Frontline diary: The second coming?

Paul Zanon
07/02/2017 10:13am

Paul Zanon was ringside at Olympia on Saturday night as Chris Eubank Jr annexed the IBO super middleweight title to launch the brave - and controversial - new world of ITV pay-per-view ...

The controversy surrounding this particular show will be debated for a long time to come.

Was it worthy of Pay Per View?

Arguments can be made regarding the calibre of Eubank Jr's opponent, the validity of the IBO title being fought for and why a terrestrial television channel (ITV) which has a long history of providing free boxing viewing had now decided to join the bandwagon of billed events.

There’s merits to support and attack the PPV status of the show but, judging from the long queue of people desperate to get inside the venue on the evening and the abundance of celebrities in attendance, I think it’s fair to say that the latest stage of Eubank Jr's career generated a great deal of interest.

euquin5How many home-buys were generated remains to be seen and will be of interest to many. However, judging purely from what was displayed at the historic venue of London Olympia, it was a well administered show, with a great pedigree of boxing world champions on hand for commentary. Indeed, Duke McKenzie, Andre Ward and Lennox Lewis were an attraction of their own. From an event management and output perspective, Poxon Sports also put on a very smooth event.

But now to the most important part - the boxing!

In advance of ITV Box Office going live at 7pm, three four-round contests took place. Jordan Dennis beat Kieron Gray at middleweight (40-36) and Joe Jackson Brown beat Lithuania’s Vaidas Balciauskas (40-36) at super middleweight. Jackson brought a big following with him, who were relentless with their cheers of ‘JJB!’ Many in the crowd saw the merits of opportunist humour and by the end of round two added ‘SPORTS’ to the chants. Free advertising for both fighter and retail chain!

The third fight was the eye catcher. Portsmouth’s Lucas Ballinghall took on Harvey Hemsley at lightweight and was expected to win, as the previous two fighters had done against journeymen. However, it was the way Ballinghall won which was eye-catching. Great footwork, power, accuracy, timing and an excellent range of punches to open his very durable opponent up. A good points performance over four rounds would be 40-36, but the result here of 40-34 encapsulated the extra level Ballinghall demonstrated and deserved in the ring. He's certainly an exciting prospect to follow.

First up on the broadcast live action was WBC International flyweight title holder, Ardin Diale, against Barry’s very own, Andrew Selby. Boxing Monthly featured Andrew and brother Lee back in our December 2015 issue. It was already evident back then, while the brothers were punching holes in each other during sparring, that the younger, three-fight novice showed serious promise. Five fights and 15 months later, Selby delivered.

From the opening round, it was 'Superstar' who took control. If you didn’t know who the title holder was, you would have assumed it was him, as he put together beautiful accurate combinations at will.

By the end of the second round, Diale’s face was already reddened and swollen. The 46-fight veteran from the Philippines (32-10-4), did well to stay on his feet for the full ten rounds as Selby did what he wanted, when he wanted. Jab to the head followed by double jab to the body, followed by a five-hook combination to the head, not only paid testament to Selby’s ability, but Diale’s great chin. The 100-90 result in favour of Selby came as no surprise.

The win has turned Selby into a fringe top-ten prospect. One more win at international level could certainly see him knocking on the door for a world strap to sit alongside brother Lee.

Next up was Kid Galahad, challenging for the IBF International featherweight title. Two minutes before the ring walk, an announcement was made that his Ghanaian opponent, Joseph Agbeko had been pulled due to illness. With last-minute notice, Spanish fighter Leonel Hernandez, who was originally supposed to be on as a floater, stepped in.

Fair play to Hernandez, but this fight was only ever going one way. By the end of the third round, the Spaniard's face was a swollen and bloody mess, as a result of a non-stop assault from Galahad. Unable to come out for the fourth round due to a massive haematoma around his left eye, the Sheffield stylist was declared the winner.

The next contest between Adam Etches and John Ryder was a far better matched affair. Fighting for the IBF International super middleweight title, Ryder came in with a sculptured physique and looked like a natural 12-stone fighter. Etches, the former double world youth champion, stepped into the ring looking fleshy, as if middleweight, at eight pounds lighter, was his natural resting home.

From the opening bell, Ryder dictated the fight through superior timing and accuracy. His power was ready and available at any given moment, but he played a clever strategy throughout, never trying to explode on Etches with flurries of looping hooks, from his southpaw stance.

Credit where credit is due - Etches came to fight. From the second round onwards, his work rate, without a doubt, was higher than Ryder. He became the aggressor and was intent on walking him down and unloading at any given moment. The issue, as previously mentioned, was timing. Ryder was almost faultless with his little half-step backs, which often led to accurate counter left hooks.

In the fifth round, Ryder had Etches hurt and unloaded with a nonstop barrage for about 60 seconds. Props to Etches for hanging in there. As he walked to his corner for the end of the round, his left eye was grotesquely swollen and cut.

Aware that a stoppage could be imminent, Etches came out all guns blazing in the sixth. Despite a valiant attempt to take control, Ryder soon calibrated the pace to his desired tempo, while targeting pretty much every punch at the damaged eye.

By round ten, Etches was a bloody mess, with his eye and nose streaming blood. His corner had, however, managed to stem the swelling from shutting the eye, whilst Ryder’s face was relatively unmarked.

As both fighters left it all in the ring in the twelfth and final round, friend and fellow Sheffield boxer, Kell Brook was on his feet, screaming at Etches to finish strong.

The unanimous scores read 117-111, 116-112, 118-109 all in favour of Ryder.

All in all, a great fight which referee Marcus McDonnell had little involvement in, due to the professionalism of two fighters who deserved to walk out of the ring with their heads held high.

