The British boxing programme returns in February fronted by the absorbing contest between Chris Eubank Junior and Liam Williams. This headline attraction has been rescheduled on several occasions, due both to injury and to the administrative ills of the coronavirus pandemic, but on Saturday 5th, at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, the contest looks set to finally occur.
Whilst from the outside this fight may appear – and indeed is – a credible contest between two top 10 middleweights, it is only in unpicking the foundational subplots of this encounter that we are truly able to confront the fascination behind it.
With that lofty ambition in mind, allow us to take each fighter in turn, before discussing the prospect of both men intermixed. We shall then provide a collective impression of how we at ESBR predict the fight shall sway, through the medium of unconferred individual team-member analysis. Okay.
Chris Eubank Junior is a fighter of surprise; we are not alluding to his ringcraft here but talking to the fact that he continues to be considered as a prospect of ever-promising potential, despite being 32 years old and the graduate of 33 professional fights. And whilst his record does boast several reputable names – James DeGale, Matvey Korobov, Arthur Abraham, Gary O’Sullivan and Avni Yildrim – it is a legitimate caveat to say that he fought the better of these opponents when their ‘halcyon days’ were best behind them. Furthermore, it is the name of one of the opponents that he has lost to – Billy Joe Saunders – which seems to (unfairly perhaps) continually define him.
In many ways the Saunders fight encapsulates Eubank’s career; he is arguably the better overall fighter of the two. Yes, Saunders looks unbeatable on occasions, but he lacks the stamina to carry this over a 12-round distance, whereas stamina and conditioning are two qualitative boxing buzzwords that one never questions Eubank of lacking. Had he of – to lean again on boxing parlance – ‘got going sooner' in that fight, he would likely have won, and thus may have enjoyed the championship career subsequently afforded 'Billy Joe'.
The second opponent that Eubank lost to was George Groves; and, again, whilst it can be said that Groves was nearing the end of his bruising career, Eubank mounted a creditable challenge at a weight that is arguably beyond him. Occurring at super middleweight, he deserves credit for entering the version of the World Boxing Super Series tournament that also included the potential to collide with the significantly larger Callum Smith. One thread of intrigue coming into this fight, therefore, is the fact that it will be taking place at Eubank’s favoured and appropriate 160lb weight limit.
Liam Williams, at 29 years old, is marginally younger than Eubank, with his amorphous career defying obvious categorisation. I suppose one could say that it exists best in two parts, the former where he fought anywhere between super welterweight to super middleweight, and which ended in two consecutive losses to Liam Smith; the latter encompassing the rebuild at middleweight, the collaborative training relationship with Dominic Ingle and the unlikely description of Liam Williams as a world level fighter.
This contemporary reputation was earned by Williams’ concussive 5th round KO of revered championship contender Alantez Fox; from which followed an opportunity against WBO middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade. And herein lies the second thread of intrigue, as during that fight it became clear that Andrade was a level above Williams. His speed, both in movement of hand and foot, was simply too much. However, Williams was able to narrow the deficit in physical disadvantage by dragging Andrade into an ugly encounter of strength. Holding and convincing Andrade to dispense with his superior tactics of the early rounds, to instead fight rather than ‘box’, Williams enjoyed moderate success. The towel should arguably have come in at periods down the stretch, but Williams again showed his toughness, hearing the final bell and losing only via unanimous decision.
In combination, it would appear that Eubank again holds the superior speed advantage. Fighting at his preferred weight would also seem to benefit him, however Williams has shown that he is durable and resistant to the power of a middleweight opponent. Stylistically, Eubank likes to come forward; Williams likes to come forward, however one feels that in fighting this style of fight, Eubank would be demurring to the wishes of his opponent. The unknown is therefore whether Eubank will choose to fight this way regardless, whether Williams can engage and manipulate him to do so, or whether Eubank’s trainer, Roy Jones Junior, will have Eubank using his physical advantages to the tactical detriment of Williams.
Our team is currently split as to whether the Jones Junior inclusion is a help or a hindrance – some favouring Eubank when he was an aggressive, front foot fighter; others sensing that he now appears confused and indecisiv