A critical look at the past week in boxing
Liam Smith – Who doesn’t love it when a fighter who has been written off proves everyone wrong?
Smith looked good in recent fights, including a knockout of Jessie Vargas last April. A meeting with the surging and naturally bigger Chris Eubank Jr. at 160 pounds seemed to be a step too far, though. Smith, 34 and counting, would surely have his limitations revealed.
Smith (33-3-1, 20 KOs) gave his fans – and himself – an unforgettable fourth round Saturday in England, one in which he hurt Eubank badly, put him down twice and stopped him at a time when most observers assumed the Liverpudlian’s career was winding down.
Indeed, how many fighters deliver their greatest victory in their mid-30s and 14-plus years into their professional careers?
Smith suddenly is a major player again, either at 154 pounds or 160, which could mean another title shot and more big paydays. It’s no wonder he and his team celebrated afterward as if he’d become the undisputed middleweight champion.
Of course, Smith’s momentum could end in his next fight, whether it’s in a rematch with Eubank or a meeting with another top 160- or 154-pounder. After all, he’s still the fighter who lost decisively to Canelo Alvarez and Jaime Munguia and, more recently, fell short against Magomed Kurbanov.
No matter what happens going forward, he’ll always have his special night on Jan. 21, 2023 at AO Arena. It was quite a moment.
Chris Eubank Jr. – A high-profile showdown with Conor Benn fell through after Benn failed a drug test but a meeting with Smith would be a nice stepping stone to bigger and better things for the talented Eubank. Right?
Then disaster struck.
Eubank (32-3, 23 KOs) boxed well for three-plus rounds, using his jab and stick-and-move tactics to frustrate the slower, less-talented Smith. The son of a former world champion of the same name was in control of the fight. Then, in an instant, he got hurt, couldn’t recover and it was all over.
Knockouts happen. Eubank can say with legitimacy that he got caught with a good shot (or shots), which can happen to anyone. True. At the same time, such losses have ramifications.
Eubank had periods of inactivity but he was on a roll, with six consecutive victories after losing a decision to then-168-pound titleholder George Groves in 2018. There was talk that a victory over Smith would lead to a title shot against Gennadiy Golovkin.
All that vanished in the stunning Round 4 against Smith, who demonstrated in brutal fashion that Eubank’s chin isn’t quite as good as everyone had thought.
Now what? Well, a victory in a rematch would go a long way toward reclaiming what he lost. Of course, there are no guarantees that a second fight will happen and that Eubank would emerge victorious if it did.
Indeed, Eubanks’ future as elite fighter is suddenly uncertain.
A rematch clause in their contract obliges Smith to give Eubank a second fight if the latter wants it. I hope it doesn’t happen. One, the victory couldn’t have been more decisive, meaning a second fight really isn’t warranted. That was a brutal stoppage. And, two, I’d like to see Smith, a former 154-pound champ, get one more shot at a major belt. Smith vs. titleholder Golovkin would be a compelling matchup. … David Stevens (12-0, 9 KOs) saved his best for last against fellow super middleweight prospect Sean Hemphill (14-1, 8 KOs) on Friday on “ShoBox: The New Generation.” The two were engaged in a competitive back-and-forth fight when, in the final seconds of the fight, Hemphill was hurt by a left-right combination and then collapsed under a flurry of follow-up shots. He was able to get up but went down again under another barrage, prompting the referee to stop the fight with only two seconds to go. That’s what you call taking advantage of a significant opportunity on national TV. …
Josh Taylor reportedly suffered a foot injury in training, which has resulted in the postponement of his scheduled March 4 rematch with Jack Catterall. It’s the second time the fight has been pushed back. The rematch was originally set for December but was postponed after Taylor injured his knee. Is Taylor ever going to recapture what he had only a few years ago? He narrowly outpointed Catterall in February of last year. … I was sorry to hear about the passing of former heavyweight titleholder Gerrie Coatzee at 67 on Jan. 12 in his native South Africa. He was a solid fighter and a good man. He spoke out against apartheid at a time when not many prominent athletes from that did, which earned admiration from leader Nelson Mandela and many others. I was fortunate to cross paths with him when he was promoting fights for a time in my old neighborhood, the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles in the 90s. I remember a soft-spoken gentleman who treated people well. He will be missed.