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Chris Eubank Jr stars for Sky

Chris Eubank Jr
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Chris Eubank Jr busies himself with late substitute as Sky Sports relaunch without any involvement from Matchroom, writes Declan Taylor

IT IS a case of out with the old and in with the new on Sky Sports this weekend as the post-Matchroom era kicks off at Wembley Arena on Saturday night. A week after Adam Smith, Johnny Nelson and the rest of the gang assessed the wreckage following Anthony Joshua’s crushing defeat to Oleksandr Usyk a few miles east in Tottenham, they are back in their new guise. Whether or not we see Joshua on Sky Sports again remains to be seen, given his ‘career-long’ alliance with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom, who this summer ended their relationship with Sky in favour of a mega-money deal with DAZN. That departure might have signalled an end to Sky’s long association with boxing but they have bounced back with a new set of ideas, shows and fighters. Perhaps the most prominent of them all is Chris Eubank Jnr, who tops this card staged by Ben Shalom, the young promoter of Boxxer fame.

Incredibly, Eubank Jnr is now older than his famous father was when he boxed for the last time, a ninth round stoppage at the hands of Carl Thompson in 1998. By then Senior had become a two-weight belt-holder over the course of a memorable 52-fight, 13-year career.

For a number of reasons, his eldest son Chris Jnr is yet to hit those heights. Recently, inactivity has been one of them, and COVID hasn’t helped. Indeed, in the 31 months since he beat James DeGale, Junior has managed just 12 complete rounds of action.

His latest outing, 10 comfortable yet largely unimpressive sessions against Marcus Morrison, came back in May and there is a feeling that, simply, the best is yet to come, particularly with Roy Jones Jnr in his corner.

Since that outing, however, the Eubank family were devastated by the loss of Chris’ younger brother Seb – himself a 2-0 boxer of much promise – who suffered a heart attack while swimming off the coast of Dubai where he lived with his partner and young son. Chris will box on in his honour.

The opponent this weekend was supposed to be little known Sven Elbir, the 27-year-old from Wedding, Germany. Until it was announced this week that he had tested postive for COVID. So in steps Anatoli Muratov, a 33-year-old German who was due to fight on October 9. The 33-year-old has a glossy record, a highly misleading ranking with the WBA (because he claimed an inter-continental strap from that organisation two years ago) and is seriously out of his depth here.

Muratov has a solid KO ratio, but his 24-2-1 (17) record does not make for impressive reading when you dig deeper than the numbers. From the footage we’ve seen, he looks made for Eubank. Place your bets on a stoppage in the first half of the bout.

Also in action is David Avanesyan, who defends his European welterweight title against Liam Taylor. This is the Nottinghamshire-based Russian’s first fight since his superb sixth-round stoppage of Josh Kelly back in February, as he plots his path towards a shot at a belt.

There was once talk of a showdown with Conor Benn and, though greatly appealing, that fight now seems exceptionally unlikely. So “Ava” is taking on a different Brit in the form of Liam Taylor instead. Victories over the likes of Darren Tetley and Tyrone Nurse, as well as a draw in his challenge for Chris Jenkins’ British title two years ago, have proved his credentials as a very capable domestic level fighter and now he gets his chance to make a step beyond that.

But Avanesyan remains a nightmare for anybody at the weight, and stoppage for the Carl Greaves-trained Russian, somewhere between six and nine, seems like a safe bet.

Another man who will be at the forefront of Sky’s new product is Londoner Richard Riakporhe who has slowly but surely scythed down most of the domestic 200lb division. Over the course of 13 months, he beat Sam Hyde, Tommy McCarthy, Chris Billam-Smith and Jack Massey to stake his claim as the man to beat at cruiserweight in this country.

He has not boxed, however, since December 2019 and will hope to be more busy as part of the new Sky set-up. The 9-2 Polishman Krzysztof Twardowski will not know what has hit him and will be lucky to manage three rounds here.

Elsewhere at cruiserweight, Mikael Lawal and Steven Ward clash in an intriguing bout. Undefeated Lawal has designs on working his way into position for a world title fight but Ward is hoping to spoil those plans in his first 10-rounder at 200lbs. Ward had been a light-heavyweight for his whole career but decided to move up after he was stopped in just 2-21 by Ricards Bolotniks 20 months ago. He has since won over six at his new weight and also taken on strongman Games of Thrones star Hafthor Bjornsson in a bizarre exhibition bout. Lawal, not quite as big as ‘The Mountain’, should have enough to win this on points.

Another of Sky’s exciting unbeaten signings Germaine Brown faces Jamal Le Doux over 10 rounds as he bids to build on his 8-0 record, which includes a victory over Dmitrii Chudinov on his last time out. That night he travelled to Minsk, Belarus and dropped the Russian en route to a UD over eight.

In the final 10-rounder of this stacked card Linus Udofia, a real favourite of the small hall circuit, takes on 17-3 Italy-based Albanian Xhuljo Vrenozi.

There is also a run out for 17-0 former Frank Warren puncher Joe Pigford, who has not boxed in England for over two years. He stopped Jovia Jovanovic in two rounds in the middle of a sports centre in Luxembourg three months ago but he is back in the big time now.

But before any of that, debutants Ebonie Jones and Matty Harris will also kick off their professional careers in a pair of four-rounders.

The Verdict Eubank Jnr busies himself for a big fight later in the year.

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