Billy Joe Saunders scored a split-decision win over Chris Eubank Jr. on Saturday evening to defend his British, European and Commonwealth middleweight titles.
The ExCeL Arena played host to an encounter between two fighters who had shown a keen dislike for each other prior to this clash, with ESPN’s Dan Rafael confirming the scorecards:
It was unsurprising to see both fighters head into the opening exchanges in cagey fashion. Eubank was facing the biggest test of his career thus far, and Saunders was hoping to dash the hype his opponent had built coming into this feud.
Physically, the challenger was known to be in the better shape of the two, but Saunders had trained hard for this bout and just about edged the first round. His experience and confidence at this level were telling.
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It would have been easy for the reigning champion to come into this bout with swagger. The titles were his to lose, after all, but Saunders went about his work diligently, picking his moments in mature fashion and forcing Eubank into tight embraces at times.
After three rounds, Rafael had the fixture going firmly in favour of the Hertfordshire native:
It was in the fourth that Eubank began to show a more settled fervour in attack, but the storyline was that he simply wasn’t doing enough to win rounds.
Sparks here and there from the challenger applied pressure in phases, but Saunders was equal to all of it, and it was no shock to hear Eubanks’ corner encourage him to start chasing bigger blows. Rafael agreed more initiative was required:
Throughout the fight, Eubank Sr. played a role in his son’s corner to offer his wisdom, but as Laceup Boxing suggests, some of the knowledge being shared seemed odd:
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney also noticed the advice wasn’t always clear:
Midway through the bout, Eubank started to show some promise and found his chances in close, pummelling away at Saunders’ head on several occasions after seeming to alleviate some pressure on his shoulders.
Saunders hadn’t become a three-tier champion from backing down from such challenges, but at least the fight had a bit more of a competitive edge after he had dominated the first five rounds so easily.
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Entering the final five rounds, Eubank’s recklessness showed more and more, as he threw wild, wide hooks and rarely connected with his target in the power plays. But when they did land, Saunders felt them.
Conditioning came to play a bigger role as matters ticked into the last couple of rounds. Eubank had never gone 12 rounds in his professional career, and both fighters were evidently blowing hard heading into the 10th.
Momentum had swung further in Eubank’s favour the longer it progressed at the ExCeL, but thanks to his solid groundwork in the opening phases, Saunders held a lead the challenger couldn’t hope to beat on points:
And despite all the shots absorbed by the champion in the last three minutes, Eubank couldn’t find the telling blow. Saunders showed what a chin he possesses in defending his European, Commonwealth and BBBofC belts.
It ended in wild fashion for Eubank, with his arms flailing and head bobbing, but the 25-year-old won some plaudits in managing to test Saunders in the manner he did.
However, for all his fighting flourish in the last minutes, he’ll regret his choice not to chase the opening rounds with a bit more passion.
As a deserving victor, Saunders moves on from London with a shot at the vacant WBO world middleweight title in view.