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Big preview: Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams

Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams
Lawrence Lustig
Elliot Worsell examines the tantalising Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams scrap

THOUGH perhaps harsh to say Chris Eubank once lived in his own little world, there was definitely a sense that the Brighton man fought in his own little world during what was a thrilling 13-year professional career. A household name in the UK, his was a world of WBO belt defences, both at middleweight and super-middleweight, and was a world separate from the world of the elite fighters in those respective weight classes. It could be this way because, at home, Eubank made enough money to never have to upgrade his title or take unnecessary risks. Better yet, he was fortunate enough to establish domestic rivalries with the likes of Nigel Benn and Michael Watson, both ultimately legacy-defining in their own right.

Twenty years on and Eubank’s son, Chris Eubank Jr, now finds his own career following a similar path. Whether planned or not, his world is also a small one and his defining fights have also tended to come against men of the same nationality. He has won belts, plenty, but few would call them authentic, nor would they claim he has shown anything in winning these belts to suggest he could conquer the world’s elite middleweights or super-middleweights.

In short: he has big-name privileges. He has big-name privileges just as his father, who became one rather than was born one, enjoyed during the nineties. This ensures Eubank Jr calls the shots and can move at his own speed and write his own narrative. It grants him the luxury of telling you how good he is, and what he is going to do, as opposed to feeling the immense weight of having to show you.

This Saturday (February 5) in Cardiff, Eubank Jr meets yet another British opponent in the form of Welshman Liam Williams and knows that, at 32, hanging around at this kind of level must soon come to an end. That’s not to say Williams is a backwards step or disappointing opponent for Eubank Jr – quite the contrary – but for a man who has long spoken of his own brilliance and threat to the world’s best fighters Eubank Jr surely realises the need for an impressive performance against quality domestic opposition has never been greater.

Previously, of course, Eubank’s fortunes, when up against domestic opposition, have been mixed to say the least. There have been wins, recent ones against Marcus Morrison and a faded James DeGale, but these are overshadowed quite emphatically by defeats in the two most important fights Eubank Jr has had to date – the first against Billy Joe Saunders in 2014, and the second against George Groves in 2018. On both those occasions Eubank Jr was found wanting; found wanting in a way his father rarely was when paired with major domestic rivals. He found his pre-fight boasts too great to back up and he found his skills too raw to deliver him the bragging rights he craved. It was, in the end, all macho posturing and bluster. It was, at best, a learning experience.

His next opponent, Williams, has been blessed with none of Eubank Jr’s salesman capabilities nor did he have the benefit of a famous father when turning pro. His world, in contrast, has been a smaller one, a humbler one, and one he has had to construct entirely on his own.
In this world, Williams, a pro for over 10 years now, has won 23 of 27 fights and grown a reputation as “The Machine”. He has looked positively devastating at a certain level – a level just beneath top domestic level – but has been put in his place whenever he has attempted to venture beyond that.

Those opportunities, ones he had to work hard for, came against the likes of Liam Smith, who bested Williams twice in 2017 (once, somewhat unfairly, due to a butt-induced cut), and Demetrius Andrade, who dominated Williams on points last year. On those nights, rather than being out of his depth, Williams simply found himself in the ring with men possessing either tools or experience he, at the time, lacked. He was, to some extent, beaten at his own game by the aggressive, non-stop Smith, and he was then led a dance by the quicker and snappier Andrade, a nightmare for most he fights.

In between those losses, however, Williams had won seven fights in a row, all by knockout. The standouts in this run were victories against Mark Heffron, undefeated going in, and Alantez Fox, who was broken down in five rounds.

Yet, for as much as those seven wins gave Williams confidence and added to his fearsome reputation, they did very little for his learning – especially when moving up levels – and could even have been detrimental when the time came to share a ring with Andrade.

That night, on reflection, started in the worst possible way for Williams. Gung-ho and amped up, he was stung and dropped as early as round two, then essentially dazed for at least the first half of the fight. This presented him with a mountain to climb and made both an already difficult task now nigh on impossible and his reaction to a terrible start, impressive.

Since then, to shake things up Williams, 29, has changed trainer, moving from Dominic Ingle to Adam Booth, a switch he hopes will bring extra weapons to his game.

“I always wanted to train with Adam and intended to spend some time with him before I joined up with Dom [Ingle],” Williams, 23-3-1 (18), said. “But Dom and I hit it off so it didn’t happen in the end.”

On the recent split with Ingle, he added, “I’d got to the point where I was waking up every day and dreading the training. That’s no reflection on Dom but anyone who knows boxing knows it’s time for a change when you start to feel stale. Dom and I had a chat and he told me to be selfish. He told me to do what I needed to do. We’ll always be friends and I’ll always have affection for the Ingle Gym.”

Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams
Lawrence Lustig

Of course, while preparing to fight Eubank Jr in Adam Booth’s gym, Williams has spent much of his time training alongside another Eubank: Chris’ cousin, Harlem. This adds an additional layer of intrigue to a fight already overflowing in that department. “Harlem is nice kid and he’s not in the gym like some kind of spy for his cousin,” said Williams. “We get on well and both understand the situation.”

As for Eubank Jr, 31-2 (23), he has been back home in Brighton for four weeks, having done the bulk of his camp in Dubai. He was without Roy Jones Jr, his coach, while in Dubai, but the two have since linked up down by the coast, where Jones has spent the past two weeks working alongside Ronnie Davies.

“We get on really well,” Davies said of Jones. “He’s got the same old-school values as me and a lot of our philosophies on boxing are the same. He respects my position and said to me, ‘Ronnie, you know a lot about boxing.’ I said to him, ‘I’ve been in the game a long, long time, Roy.’”

True enough, if this latest Eubank ride conjures a strange sense of déjà vu nobody feels it more strongly than Ronnie Davies, the man who was by the original Eubank’s side all those years ago. For him, it must be hard to disregard the similarities, both in terms of their demeanours and attitudes and also their career paths, which, while different, share certain traits.

On that note, the introduction of Jones to the Eubank world is an interesting one. For as well as all his expertise and experience, what Eubank Jr – and indeed the Eubanks – get from Jones is an ego check and a reminder that there are levels to this game and that self-proclaimed greatness cannot answer to genuine, proven greatness. In other words, either consciously or unconsciously, they have introduced somebody to their world who has been there and done it, not just spoken about it. They have then humbled themselves in the process.

The danger, of course, is that Eubank Jr, so impressionable and talented, now finds himself falling in love with Jones’ style just as he did with his father’s when, at the start of his career, he was even more impressionable. This has already been apparent a couple of times during Eubank Jr’s recent fights, when he has looked more like a Roy Jones tribute act on its final run of a tour than the swashbuckling, if raw, physical animal that bullied domestic and foreign opposition circa 2016.

For some, time to think works. Yet for others, like Eubank Jr, and like footballers who perform better in front of goal with no time to think, rather than ample time to think, it can be almost paralysing. You sense here, in the case of Eubank Jr, particularly when seeing him stand off and try to recall the many Roy Jones fights he has studied, this could become a problem. After all, it is when overthinking that his movement typically slows, leaving him prone to either doing very little in a round or being caught by a punch mid-pose.

Rest assured, if anyone will be aware of these habits it will be Williams and his coach, Adam Booth. For while the relationship wasn’t long, nor all that fruitful, Booth did happen to train Eubank Jr – for victories over an overmatched Tony Jeter and Spike O’Sullivan in 2015 – and got to know him, as both a fighter and person. Not just that, Booth, having used Eubank Jr as a sparring partner for more than one of his boxers since around 2010, has seen plenty of him in the ring behind closed doors. He has seen when he has been on top and he has seen when he has struggled. He has seen, more importantly, Eubank Jr, the fighter and the man, away from the lights and the microphones and the father. He therefore knows exactly what makes him tick and what makes him vulnerable.

This insight will be priceless, no doubt, though still the union of Williams and Booth remains, until proven otherwise, an odd one. Before seeing them in action together, one would assume Williams’ aggressive tendencies neutralise a lot of what Booth tries to instil in his fighters. Which is to say, whereas Williams is all about emotion, often led by it, often enhanced by it, Booth has historically been all about cold detachment and a clear mind. The two don’t normally coexist but, in this case, maybe that’s what they’ll find. Maybe what they’ll find is that one settles the other and that for Williams, in meeting an opponent just as emotional and aggressive as him, the added calm of the man in his corner is the difference-maker.

In search of a more tangible difference-maker, it is difficult to look past the athletic prowess of Eubank Jr, nor easy to ignore how Demetrius Andrade’s speed and athleticism managed to tame Williams’ efforts last April. That could happen again on Saturday, too, with Williams’ spite and endeavour merely playing into Eubank Jr’s hands and Eubank Jr finding himself sparked to life by that rarest of things in his career: a threat. If indeed that is the case, and if Eubank Jr can ignite like the fighter of old, he should have enough to outwork Williams, win a decision, and leave his opponent accepting of the reality that some fighters, in the end, are simply blessed.

The Verdict Fascinating, hard to call and certain to engross.

ADAM BOOTH
WILLIAMS’ trainer insists he is not focusing on Eubank Jr’s perceived weaknesses. ‘It’s about how to negate his strengths to take advantage… I am not trying to change Liam nor showing him anything he can’t do. It is merely about the repetition of things that are required to win.’

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