Frontline diary: The takeover

Chris Williamson
12/10/2017 9:15am

Chris Eubank Jr declared he is ready to "take over" the World Boxing Super Series after his impressive destruction of Avni Yildirim on Saturday night. Chris Williamson was ringside in Stuttgart and brings us his analysis and reflections...

More than twenty years ago, Chris Eubank Sr signed a multi-million pound deal with Sky Sports which took his fights from the terrestrial ITV channel, where millions of viewers followed his journey, to a much smaller audience behind a subscription paywall.

The trend for increased revenue through lower audiences would follow shortly after, when the Pay-Per-View (PPV) seed was planted in the UK market in March 1996 for the rematch between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno. The trend was set for boxing to serve a smaller audience, while extracting more cash from fans committed enough to stick around.

The Sky deal was intended to launch a series showcasing the eccentric champion on the 'Eubank world tour', a wonderfully over the top TV commercial for which showed the fighter morphing from jodhpurs into a tiger and back again. Lacking in confidence the elder Eubank was - and is - not.

Now Eubank's son, Chris Jr - another sculpted middleweight turned super middleweight - has signed to an innovative World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournament which is, in theory, a fabulous concept.

Eight of the best fighters at super middle and cruiserweight in one quickly executed knockout tournament, culminating in the winner being awarded a shiny Muhammad Ali Trophy. Even the habitually self-serving sanctioning organisations appear to be cooperating within the confines of the tournament.

Private equity financial backers have ensured the prize money on offer is fabulous: US$25m per weight class, with guaranteed purses depending on status and progress. Frustratingly, the speed of implementation has led to some odd decisions in choice of broadcasting and location. For this match in particular to be shown in the U.K. behind an ITV Box Office PPV paywall appears painfully short-sighted, particularly on a night where two other shows were shown on terrestrial and subscription television. A better decision would surely have seen this match broadcast more widely for free, building towards a possible all British semi-final and final.

With such a concentration of prize money in the main event, there was little of interest on a limp undercard for Eubank Jr's clash with Avni Yildirim on Saturday night. Promising young Brit Zach Parker avoided what a colleague neatly termed the "Sauerland British signing curse," while experiencing all he could handle from the squat and powerful Matingu Kindele, who connected with several solid left hooks out of a crouched stance.

Kindele wore a brilliantly unexplained 'Ghostbusters' logo on his shorts and will make a hard night for almost anyone. As with the rest of the WBSS format, scores were not announced for unanimous decisions, so it was only later I learned the scores for a bloodied Parker were harshly lop-sided.

The audience in the arena seemed to belong to one of two worlds; a glamorous smart suit and cocktail dress wearing set chatted and quaffed champagne, while a very different, more dangerous atmosphere seemed to bubble close to the surface. The second group erupted about an hour before the main event as dozens were involved in an ugly melee which spilled into the press section.

Fists and chairs were thrown and blood, coffee and beer spilled until the brawl eventually fizzled out. Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail could hardly have been less intimidated, refusing to move while most of us took refuge near the ring. Powell later demonstrated how best to use chairs as defence in the event of a repeat of post-fight Hagler vs Minter scenes.

A tense atmosphere remained as unremarkable tournament reserve Stefan Haertel narrowly retained his unbeaten (now 15-0) record with a majority decision in the nominal chief support against gritty Ukrainian Viktor Polyakov.

The inevitable German rock band then set up in the ring and blasted out a couple of their songs; I can't say I cared for the music, but one wouldn't expect 'Q' magazine to critique Daigo Higa vs Thomas Masson, so I'll leave it at that.. Incidentally, the fights were held on the same weekend as the biggest music and beer festival in the Stuttgart calendar. Revellers in traditional dress partied all over the city.

As challenger for the lightly-regarded IBO belt, Yildirim walked first and the extent of Turkish support - a product of the huge community in Stuttgart - became evident with feverish shouting and cheering.

Eubank Sr told us later he'd suggested his son should perhaps discard wearing his traditional union flag when entering the ring, given the dangerously hostile atmosphere. To the father's delight, his son opted to defiantly wear the flag and walked to his stage to the familiar sound of Dr Dre, accompanied this time by a chorus of boos.

The Briton settled down to business immediately, his first task to establish superiority at range with a hurtful jab, which landed regularly and with tremendous force. Eubank Jr complimented his previous opponent Arthur Abraham's tremendous defence and cuteness, borne of many years experience. Of course Yildirim - a sort of naive, less-intelligent copy of Abraham - is yet to develop any of this savvy and marched forward looking to close distance to land his own hooks.

As the challenger did so in a neutral corner, Eubank landed a sharp, short right uppercut and Yildirim sank to the floor. As the bell rang I noticed Eubank pause to enjoy the silence he'd created with his work. It's impossible to ignore comparisons with his father, because it's the same sneering confidence the previous generation enjoyed in front of a German crowd, as he climbed the Berlin ropes preparing to face Graciano Rocchigiani back in 1994.

In the second round, I made a note that the crowd was roused through appreciation for the effort of the challenger, but it was clear Eubank was a level above in class.

As the bell rang for the third session, Eubank looked for the finish, swinging lightning-quick hooks at the Turkish challenger. Occasionally he would throw himself off balance and open to counterpunches, something the team will surely look to address.

Against Yildirim though - a fighter too crude and wide - he was in little danger and a final flurry punctuated by a finishing left hook deposited Yildirim face down to the canvas. Eubank took a moment to observe the result of his work and referee Leszek Jankowiak called it off immediately.. It was a good decision to rescue the game Turk, who looked shell-shocked for several minutes sitting on his stool.

A light-hearted, comical contrast followed in the way Chris Eubank Sr and ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr accommodated the round card girls following the knockout. Eubank admonished them for encroaching on space he deemed reserved for the champion and star of the show. It was typical Eubank and his son made gentle fun of his father on social media a few days later. Lennon Jr - the ultimate professional - chatted amicably and high-fived his chastised colleagues.

A little later the victor joined the press emanating supreme confidence, and borrowed MMA superstar Conor McGregor's line, "I'm not here to take part; I'm here to take over."

I asked Eubank Jr and trainer Ronnie Davies how their training and strategy may change if facing WBA champion George Groves - who must first come through his quarter-final vs Jamie Cox - in the last four. Of course Eubank Jr declined to go into detail, but reminded us of the many rounds he'd sparred with Groves in the past.

His knowing smile and quiet confidence suggested Eubank expects nothing less than ownership of both the WBA title and inaugural Muhammad Ali Trophy by this time next year.