Why Saunders-Eubank Jr is just as intriguing as Froch-Groves
Spencer Brown – The fascinating rivalry between Carl Froch and George Groves illustrated the enduring British appetite for boxing.
There was a special atmosphere at Wembley on the night of May 31, and the explosive denouement – a vicious, jarring right hand from Froch – was a fittingly thrilling conclusion to an enmity that captivated the nation.
As an occasion and event, it was undoubtedly the British boxing highlight of the year.
However, a strong case can be made for a fight on Saturday night that will be equally as intriguing: Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jr.
Of course, the feverish build-up and cross-over appeal of the Froch-Groves rematch will be impossible to outdo, but this mouth-watering middleweight clash is arguably just as unmissable.
There are so many unknowns surrounding the fight, and all will be answered on November 29.
Is Chris Eubank Jr. the real deal, as his father, the former two-weight world champion and one of the country’s most recognisable sportsmen, so stridently – and eloquently – insists?
He has looked razor-sharp in all 18 of his victories – 13 by way of knockout – and there are recurrent whispers in the boxing world of his impressive performances in sparring: he helped Froch prepare for Groves the second time around, and also reportedly handled James DeGale well (there is now bad blood between the two of them, apparently stemming from their behind-the-scenes battles).
His story is not a normal one: he has trained before at the famous Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas under the auspices of Floyd Mayweather Sr., and he was also taken to Cuba by his father, where he reputedly withstood a three-round beating at the hands of a heavyweight.
He has been groomed mentally and physically for boxing perfection ever since he started taking the sport seriously at the age of 15, and his father encapsulated their lofty ambitions when he declared: “He is the next Floyd Mayweather Jr.”
Eubank Sr. has also courted controversy by claiming that his son would beat the fearsome Gennady Golovkin if they fought now, and that Andre Ward is the only middleweight or super middleweight in the world he regards as superior to his son.
In one memorable interview, when asked how good his son can be, he replied: “He has the irrepressibility of a young Roberto Duran, the fearlessness and workmanability of a young James Toney, he has the handspeed and punching combination ability of a young Roy Jones Jr, and he has my DNA”.
His critics, however, deride such grandiose claims – how dare he talk of world titles, pound-for-pound dominance and treading the path of legends when his son hasn’t even won a domestic belt?
It is easy, they say, to look good against stolid opposition; until Eubank Jr. is really tested, all talk is cheap.
But can his father, the wonderfully eccentric and erudite showman who polarised a nation with his artfully-cultivated persona in the 1990s, be so wide of the mark with his predictions?
He assures doubters that his observations are objective, and based on intelligent calculation; in short, he is arguing, we should trust him.
He has even publicly called on the referee to look out for Saunders’ health, saying that his son’s power is “frightening” and “dangerous”.
In the other corner stands Billie Joe Saunders.
He too is undefeated, and he captured the EBU middleweight title in July with an eighth-round stoppage of the seasoned and dangerous Italian Emanuele Blandamura.
He has strong amateur pedigree having fought at the 2008 Olympics, and has now proven himself at domestic and European level.
On paper, his achievements comprehensively outstretch Eubank Jr’s, and this is reflected in the bookies’ odds: he is currently priced as a marginal favourite.
There is a genuine and fiery hostility between the two hot prospects: Saunders has become increasingly aggravated with Eubank Jr’s behaviour, as reflected in his numerous expletive-ridden rants in interviews, and he has even promised to retire from the sport if he loses.
He refuses to acknowledge any danger from Eubank Jr. at all, and has repeatedly mocked his relationship with his father.
In return, Eubank Jr, has labelled Saunders ‘Average Joe’ and assures the world that the fight will not go the distance.
As we saw with Froch-Groves – and more recently with the hotly-anticipated Cleverly-Bellew bout (and indeed going back a generation with Eubank Sr. vs Nigel Benn) – nothing generates public interest more than a genuine, simmering domestic rivalry.
It may be on the undercard of the Fury-Chisora showdown, but this fight has all the ingredients to steal the show and become another unforgettable all-British classic.
In years to come, British boxing in 2014 will not just be remembered for the epic Froch-Groves war, but the glorious unknown remains: what else will fight fans recall?
Will this be forever known as Chris Eubank Jr’s coming-of-age fight? Will his father’s confidence be emphatically vindicated? Or will the excessive hype be deflated by the belligerent Saunders?
The beauty of boxing is that the truth will reveal itself before our very eyes on November 29.
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