdown with Conor Benn was cancelled, Chris Eubank Jr’s world title pursuit resumes against former super-welterweight world champion Liam Smith. Both are in the back half of their respective careers and after contrasting routes back to top contention, they collide in Manchester on January 21. So, who said what at the first official press conference yesterday?
Eubank: smith an easier fight than an unknown in benn as rematch clause talk dominates london press conference
Chris Eubank Jr (32-2, 23 KOs) vs. Liam Smith (32-3-1, 19 KOs)
January 21 at Manchester’s AO Arena
Live on Sky Sports Box Office in UK, undercard and price TBC
- “Conor was an unknown, unpredictable, young and undefeated, that was gonna be fiery. I know what Liam is, a much more controllable fight and I’ll win with a fair amount of ease,” Eubank Jr on how this matchup compares to cancelled Conor Benn clash
- “Anyone with good fundamentals, you’ve lost! Knew it could be made with BOXXER, I’m confident, 100% ready and that’s why I pushed for January, as long as I’m fit I win,” Smith on Eubank Jr’s two defeats and mindset as December date was first mooted
- Both confirm they had previously sparring sessions, Liam questions decision to insert rematch clause if fight was a foregone conclusion before Chris’ promoter Kalle Sauerland stresses he decided to, “never let an a-side go into the fight without one.”
It feels like yesterday and yet, it’s almost been two years. I vividly remember writing this story in January 2021 about Chris Eubank Jr’s new promotional deal and the stakes that came with it.
That’s why, aged 33 and heading into the new year, 2023 must be about world-class activity and righting the wrongs of previous years for a man who still divides public opinion.
After a busy boxing weekend weekend…
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He began the press conference addressing himself as the bad guy, an interesting observation given the goodwill and plaudits that came his way after the Conor Benn cancellation fallout.
Chris boiled himself down to a 157lb catchweight he’d not made since he was 18 as an amateur – the closest (158.25lbs) was vs. Omar Siala in October 2014, before his first 12-round fight.
Coincidentally, that came just five weeks later against domestic rival and former two-weight world champion Billy Joe Saunders – suffering his first career defeat via split decision.
Saunders had eight 12-round fights, including wins over then-unbeaten trio Gary O’Sullivan, John Ryder and Emmanuele Blandamura (RD8 KO) before the Eubank win. Food for thought?
Even as eyes were transfixed on Eubank Jr’s KFC jacket, he later stated a Saunders rematch is one he welcomes as the divisive southpaw prepares for his own in-ring return. More on that later.
Although domestic matchups are often compelling, interest would naturally dwindle with a loss here. Back on that matchup and Chris, who said this was one for the fans, said fun will be had:
“An awesome fight, I think [it’s going to be] the most fun I’ve had for quite some time, the styles are gonna gel excellently and fans are in for a treat. It can’t be boring, just from how we fight, makes sense, two guys at the top of the UK scene – and world – gonna have fun.”
Given the Eubank name, a ridiculed nextgen nickname and superstar persona for someone whose career is at a crossroads, perhaps too much fun has been had.
Chris Eubank Jr: The lowdown
- 2-2 in his real career tests: decision defeats by Saunders and Groves but most recently beaten James DeGale in 2019 – who retired afterwards – and Liam Williams this year
- Long-awaited world title fight against Gennadiy Golovkin could’ve been completed in late 2016, negotiations stalled and the Kazakh fought Kell Brook (R5 TKO) instead
- Could have fought now-former WBO middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade, who actively called him out, but opted for Benn and now starting 2023 with a domestic clash
- Having flickered with and without a trainer in previous years, stresses light-heavyweight legend Roy Jones Jr will training him for rest of his career and back in UK shortly
What did liam Smith say?
When Chris spoke about wanting to end every fight inside the distance, swatted away suggestions it’ll be a 50-50 fight – many said the same before he fought Williams – and said he deserves more respect than to be classed as someone on Smith’s level, the retort was inevitable.
“You got a proper leg-up because of your name, dad was a superstar.
You’ve just said you look to finish every opponent, go back to Marcus Morrison you wanted to carry him because of Roy… how many times did you put Liam Williams down, four was it? He got to points, made it seem like a close fight…”
Although he fired back with reasons why he didn’t finish either opponent, citing injury against Williams and a desire to bank rounds against Morrison, the damage was already done.
Therein lies the problem. Eubank Jr, for all his flashy speed and punch power, the patented left hand, his durability and more, critics will point out that he’s not the most skilled boxer.
