Frontline diary: 'Eu-bank! Eu-bank!'
Chris Williamson was ringside at the SSE Arena, Wembley as Chris Eubank Jr made a statement against Arthur Abraham. Here are his ringside reflections of a stacked card of Saturday night action...
All photos: Natalie Mayhew, ButterflyBoxing
Back in 1994, Chris Eubank ventured to Berlin, Germany to defend his WBO super-middleweight title against local hero Graciano Rocchigiani, winning a unanimous decision in one of the finest performances of his career.
Eubank was 27 years old at the time as he strutted defiantly to the ring in front of a hostile crowd prior to an excellent display to retain his belt.
Twenty three years later here at Wembley Arena and son Chris Eubank Jr was the same age as his father when he battled Rocchigiani as he squared up as a modern super-middleweight headline act against Berlin-based Armenian Arthur Abraham. The parallels are striking, with no pun intended.
This event was the second consecutive Eubank Jr bout to be shown on ITV Box Office, a new pay-TV platform which has proved controversial to say the least among fans, who protest about paying extra to watch a fringe IBO title paraded as the real thing. Those of us with long enough memories will recall how Eubank’s WBO titles (middleweight and super middleweight) were once similarly derided.
Leaving aside the argument about pay-per-view, this was a good test serving as an eliminator for the World Boxing Super Series tournament and part of a deep, competitive bill. On entering Wembley Arena, Niall Hickman of Poxon Sports who promoted this event had some lovely words to say about the late former Boxing Monthly editor Glyn Leach, who he worked with for many years.
Kid Galahad (now 23-0) kicked off the televised (and only free-to-view) section of the card with a lively tenth-round stoppage victory over Mexico’s Jose Cayetano. Galahad - real name Abdul-Bari Awad - was to have challenged Dennis Ceylan for the EBU featherweight title in a mouth-watering clash, but the Dane was pulled out after a VADA test came up positive for cocaine of all substances.
Galahad has been quietly re-establishing himself following his own drug suspension, a black mark he once described as like a bad penny which will always be there. Since returning to the ring in 2016 the Sheffield showman has racked up a string of decent performances which has him well positioned on the world scene in a hot division.
Cayetano for his part wore shorts sponsored by something called ‘Obesity Not 4 Me’, a message which seemed at odds with a source who told BM the Mexican dined at Pizza Hut immediately after the weigh-in.
The Mexican proved a crafty, game opponent while Galahad delivered a solid performance during which one felt there were always more gears available if needed.
Galahad moved well as usual and landed with a terrific long right uppercut in the fourth, by far the best punch of the early part of the bout. The move was brilliantly repeated to finish his opponent in the tenth and Galahad, who won a minor IBF belt with the win, is now calling for a world-title eliminator.
While Mexican fighters are generally a known, hard quantity, Polish boxers hired to fight unbeaten British prospects are generally there to be served up as fistic cannon fodder.
Not so with Robbie Davies Jr’s opponent Michal Syrowatka, who arrived with an impressive amateur record and having avenged the only professional defeat of an 18-1 slate.
It proved a superbly matched super-lightweight clash in which one well-placed salvo from either man kept shifting momentum or snatching a round. Syrowatka’s left hook was by far the visitor’s most effective punch. As the two men tired I noted that a stoppage was available for either combatant and, as the championship rounds approached, one of Syrowatka’s countrymen - a dead ringer for MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko - cheered energetically for the Pole and nobody was brave enough to argue.
The stoppage came in the final round for Syrowatka when he landed a left hook and right hand to deposit Davies Jr heavily on the canvas prompting the towel to be thrown in soon after. Davies Jr (now 15-1) was taken to hospital but thankfully later confirmed to be in good health.
One hopes Syrowatka is given the opportunity to defend his new minor WBA belt against another of the UK’s ten stone fighters, although he probably revealed his membership of the ‘who needs him’ club with this performance.
WBA lightweight champ Jorge Linares was present with wife Michelle and the couple are now now living in London, with Linares training at the same gym David Haye bases himself at while in the capital. The Venezuelan and his former foe Anthony Crolla are now firm friends, and the two shared a number of touching moments. Crolla was present on broadcasting duties with ITV Box Office and still carried his expensive looking TV equipment deep into the night.
“Don’t go home with the microphone, Anthony,” quipped Michelle as Anthony creased up.
