JUST as Danny Williams had got a little too fluffy in the whisker department prior to his world title tilt at Vitali Klitschko in 2004, Tyson Fury apparently now has a beard to be feared according to the British Boxing Board of Control too. However, despite Fury’s fiendishly furry antics and imminent facial shearing, his main event audition for Wladimir Klitschko’s WBO heavyweight title against Dereck Chisora is in danger of being over-shadowed by its chief support billing on Saturday night at the Excel Arena.
It is a rare occurrence indeed that the all-singing and all dancing Mancunian has to play second fiddle to any boxer these days, even David Haye struggled to get a word in edge ways during the vociferous build up to the pair’s ill-feted pay-per-view bonanzas over the past to years.
The reason for the heavyweight showdown being somewhat cast adrift in the public eye is due to match-making of the highest order from Frank Warren. The middleweight clash pitting Billy Joe Saunders against Chris Eubank Jnr is a thing of beauty and a refreshingly competitive addition to an often forgotten undercard world. Anyone confidently predicting the outcome of this one has a nose larger than Pinocchio’s.
The combatants have taken vindictive pleasure in winding the other up, hoping to see the uncoiled spring of emotions unleash in a fistic frenzy. The match-up has been many months in the making and caught the wider public’s imagination through the pair’s regular eye-bulging rants on social media.
Their mutual discord was ramped up a notch on talkSPORT radio last month when the pair informally agreed that the loser would fork up £100,000 to charity. Eubank Jnr denied such formalities had ever been concluded when he graced journalists with his less than ubiquitous presence during Monday’s re-scheduled press conference.
Both fighters are unbeaten after a similar number of contests, but Saunders’ 20-0 ledger dwarfs Eubank’s 18-0 version in terms of depth and experience against quality operators. As reigning and defending European, British and Commonwealth champion, Billy Joe has taken the ‘0’s’ of four opponents in his last six bouts, including a September 2013 barn-stormer against Matchroom foe John Ryder at Stratford’s Copper Box Arena.
On paper, this tussle of unbeaten rivals should be a heinous mismatch, but such is the obvious talent that Eubank Jnr possesses, (not to mention stellar genes) and the infamous rumours wafting around his camp of sparring sessions amongst the shrewdest of operators and observers alike, all suggests that his underwhelming record may not be the smoke and mirrors Saunders thinks it to be.
Chris Eubank Snr has unsurprisingly courted controversy by claiming that his son is now ready for middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin, whilst comparing him to arguably the greatest all-round boxer of the last 40 years, Sugar Ray Leonard. Saunders thinks the pair utterly deluded.
To add yet more spice to an increasing delectable dish, Billy Joe has unwittingly taken a leaf out of the World Wrestling Entertainment playbook by labelling this bout a career-ender should he lose. He clearly feels that his boxing aspirations are at a dead-end should he not be able to outwit the seemingly over-protected, privately educated Brighton pretender. The 2008 Beijing Olympian has exuded confidence in the fight’s build up, and appears utterly baffled by anyone’s wavering opinion on the fight’s outcome.
The huge hype and newspaper columns surrounding the clash certainly makes Eddie Hearn’s description of it as merely ‘a trade fight, albeit a very good one’ look somewhat mischievous, when defending his recent box office card to BN’s Matt Christie a fortnight ago.
In terms of domestic, non-world title fights, it is arguably on a par with James DeGale-George Groves’ scintillating duel at London’s O2 Arena, which according to Sky, warranted box-office billing in May 2011. Prior to that fistic treat, there was huge hype surrounding Audley Harrison’s 2005 heavyweight British title challenge against the ‘Brixton Bomber’ Williams at Saturday’s Docklands venue. It was being hailed as the biggest domestic fight since Lennox Lewis’ seven round Cardiff corker against the luckless Frank Bruno on a rainy October night in 1993. As is so often the case in Harrison’s seemingly interminable career, ‘A-Force’ flattered to deceive and froze on fight night to a crescendo of boos and largely warranted crowd barracking.
Having attended that bill, it was Matt Skelton and Amir Khan who stole the Docklands’ show that night. Former K1 kick boxing world titlist Skelton putt perennial domestic fringe contender, John McDermott, down four times inside 90 seconds to claim a first round stoppage win whilst Khan effortlessly accounted for the 65-fight Sheffield veteran Daniel Thorpe (who had beaten 2002 Commonwealth champion Haider Ali in his previous outing) in two swift sessions of dazzling hand speed to move to 4-0.
For me, this middleweight clash carries more intrigue than even Carl Froch-Groves II, for their first epic tussle provided valuable insight on how the second might play out. Whilst Groves’ chances against DeGale were largely dismissed amongst the boxing fraternity. A Boxing Monthly poll had the Beijing Olympic champion ahead 29-3 in the prediction stakes and was a prohibitive 1/6 favourite. Saunders-Eubank can barely be separated by the bookmakers, so often the shrewdest prognosticator.
Piecing together the likely outcome of a middleweight feud with so many imponderables is truly fascinating. This ill-tempered grudge match is arguably big enough to top any domestic bill in Britain, and huge kudos must go to Warren and BoxNation for putting together such a stacked undercard, full of intriguing, competitive fights to accompany messrs Chisora and Fury. One suspects that on this occasion, Warren won’t mind his heavyweight main course playing second fiddle to his sumptuous middleweight aperitif.