George Groves exposed that weakness with a masterclass performance to retain his WBA super-middleweight title back in February 2018, and as you age, it doesn’t get easier to hone.
Perhaps that’s why his promoter, Kalle Sauerland, paused before continuing to list the traits and abilities they feel he has over Smith: “experience, youth, speed… skillset and size. Sorry, Liam.”
Liam Smith: The lowdown
- Smith won the WBO super-welterweight title vs. Apollo Thompson in 2015 and twice defended it before losing on Stateside debut against Canelo in September 2016
- Eubank and Smith have a shared opponent in Liam Williams: Smith twice beat the Welshman back in 2017 for the interim 154lb world title, but then lost convincingly via decision abroad against Mexico’s Jaime Munguia the following year for the belt
- After three victories in nine months, Scouser’s comeback trail was halted by Russia’s unbeaten Magomed Kurbanov (UD12) last May but he’s back on the winning run again with three stoppage victories – Anthony Fowler, Jessie Vargas and Hassan Mwakinyo
The change in pitch towards the end sounded like he was questioning himself, does Eubank Jr truly have the better skillset? Smith doesn’t seem to think so, and spoke about the weight too.
“Chris is having a laugh saying he’s sponsored by KFC, don’t. If he wants to keep doing that… he doesn’t make the weight as great as he makes out, it’ll be tested if it does.
His chin and body will be tested, he’s not stupid. I know his whole team are aware [of how tough this fight is], Kalle made the Conor fight too but with no clause… this is just the game he likes to play.”
BOXXER chief Ben Shalom co-signed that sentiment throughout, stressing it was a fight Sky have long been pushing for and Eubank will be fighting the best version of Smith, whose improved after world title defeats by Canelo Álvarez (2016) and Jaime Munguia two years later.
“I’m not sure Kalle was as keen on this but it’s the best fighting the best, Junior has stepped up twice to world level and fallen short. Smith comes forward, one of the best on the inside, could’ve had it in December but wants it in January – this isn’t a payday, he wants to win.
A tough fight for both, truly 50-50 and splits opinion, British boxing wanted and needed, perfect for both. Chris would have preferred Benn or Felix Cash and there’s a reason for the rematch clause.”
Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
OTHER NOTES, TIDBITS
Retirement speculation has lingered since Canelo snatched the WBO title and broke the orbital bone of Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs), who gained weight and had been relatively quiet on social media during the months immediately after suffering his first professional defeat in May 2021.
However, the 33-year-old confirmed in September that he’s back training twice a day now and enjoying it, while his trainer Ben Davison confirmed the same – he’s lost a lot of weight – while keeping an eye on the Eubank-Smith matchup early next year, should he decide to return.
It seems inevitable he will at some stage, perhaps with a warmup bout before moving onto bigger names, given he’s repeatedly spoken this year about the desire for a Eubank Jr rematch.
Elsewhere, here’s some news I uncovered myself at the press conference…
- Harlem Eubank says he’ll return in late February or early March, a timeline which was reaffirmed by promoter Kalle after Friday’s “sensational display” against Tom Farrell
- Adam Azim didn’t expect the knockout to come that quickly against Rylan Charlton and wants to stay active now, Ben Shalom told me he’ll headline a February card for Sky
- Eubank Jr was left unimpressed by Janibek Alimkhanuly’s WBO title defence display against Denzel Bentley earlier this month and says that fight also interests him
- Kalle puts Eubank-Smith in the same bracket as a world title fight, used WBA (Regular) world champion Erislandy Lara example – the public don’t care about certain names
- Smith rubbishes idea Janibek was calculated with his effort vs. Bentley, who exceeded expectations. Told me his dad was hospitalised – but is fine now – didn’t train for a week and that was part of the reason behind the January date, rather than December
- Lawrence Okolie’s unsavoury contract situation with Matchroom of interest to many promoters including Shalom, who is excited about Sky’s rich cruiserweight talent while Viddal Riley eyeing new British champion Mikael Lawal after David Jamieson retirement
- The 25-year-old was ringside, left unimpressed by Sunday’s showing, said he wants English and then British titles in 2023 but first needs to win on Dec. 17 in Bournemouth
- Shalom aware Lawal was ill during fight week, but still got the job done. Unclear if Isaac Chamberlain will be granted wish to be the 27-year-old’s first defence in the new year
Pictures captured by me, unless expressly stated otherwise