Pride, prestige and world title hopes are at stake when Liam Smith (33-3-1, 20 KOs) and Chris Eubank Jr. (32-3, 23 KOs) fight back in a non-title middleweight rematch on Saturday AO Arena in Manchester, England (ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET).
The animosity between the two English rivals has only increased since Smith’s fourth-round TKO victory over Eubank in January. But this fight is about more than just their personal dislike for each other, and someone’s career could take a nosedive after the fight.
ESPN brings you background on one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport today.
Eubank, 33, from Brighton, dismissed Smith’s shock, Fourth round win against him as “a miracle” and complains that Smith hit him with an illegal blow (an elbow to the head) during that encounter. It would be dangerous for Eubank if he were truly convinced that Smith’s victory was due to misfortune, a premature stoppage of play or a deviation from the rules and had nothing to do with his strategy or defense.
“He was terrified of getting hit and then when I hit him it was over,” Smith said after the fight.
Eubank couldn’t withstand the pressure he was under at the start of the fourth round and was knocked down by a huge left uppercut. After quickly getting to his feed, Eubank was unsteady and Smith finished him off with a right to the head.
“I dominated the first three laps, in the third lap I started hurting him. Maybe that gave me a false sense of security or led to a brief period of lack of concentration and he took advantage of that,” Eubank recently told Sky Sports. “It was my fault and I have to make sure nothing like this ever happens to me again.”
When the fight was stopped, Eubank staggered around the ring drunk.
“He blamed the referee, which was ridiculous,” Smith said.
It was Eubanks’ third professional loss, having been defeated by George Groves by unanimous decision in his bid to win the WBA “super” middleweight world title in 2018 and losing a split decision to Billy Joe Saunders at middleweight in 2014.
The Best Enemies
Both went beyond what was acceptable in their pre-fight comments before their first encounter.
Smith, ESPN’s No. 4 middleweight division, questioned Eubanks’ sexuality at a press conference A few days before their first fight, Eubank made derogatory comments about Smith’s personal life and his hometown of Liverpool.
This time, Eubank angered Smith by dismissing his win against him, while Smith responded by calling his rival “deceived.”
“If I just have to touch you once and land, then you’re in trouble, aren’t you?” Smith told Eubank during a Sky Sports broadcast.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle and it will never happen again,” Eubank replied.
One of the questions in this fight is whether Smith can continue the remarkably good form he has achieved late in his career.
The 35-year-old made two defenses as WBO junior middleweight champion in 2015-16, but then suffered some setbacks. After losing the title in 2016 with a knockout loss to Canelo Alvarez, Smith was involved in two close victories over Liam Williams before being eliminated en route to a unanimous points loss to Jaime Munguia for the same WBO title.
Smith responded to another decision loss to Magomed Kurbanov with an impressive eighth-round stoppage win over Liverpool rival Anthony Fowler, the first of four strong performances that included a win over Eubank. Smith stopped former junior welterweight and welterweight champion Jessie Vargas in the tenth round before running through Eubank in four rounds.
It was Smith’s fourth consecutive stoppage win and he is in great shape ahead of this weekend’s rematch.
Eubank is changing teams
Eubank has worked with various coaches throughout his career and sometimes preferred to work without. The loss to Smith prompted Eubank to try something different, and his former trainer Roy Jones Jr., the former four-weight world champion based in Florida, will not be on his side in this one.
Instead, Eubank will rely on the wisdom of another American, Brian McIntyre, the trainer of undisputed welterweight champion Terence Crawford, the best boxer in the world at any weight. Eubank trained at McIntyre’s gym in the US to prepare for this fight. Eubank has spent a lot of training in Vegas throughout his career and is hoping a return there will lead to a rediscovery of form to back up his claims that he is a better boxer than Smith.
However, Smith doesn’t think the change will make a difference.
“I feel like what goes in one ear goes straight out the other ear with Chris,” Smith told Sky Sports. “I’m still learning. He can have the best coaches on his side, it doesn’t make any difference. Chris is the one who has to change, he can’t box like he did last time.”
No time to waste
Eubank has never won a major world title and, at 33, cannot afford to lose any more ground.
“My career is at stake,” Eubank said. “I’ve probably never had this much pressure before.”
Although Eubank called out former champions like Gennadiy Golovkin and was once offered a world title fight with GGG, he has yet to fight for a world middleweight title. With Eubank now ranked No. 5 by the WBC and unranked by the other three governing bodies, he will be far from a title shot unless he can avenge his loss to Smith.
Eubanks’ father, Chris Sr., reigned as middleweight and super middleweight world champion in the 1990s, but time is running out for Chris Jr. to win one of the four major belts (Chris Jr. held the WBA interim title in 2019). , which is not the full world title).
“I can’t lose because Liam can say he’s a better fighter than me,” Eubank said.
Smith is better positioned. He is ranked No. 3 and No. 2 by the WBC and WBO respectively and a win over Eubank would be a big step towards either Jermall Charlo or Janibek Alimkhanuly in 2024. WBO titleholder Alimkhanuly seems a more likely path for Smith if he wins on Saturday .
Conor Benn stays in Eubank’s future – if he wins
Welterweight Conor Benn is still an option for Eubank should he seek revenge against Smith. In a rematch of their fathers’ rivalry in the 1990s, Eubank-Benn would be a major contender for the British market. The problem is that there are doubts as to when Benn will be able to resume his career in the UK
A decision by the National Anti-Doping Panel then lifted Benn’s provisional ban from boxing He failed two drug tests which resulted in a scheduled fight against Eubank having to be canceled the week of the fight last year. But the British Boxing Board of Control and UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) have appealed the decision to allow Benn to box.
The sport of boxing – particularly in the UK – could go without another punch this weekend. Failed drug tests on British soil (the most recent being Robert Helenius and Dillian Whyte last month), missed fights (Anthony Joshua-Whyte, Tyson Fury-Joshua, Fury-Oleksandr Usyk and Josh Taylor-Jack Catterall) and controversial comments (Smith and Eubank ) have all provided negative publicity for boxing this year. Smith-Eubank 2 is an opportunity to address the balance.