Billy Joe Saunders (20-0, 11 KOs) and Chris Eubank Jr. (18-0, 13 KOs) are two undefeated middleweights that are creeping in to their prime years, and who seem to have never even comprehended the idea of losing. On November 29th at the ExCel Arena in London, England, they will provide chief support for Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora, the intrigue of which could not match that of the fight preceding it.
Saunders, the Romani gypsy boy with the amateur pedigree and the silver tongue with the cockney lilt, against Eubank Jr., silent and assured but perceived as trailing on his father’s exquisite coattails, from the name right down to the interminable entrance music (in his early appearances at least). They represent totally different things.
Saunders seems to work at coming across as the ‘every-man’ type of fighter, a relatable guy who is cheeky and chatty. In the ring he is all volume and work-rate, favoring his polished technique over power, floating his feet instead of planting them. At eighteen years of age he traveled to Beijing for an unsuccessful Olympic campaign before immediately signing with Frank Warren to begin his pro career. Since then he has put in perpetually improving performances against opponents steadily improving in quality. In his last appearance he stopped the undefeated Emanuele Blandamura in eight rounds for the EBU(European) middleweight title, his latest step up the ladder. That impressive display came after he completed the twelve-round distance four times in less than a year against competitive opponents like John Ryder and Gary O’Sullivan.
Contrast all that with Eubank Jr. His old man shipped him off to Las Vegas as a young teen to forge him in the fires that have traditionally produced the best pugs in the world. He has had to stay afloat in rugged gyms, most notably the Mayweather Gym, by fighting first with heart and then with skill. I wonder if it was there he developed such an icy demeanour. He had no amateur career of note but like Eubank Jr. himself will tell you, he was born to fight in the pros. The man is a spiteful puncher. In between his frustrating strolls around the ring during periods of inactivity that are an echo of his father’s worst traits, he looks like something special. He has turned the points decisions of his early career in to a string of knockouts that currently stands at ten in a row, though against unheralded fighters.
The natural rivalry that was sure to develop naturally between these two was accelerated greatly by the litany of online media that have been incessantly asking one about the other and bouncing whatever comments that have been made back and forth over and over again. God bless them. They are the equivalent of a playground ‘shit-stirrer,’ forcing the question about who would come out on top should they meet and making sure that eventually something would have to give. British fans have been robbed of a round-robin style series of matches between the middleweight quartet of Darren Barker, Martin Murray, Matthew Macklin, and Andy Lee because there was no urgency from any side to make the fights happen. Now, out of those four only Murray and Lee remain as viable world-class fighters, and a fight between them was probably the least appealing of the lot.
There has been controversy from the very moment the contract was signed by these two. Initially, soon after the fight was announced it was unclear whether Eubank Jr. had signed at all and until after a prolonged period it was finally confirmed for certain. Not before Eubank Jr. clarified that the delay was caused by some slithering antics by Frank Warren and not him. Since then Eubank 2.0 has failed to attend at least two press conferences sighting he had more important things to do, leaving Saunders and everyone involved feeling disrespected.
This behavior feeds in to Saunder’s assessment of Eubank Jr. as a toffee-nosed snob who looks down on people, too big for his britches. It compounds the fact that Saunders does not seem to understand why his upcoming opponent is rated so highly. He has derided Eubank Jr.’s skills to the point where he has promised to retire from the boxing if he doesn’t get the stoppage within six rounds, and offered to put £100,000 on himself to boot.
Eubank Jr. has responded mostly with indifference. His talk of feeling nothing personal towards Saunders as he looks to strip him of his championship belts is an almost word-for-word parroting of his father’s remarks towards Nigel Benn on the eve of their epic first encounter so many years ago, a fight that is now the yardstick against which all other domestic dust-ups are measured. If junior comes of age against Saunders in the same manner as senior did against Benn, a star will be born. In fact, if this fight is anywhere near as exciting as Eubank vs. Benn I, I won’t care who wins.
Fights like this do not come around too often on this side of the Atlantic, or the other to be quite honest. Fighters on the cusp of world honors would not normally risk their position against such formidable a foe. This is for all the available marbles. The winner will have bragging rights over his domain and leap forward on the road towards a title belt. The loser will have to stay indoors for a while before the rebuilding process begins. They’ve both talked too much sh*t for it to be any other way. This is the kind of fight I watch boxing for.