Bitter rivals Chris Eubank Jr and Liam Williams meet on Saturday night in Cardiff in a middleweight showdown that opens the door to a potential world-title shot for the victor, but leaves the loser in nowheresville. Luke G. Williams previews the action…
After a barren January due to a Covid-enforced shutdown, big-time British boxing returns with a bang on Saturday night as Chris Eubank Jr and Liam Williams clash at the Motorpoint Arena in a crossroads showdown fraught with peril for both men.
Already delayed twice – due to an injury to Williams and then because of Covid-19 – this is a domestic showdown full of intrigue and potential excitement. In an age of manufactured titles and belts that often mean very little, it’s also a non-title fight that will deservedly attract far more attention than many world championship contests.
Both men are at the point in their careers where they can ill-afford a loss. At 32, Eubank Jr, although sometimes referred to as ‘Next Gen’, is only a few months younger than his father was when he hung up his gloves in 1998 after a second loss to Carl Thompson at cruiserweight.
For all his bombastic talk over the years and seemingly unshakeable self-confidence, Eubank (31-2, 23 KOs) is still searching for the breakout win and performance that will finally see him emerge from his father’s shadow.
The reality is that both times he has stepped up to face a world-level opponent, Eubank Jr has come up short, dropping a close, split decision to Billy Joe Saunders in 2014 for the British, European and Commonwealth 160lbs titles and a wider unanimous points decision to George Groves in 2018 for the WBA ‘Super’ 168lbs crown.
In the near four years since the Groves loss, Eubank has fought just five times, including notching a career best victory against an admittedly shopworn James DeGale. However, in his last two fights – against Marcus Morrison and Wanik Awdijan – he has looked somewhat laboured and confused, producing strange imitations of the style of his current trainer Roy Jones Jr rather than fighting in the swarming, attacking style that has served him well at times in previous fights.
Ever the maverick, one has to ask questions of the way Eubank has managed his career. He appeared to have good chemistry for the DeGale fight with trainer Nate Vasquez, but discarded him after his unsatisfying victory against an injured Matt Korobov in December 2019. Junior has always looked best at middleweight, but campaigned for six fights at super-middleweight between 2017 and 2019, and he has fought for a variety of promoters and broadcast platforms at different times in his career without ever really settling on a clear long-term strategy.
Having been so inactive and having looked so unimpressive of late, is this a case of perfect timing, then, for Williams? The Welshman (23-3-1, 18 KOs) has certainly been on a good run of form since his pair of losses to Liam Smith at light-middle back in 2017, going 7-1 (7 KOs) since.
The move up to 160lbs has served Williams well and he looks very strong at the weight, possibly even stronger than Eubank. Williams looked particularly powerful and purposeful in stopping hitherto unbeaten Mark Heffron in 2018 in ten and KO-ing the useful Joe Mullender in two in 2019.
True, Williams was outclassed by Demetrius Andrade on points in his last fight – a challenge for the American’s WBO world title – but Andrade is a quality, albeit frustrating, operator and, besides, Williams showed plenty of heart in that showdown to hear the final bell after being decked in round two. One cannot imagine that Eubank would have fared any better against the technically gifted American.
Williams has admitted that he must not let his emotions get the better of him on Saturday night. “I need to keep a cool head because the crowd will be crazily screaming for me, and it is easy to get dragged into a fight,” he said last week. In that respect he will likely be aided by the experience and astute tactical brain of his new trainer Adam Booth.
As for Eubank, interestingly, he has admitted that he is likely to revert to his previous style in the heat of battle rather than his ‘Jones Jr-lite’ approach of his last two fights. “You cannot change a 32-year-old, you just can’t,” he said recently. “You can tweak and adjust and learn but your base cannot change. When you get hurt, when it gets tough, that is when your base and fundamentals will always show.”
Interestingly, the bookmakers have Eubank a warm odds-on favourite (around 1/3 last time I checked), while Williams is available at a tempting 13/5. If Williams can fight to a disciplined game plan, as George Groves (also the betting underdog) did against Eubank, then I think he can win on points, as he is probably the better technician and has the sharper jab. On the other hand, if Williams gets lured into a close quarters brawl then Eubank will likely have the edge, due to his superior stamina.
It’s a tough fight to call, and one cannot rule out a draw or a contentious, split decision edging to either man, but my tentative pick is for Williams to upset the odds, box a disciplined fight to Booth’s instructions and edge a close decision after Eubank makes a slow start and rallies too late.