LIAM SMITH beating Chris Eubank Jnr should not be called an upset but the manner in which the latter collapsed in round four was truly shocking.
Firstly, Smith was exceptional and he deserves what we hope is the life-changing payday that should come next; ideally at Anfield in a huge event where he is the star attraction. For too long, “Beefy” – one of Britain’s most consistent high-end active boxers – has been forced to travel the globe or settle into the role as the B-side to earn his dough. Thirty-five in July, Smith is now in prime position to significantly boost his retirement fund. And, frankly, given the fractured and fading importance of ‘world’ belts, plus the cost involved in challenging for them, a non-title rematch with Eubank might be Liam’s highest earner.
In the aftermath of his victory, Smith spoke of dragging Eubank down to “158 or 157” for a return. Whether an immediate rematch is the wisest course of action for Eubank is unknown but dropping any more pounds, even just two or three, would appear a dreadful idea for the proud Brightonian. Though it would be unfair on Smith’s career-best performance to label Eubank “weight-drained” on Saturday night, it’s nonetheless worthwhile to point out that recent changes in his body mass have likely done nothing to boost his longevity.
Those rubbishing claims that his arduous mission to get down to 157 for the aborted Conor Benn fight in October would have left no lasting ill effects ‘because he didn’t have a fight at the end of it’ are missing the point. The maturing body is not designed for such torture, particularly when in its thirties and with barely a shred of fat upon it. So it’s feasible that Eubank, who didn’t take a break from the gym between starting camp for Benn and getting in the ring with Smith, was weakened somewhat. In the same way that you or I took longer to recover from excessive activity in our thirties than we did in our twenties, boxers’ bodies are not immune to the punishment of weight-sapping training camps as they grow older.
Chris Byrd could barely stand up when he crashed weight in 2008; it was not the fists of Shaun George that essentially ended his career but the astonishing weight loss programme he endured beforehand. Similarly, Oscar De La Hoya, weighing a miserly 145lbs, was a shell of himself before he walked into the ring to face Manny Pacquiao in 2008. David Haye’s efforts to strip his body of fat ahead of his rematch with Tony Bellew stole the last of his punch resistance as much as the blows his opponent landed upon him.
Eubank’s drop to 157 was not as dramatic on the surface, but, coupled with a move down to 160 in 2019 after three years up at super-middleweight, it’s fair to ponder if his body was feeling the strain, particularly when one considers that, unlike Byrd, De La Hoya and Haye, Eubank didn’t have a shred of excess weight to lose.
Let’s not forget, either, that Eubank’s dramatic collapse was due to his own poor judgement inside the ring. Always overly reliant on what he has long deemed an indestructible chin, he has for too long gotten away with the kind of recklessness that was destined to one day be exposed. What Smith did, in those truly breath-taking moments in round four, was not just land one shot on Eubank’s skull but several in quick succession. And Eubank, content to retreat to corners or drop his hands in the knowledge that his chin could withstand the force of a grenade explosion, simply could not escape nor return fire. Two punches in particular from Smith, unsighted and perfectly formed, were as well-crafted as any you’re likely to see and once more highlighted Eubank’s shortcomings in the heat of a top-class battle. Only this time, at the age of 33, he could not rely on what he always believed was inherent toughness to survive.
Smith burst the Eubank bubble in a way that previous Junior conquerors, Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, did not. Though Eubank was outclassed for periods of both outings, his ability to stand up to punches and fight back became his badge of honour. It was one he wore well for a long time, too. But those iron whiskers being plucked so emphatically from his chin could leave him looking in the mirror at a reflection he no longer recognises.
One suspects a sense of pride will force him back to the ring, the one place he could always strut his stuff and feel superhuman. How he copes in there now, knowing deep down that his opponent can not only hurt him but turn his legs to spaghetti, could be a sobering realisation in the extreme.