Two days after his 26th birthday, Martin J Ward (now 18-0-2) joined peers Ryan Walsh and Bradley Skeete as a proud outright owner of the Lonsdale belt with a tight decision win over touted and fellow unbeaten prospect Anthony Cacace (now 15-1).
Cacace’s power has been lauded within the trade, including by a countryman who was looking on at ringside, Carl Frampton. The southpaw from Northern Ireland certainly looked for the straight left hand and when landing it was with a crunching sound. It was perhaps a weapon Cacace was too reliant on as the energetic Ward piled up points with fast, persistent albeit often scrappy counter-punches.
After twelve rounds, a bloodied Ward’s hand was raised by referee Terry O’Connor whose own shirt bore red from the champion’s nose. The beaming Brentwood man also took home the previously vacant Commonwealth title.
Old friends Mike Goodall and heavyweight contender Dereck Chisora shared a number of jokes, including some dark, dry observations about the crowd disturbance at the Copper Box the previous week. “Bloody West Ham fans…” joked Goodall.
IBF featherweight champ Lee Selby’s already tough year became utterly awful with the sad news that his mother passed away as he was finalising preparations for a re-arranged bout with mandatory Argentine challenger Jonathan Barros.
I was in Las Vegas for BM in January with 'Team Selby' when the challenger was withdrawn on medical grounds minutes before the weigh-in. The Welshman was as white as a sheet, drawn and sick that all the hard work was wasted.
That the champion was able to fight is testament to the support network Selby has around him, including Chris and Jamie Sanigar and, of course, his tight-knit family. Saturday was actually the shared birthday of both Selby's daughters (nine and three years old) and the family drove the three hours directly home to Wales after the press conference. A finer role model in boxing is hard to find.
Selby (now 25-1) got to work in fine style, looking superbly conditioned while displaying his usual superb footwork and laser quick sharp-shooting.
A vocal pocket of Welsh support shouted “there’s only one Lee Selby,” a group the Barry man later made a point of thanking.
Selby’s jab and straight right hand were as impressive as ever, while when up close he ripped in vicious body shots. During the fourth round, Selby landed a terrific left hook which knocked a globule of blood from the visitor's mouth. It wasn’t a show for the faint-hearted and soon after, in the fifth, a cut appeared above Selby’s eye which seemed to take the distracted champion off his game for a period.
Normal service was soon resumed though as Selby controlled the latter part of the fight and Barros’ determination turned to desperation. A brilliantly timed left hook in the final round dropped Barros and underlined the Welshman’s superiority. At the post-fight press conference Chris Sanigar indicated that Selby will remain at featherweight until he's secured a blockbuster fight. One hopes a match with the watching former WBA champion Carl Frampton fits the bill.
A German media colleague had covered Arthur Abraham for many years, fist bumping several members of the team as they entered the ring in gladiatorial ‘King Arthur’ fashion. He told BM that Abraham originally missing weight was “tactics”, which may have been German humour - it was hard to tell.
The famous old “Eu-bank, Eu-bank” chant sent chills down the spines of those of us old enough to remember it first time around. The younger man had intended to make a statement by finishing Abraham inside the distance, but for my money a wide and impressive twelve rounds at this level is even more valuable with him due to begin a potentially tough Super Series schedule against Turk Avni Yildirim in September.
Eubank (now 25-1) was flashy, fast and had to show real grit at times as the wily Abraham refused to go out with a whimper. The sound from Abraham’s thudding punches was strikingly loud and Eubank Jr took enough of them to respect the old warrior. The uppercut remains Eubank’s signature punch although he also weakened Abraham with a vicious body attack.
By the latter third of the fight Abraham (now 46-6) was badly hurt and moved like a wounded animal trying to hide his injuries. He mounted a final effort in the eleventh, landing cleanly on Eubank, who responded with an attack of astonishing ferocity. Eubank later explained that he took it relatively easy in the final stanza, mindful of his tough upcoming schedule.
Eubank Jr bristled at my suggestion later that Eubank Sr had chosen Yildirim, clarifying that his father was acting on his instructions at the recent gala draw in Monaco.
One senses that the son is finally stepping away from his father's shadow.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, however, and as they finished with the press, Chris Sr clenched his fists and let out a victory cry not unlike that produced on his knees after beating Nigel Benn in 1990.
Then, he kissed his son’s head tenderly and they departed into the night.