IN light of the fact Chris Eubank Jnr spent weeks telling the world he operated on a different level intellectually to Liam Smith, and that Smith, to his mind, was little more than an “A-B-C, 1-2-3” type of fighter, it was somewhat appropriate that the shot with which Smith upset Eubank Jnr’s equilibrium tonight (January 21) in Manchester was a disguised and hugely creative left uppercut.
It was the shot, alas, Eubank Jnr failed to see coming; the shot he would have never have expected to be imagined by Smith, much less executed. It was a shot, thrown with Eubank Jnr bobbing and weaving in the corner, that changed the course of the fight – as good as ended it, in fact.
Eubank Jnr, to his credit, sprung to his feet the moment he was floored by the punch, yet, with two minutes still to go in round four, it was only a matter of time before Smith put the finishing touches to his career-best win.
Up to that point the fight, made at middleweight, had gone as expected. Eubank Jnr, with his hands low and a look of disdain on his face, unleashed wild and fast punches, scoring with a string of uppercuts to end round three, and appeared comfortable enough as Smith, behind a higher guard, rumbled forward in pursuit of him. There was, in round three, certainly no sign of what was to follow in the fourth.
That came out of nowhere, of course, with the setup to it no different than anything else we have seen from Eubank Jnr over the years. By his own volition he retreated to a corner, allowing Smith to close the gap, and it was once in this position, this danger zone, Smith moved his head and uncoiled a series of punches, the like of which Eubank Jnr either wasn’t expecting or had never before experienced.
Clearly, while he had absorbed with ease the punches of George Groves and Billy Joe Saunders in defeats gone by, these – the punches of Smith – were different. They were, for one, thrown on the front foot, with Smith looking to make a dent in Eubank Jnr rather than simply confuse him (as was the aim of both Groves and Saunders). They were also imaginative and well put together; far more than just jabs and crosses. These shots were instead fast, meaty, and thrown with Smith’s feet set and his base solid.
As a result, Eubank Jnr could only do so much to avoid them and, once a good one landed, that was it. He was stuck in the corner with his mind elsewhere. Legs stiffened, first by the uppercut and then by a follow-up left hook, it wasn’t even his choice to eventually flop to the canvas, his legs splayed, one arm over the middle rope to spare his blushes. He was functioning on instinct now and indeed his subsequent reaction to the knockdown – getting straight back up, tottering in the middle of the ring, and conversing with the referee, Victor Loughlin – was indicative of someone who had (a) never been in that unfortunate position before and (b) never so much as contemplated that one day this could become their reality.
No longer the genius he wanted the world to believe, Eubank Jnr was all of a sudden, thanks to Smith’s left uppercut, a fool and a novice like any other. The shot, in fact, seemed to almost cause a regression in him, stripping him of all his arrogance and grandstanding and returning him to an infant state: Daddy’s boy.
It was somewhat ironic, too, given one of Eubank Jnr’s great inheritance gifts is his chin and durability. Countless times, after all, we have seen him soak up the punches of men – often bigger men – and hardly blink in response, let alone cower or crumble.
This time, though, was for whatever reason different. This time, as he wobbled forward to argue with the referee about nothing, Eubank Jnr was, due to a single punch, a shell of a fighter, hollowed out, softened up, and there for the taking.
Smith, needing no invitation, duly took him, and he did so without even having to land another shot. As it happened, so great was the damage already done to Eubank Jnr he now simply fell into Smith, seeking an escape, after which a messy exchange was enough to cause him to dive headfirst towards the bottom rope. It was then on his way down Eubank Jnr’s left arm reached out in desperation for Smith’s leg, and it was then, on his way back up, Loughlin immediately ended the fight.
“I don’t know if it was one shot or an accumulation, but I told you all week (this would happen),” said Smith, 33-3-1 (20), afterwards. “A lot got made of Chris’ great chin, but I’ve got a great chin and there are many fighters with better chins who have been knocked out in the past.
“I told you all week: Don’t be surprised. Nobody cannot be hurt.”
A comment like that one, as sensible a comment as either man has made in recent weeks, was a fitting way to end this particular domestic rivalry. For it is true, after all, that while Chris Eubank Jnr, 32-3 (23), says he is different from others – built differently, with an ability to think differently – tonight was proof, if at all needed, that he is just the same as all the rest: vulnerable, fragile, ageing.
Worse for Eubank Jnr, too, the mystique has now shattered. Some may argue that happened the night he lost against Billy Joe Saunders in 2014, of course, but I would argue back that Eubank Jnr, in becoming someone known for his toughness and warrior spirit, managed to successfully reinvent himself after losing against Saunders (and even Groves) as a hard man capable of standing toe to toe with anyone, at least domestically, and finding a way to outlast them. He was smart with it as well, luring opponents into his kind of fight by bamboozling them with words beforehand and creating a pantomime villain persona – part mystic, part serial killer – not too dissimilar to the one his father mastered back in the nineties. Cool and clever, too clever for the rest of them, he said, and perhaps too clever for his own good, Chris Eubank Jnr was in the end left dumbfounded in Manchester tonight by the basics. The A-B-C. The 1-2-3.