IT’S a great time to be a boxing fan, what with a massive weekend just gone and another to come in the form of Frank Warren’s promotion at the ExCel Arena in London’s Docklands. Topping the bill the heavyweight return between bitter rivals Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora, but for me the most intriguing match on the show is Billy Joe Saunders against Chris Eubank Jnr. Saunders defends his British, Commonwealth and European middleweight belts and the winner of this 12-rounder can look towards a world title crack next year.
The champion is a former Olympian (2008, Beijing) who has won all 20 pro fights, 11 inside the distance. Eubank Jnr had a less exalted amateur background but has been around the sport all his life, being the son of the former two-weight world champion Chris Snr. He too has a 100 per record at 18-0 (13 early), but his competition has been at a much lower level than Saunders.
For every fan who reckons Saunders’ experience will prove decisive, there is another who thinks Eubank Jnr’s power will bring him victory. One can make a compelling case either way.
It also shows how the sport renews itself. A few years ago Britain and Ireland were blessed with several world class middleweights in Matthew Macklin, Darren Barker, Martin Murray and Andy Lee, prompting fans to argue over who would beat whom. Yet none of this quartet ever boxed each other, and now Barker is retired and Macklin licking his wounds after a defeat earlier this month.
Lee has a winnable fight against Mat Korobov for the vacant WBO belt on December 13 while Murray faces a formidable task against Gennady Golovkin in February. If Lee gets past Korobov, a defence against the winner of Saunders-Eubank Jnr would make a lot of sense.
So the stakes are high on Saturday in a battle that reminds me of the first Alan Minter v Kevin Finnegan clash 39 years ago. This pair of talents met for the vacant British middleweight title at the Empire Pool, Wembley and it pitted the refined skills of Finnegan against the aggression and hurtful hitting of Minter. True, neither was unbeaten at the time, but prospects weren’t mollycoddled in the 1970s and both Finnegan and Minter were recognised in the trade as having the potential to go much higher than British title level.
As it turned out, Minter won on points over 15 rounds by the narrowest possible margin for referee Sid Nathan at 147-146 ½ (half-points were allowed then). Alan would go on to beat Kevin twice more in equally close tussles on the way to becoming undisputed world champion for six months in 1980.
Finnegan held British and European 160lbs belts during a distinguished career – but he would never even fight for a world crown, let alone win one. Boxers don’t always get what they deserve.