With no major fights in the UK this last weekend we look forward to the big middleweight clash between Chris Eubank Jr. and former WBO world light-middleweight champion Liam Smith. The contest is promoted by Ben Shalom’s BOXXER company and takes place at the Manchester Arena this Saturday 21 January.
It pits two fighters who are genuine world title contenders but closer towards the end of their careers than beginning. Both still though have a lot to offer.
Although they’re of similar ages at 33 (Eubank) and 34 (Smith), both are from boxing families and have accomplished to date. Smith has over-performed on the world stage winning a world title version and losing to elite fighters, most notably Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez who he lost his WBO title to in a big event in Texas, USA in September 2016. Eubank Jr. by contrast has fought and lost on points to fellow countrymen and former world title holders Billy Joe Saunders (November 2014) and George Groves (February 2018). Some argue that whenever he’s stepped up to the elite level he’s been found wanting, which is a reality but could be deemed harsh. He holds standout wins against Arthur Abraham, James DeGale and Avni Yildirim.
The contest should be competitive throughout as Smith (32-3-1, 19 KO’s) will not be intimidated by his flashy foe and the abilities of each will lead to some classy action, with inside work being a feature and likely the reason for the emergence of the victorious fighter. Both know how to maximise work to their opponents midriff and can also work well on the outside from distance. Eubank Jr. (32-2, 23 KO’s) is probably superior in this area, having better combinations and variation, and being the historically heavier man should have the greater power. Eubank will try to boss his foe using his greater size and mobility, whilst Smith has made no secret of his desire and tactic to work to Eubank’s body.
Smith will bring a strong fanbase across the EastLancs Road from nearby Liverpool to the Manchester Arena. Eubank will travel from his Brighton home on the English southcoast up to the northwest.
Much has been made in the build-up to the presence of hall of fame boxer Roy Jones Jr. inside Eubank’s training camp and his corner on fight night. Eubank, whilst being appreciative of Jones’ presence and input, has claimed that he doesn’t need Roy Jones on his side to win this fight. He considers it a done deal, whilst contradicting himself in his respect for Smith’s achievements and quality. Smith just considers it Eubank’s arrogance and is not fazed at all by it.
It should be an entertaining, but intriguing contest, particularly with the jeopardy that it presents. For the loser there is no obvious point of return whilst the victor will move onto world title contention at 160lbs (11st, 6lbs).
The Manchester Arena is sure to be an atmospheric venue come Saturday with a classic English north-south confrontation. The card is impressive with the appearance of undefeated world ranked cruiserweight Richard Riakporhe against Krzysztof Glowacki, and top heavyweights Joseph Parker and Frazer Clarke fighting other competitive heavyweights.
The clock is also ticking down on the big unified world light-heavyweight title fight between Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde at London’s Wembley Arena on Saturday 28 January. More on this to follow which promises to be an excellent match-up.
Last Thursday (12th) sadly saw the passing of former World Boxing Association heavyweight champion Gerrie Coetzee at age 67. He remains a legend in South African boxing history winning a version of the world title in the midst of the apartheid years. It was a time when worldwide boycotts were in place against their sports people and other performers, with civil unrest and political protest also being rife. The humble and affable Coetzee was a beacon of hope for South African sport and brought attention on the country at that difficult time in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s. Much has been written by respected South African boxing correspondents such as Ron Jackson about his immense contribution to their boxing history and his winning the WBA title by knocking out Mike Dokes in Cleveland, Ohio USA in September 1983.
My most vivid memory of Coetzee was on his attempt to regain his old title and bringing his obvious punching pedigree and ‘bionic’ hand to London in March 1986 to fight Frank Bruno in a WBA world title eliminator. Bruno would brutally KO Coetzee early and then go on to lose in his first world title shot to American Tim Witherspoon.
Coetzee’s life and boxing achievements will be celebrated in a film currently in production called ‘Against All Odds’, sadly posthumously now. His life is worthy of recognition and a reflection of his success in difficult times.