Chris Eubank Jnr started the year with what appeared to be a breakout win against a southpaw former amateur star and will end the year with a fight against another southpaw former amateur star.
Back in February Eubank Jnr outhustled James DeGale, the 2008 Olympic gold medallist, while on Saturday (December 7) he will look to do something similar to Matt Korobov, a two-time world amateur champion, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The DeGale win was at super-middleweight, yet this fight with Korobov sees Eubank Jnr return to the middleweight division for his first outing there since 2016. It will also offer Eubank Jnr the opportunity to win the WBA regular interim title at this weight, despite the fact the WBA’s regular champion Ryota Murata is due to defend his belt against Steven Butler on December 23.
If the belt is meaningless, and it is, we can at least look forward to an intriguing fight between two natural middleweights, one that will act as an ideal gauge of Eubank Jnr’s progress.
Of course, a lot of what makes this fight intriguing is also what makes it dangerous for Eubank Jnr. The southpaw factor, for one, rings certain alarm bells and always will following Eubank’s 2014 defeat to Billy Joe Saunders. We know, too, that Korobov, 28-2-1 (14), was a wonderful amateur circa 2005-2007 and that his technical proficiency is light years beyond Eubank Jnr’s at this stage in their respective careers. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has an overall edge, but it does suggest he possesses the fundamentals to expose the limitations of opponents less fundamentally sound. In short, it makes this fight seem risky; the mother of all banana skins.
Then again, perhaps Korobov, a pro for 11 years now, has seen better days. After all, despite strong recent showings against Jermall Charlo and Immanuwel Aleem (two fights many felt he won), some five years have passed since he was caught by Andy Lee’s right hook in Las Vegas and, moreover, when analysing wear and tear one must take into account not only the Russian’s 31 pro fights but the hundreds of amateur bouts he had before turning over in 2008. He is also now 36 years of age, six years Eubank Jnr’s senior.
The timing of this could be just right for Eubank Jnr. Buoyed by the DeGale win, he should be full of confidence, accustomed to boxing and beating southpaws, and will no doubt see Korobov as being there for the taking. He has also improved in recent times and will presumably be all the better for having suffered a second pro defeat against George Groves in 2018. That one, much like the previous loss against Saunders, highlighted Eubank Jnr’s technical flaws and revealed to him – again – that it takes more than high energy attacks and power punches launched from the hip to win at the top level. It was as much a lesson as a defeat.
Though he has boxed only twice since then, one suspects Eubank Jnr has spent plenty of time in the gym correcting the errors made against Groves and ironing out tendencies that have now twice led to his downfall. For him to succeed beyond domestic level this would appear imperative.
Get it right, though, and Eubank Jnr, 28-2 (21), has the physical attributes to be a force, especially down at middleweight. At middleweight, he won’t be meeting men as large and rangy as Groves and, chances are, his own power will also be more of a factor, vital for someone whose greatest asset is his all-action presence.
He was allowed to get physical against DeGale earlier this year, but perhaps this owed more to DeGale’s laid-back demeanour and the miles on his clock than any great evolution on Eubank Jnr’s part. Without a jab to contend with, he was granted free entry and, once inside, could then smother DeGale and go to work. He was made to look good, his style effective.
Other opponents, however, the likes of Saunders and Groves, have possessed the Eubank Jnr antidote and constructed the blueprint with clever footwork and a consistent lead hand. They have used the Brighton man’s aggression against him. They have made him work on their behalf; dance to their tune.
Korobov, at his best, has the ability to follow this route to success on Saturday. He has the nous, the punches and the sharpness to remind Eubank Jnr that he was a late starter in this sport and that there are some tricks he will therefore never be fully able to comprehend, much less perform. Yet, equally, there’s every chance Eubank Jnr, now maturing, uses youthful energy and ambition as trump cards to remind Korobov his time has been and gone.
With momentum on his side, Eubank Jnr by narrow decision is the pick.
Also on the Brooklyn show, Jermall Charlo defends his WBC middleweight title against Australian-based Irishman Dennis Hogan.
Hogan, 28-2-1 (7), was last seen giving WBO super-welterweight champion Jaime Munguia a tough fight in April, losing on a majority decision. This will be his first fight as a middleweight since winning the Australian title in 2013.
Charlo, meanwhile, defended the WBC interim middleweight title against Matt Korobov last year, winning what some believed to be a controversial decision, then upgraded the belt to the full version with a victory over Brandon Adams in June of this year. A former IBF champion at super-welterweight, Charlo, 29-0 (21), will be hoping to get past Hogan to set up some big middleweight fights in 2020.
There is another interim title – this time the IBF – on the line in the super-bantamweight fight between Marlon Tapales, 33-2 (16), and Ryosuke Iwasa, 26-3 (16).
Tapales, known as the ‘Maranding Nightmare’, is a southpaw from the Philippines who is six and a half years undefeated and has won each of his last seven fights by stoppage. He is also a former WBO champion at bantamweight.
Iwasa, a fellow southpaw, has lost previously to Lee Haskins and TJ Doheny but defeated Cesar Juarez via technical decision earlier this year on his American debut. This will be his second fight stateside.