Next up was Bermondsey’s Chris Kongo against Lithuania’s Edvinas Puplauskas, which was over soon after it started. Kongo forced Puplauskas to the canvas in under a minute with a crunching hook to the body, then soon after relentlessly unloaded to force a stoppage after only one minute and 28 seconds of the first round. With a huge crowd following, Kongo is a man to watch out for.

Challenging for Christian Hammer’s WBO European heavyweight crown was a major crossroads fight for David Price. Win and a world title shot could be possible, lose and options would become bleak. Unfortunately, it was option B which came into play.

After a cagey start from both fighters, Price started to drive forward with solid jabs. The only issue was, they were always single jabs, with no follow up. Half way through the round, Hammer started to respond with flurries of punches which were thrown with hurtful intent. The initial response from Price was a good one, as he landed some solid body shots. After two rounds, the fight was pretty even.

Round three, Price started to follow up the jab with the big right hand and had Hammer’s legs buckling. Despite making it to the end of the round, Hammer was breathing heavily and looked in plenty of trouble.

euquin3Price controlled the fourth round. It was obvious he was now starting to settle in and his confidence had built him up to the point where he was letting four-shot combinations lose. Unfortunately for Price, Hammer simply smiled as Price unloaded and then hit the man from Liverpool back with his own assault.

Despite getting a warning from the referee for holding on, an early sign of Price’s fatigue, the Liverpudlian managed to force the durable Hammer to the canvas in round five with a crunching combination initiated by a beautiful uppercut. Had there been another 30 seconds left in the round, it looked like Hammer wouldn’t have made it through.

Unfortunately the script had a different ending in store - Price came out for the sixth looking to finish the job. In doing so, he totally emptied his tank and was very lucky not to get stopped in the final 20 seconds of the round.

Round seven was, unfortunately, a formality. Price was out on his feet from the second the bell rang and only made it as far as one minute and 22 seconds of the round, before the referee jumped in to stop him from further punishment. It’s not that Hammer put on an incredible display, simply a case of he hung in there long enough to be able to capitalise on Price’s fatigue.

That’s four losses in ten fights for the endearing Price. If he decides to fight on, it will no doubt be at domestic level. It simply looks like the world stage was unfortunately not meant to be.

With the full undercard out of the way, it was time to see if history could repeat itself, by way of Chris Eubank Jr looking to follow in his father’s footsteps and claim a world super middleweight title, by taking on the title holder, Australia’s Renold Quinlan.

The validity of the world title in question came under heavy fire in the build up to the fight. After the WBC, IBF, WBO and the two WBA world titles, you could argue that the IBO is the sixth most respected title out there. The other point of contention was Quinlan's calibre. Despite being the title holder, a very game and incredibly nice character, the Asutralian was a mere 12-fight novice, having lost a unanimous points decision against Jake Carr for the Australian super middleweight title only three fights prior.

With that all said, it’s time to look at exactly how the fight unfolded.

Despite all the best efforts in the world from Jr, claiming he’s his own man, with his own identity, it’s just not true. The show was entitled ‘Reborn,’ which gives you a hint as to the direction Jr's career is pursuing. Walking into Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best,’ and glaring at the crowd before jumping over the ropes is beyond old news.

However – one has to say that living in the shadow of his father gives Jr that extra element of motivation to prove he is his own entity as boxer and that he can genuinely be as good, if not better than his father. A tall order - not unachievable, but a tall order.

The referee for the evening was Howard Foster and the judges were Michael Alexander (UK), Garry Dean (AUS), Philippe Verbeke (BEL).

Ding, ding – round one.

Both fighters came out releasing their power shots in under 15 seconds, but spent most of the round gaging the other’s strategy. Both Quinlan and Eubank gave each other nods of recognition each time they absorbed a full blooded head shot, but neither showed any signs of fear or stepping back.

euquin4The second and third rounds saw some great exchanges between the two, with Eubank the busier, yet Quinlan looking the more dangerous with his counters. Eubank, undeterred and obviously not hurt, now started the famous family showboating.

By the fourth, Eubank’s face was starting to mark up a little. Nothing serious and certainly nothing bad enough to stop him talking to Quinlan at every given moment.

However, it was round five which saw the gear change from Eubank which set the tone for the balance of the fight.

As Eubank started to engage in heavy toe-to-toe exchanges, it became obvious that he can not only throw hard punches, but that he’s inherited his father’s granite chin as well, Quinlan was catching him with a number a solid counter hooks but they seemed to have little effect. The big difference towards the end of the round was fitness. Eubank had thrown more punches, absorbed punishment and was the fresher of the two by far. Quinlan on the other hand, with his mouth open, started to look like he was wilting.

Round six was a big round for Eubank. He finished off with a devastating flurry which had Quinlan in plenty of trouble. How he didn’t hit the canvas plays testament to his heart and chin. Unfortunately for Quinlan, by round eight, his fitness had dropped another level. Eubank was landing with all three of his triple jabs, punches which six rounds earlier Quinlan was avoiding. In addition to being gassed, he was also sporting a bloodied nose.

Round nine was the prequel to what was going to happen in round ten. Eubank was landing at will with vicious uppercuts and an explosion of hooks to the body and head. How Quinlan didn’t take a count is incredible. Despite managing to get through the round, Quinlan was unable to avoid the similar assault in the tenth and the referee rightly stepped in two minutes and seven seconds of the session.

Whether or not you are a fan of the Eubanks, it’s undeniable that their circus brings attraction and intrigue. His following is reminiscent of Prince Naseem's, or dare we say it, Chris Eubank Sr, in so much as he’s a loveable rogue who many are desperate to see get beaten.

euquin2But be under no illusions - if he ends up in the opposite corner to Gennady Golovkin in a Vegas style showdown, the UK will be behind him. The support on Saturday 4 February at Olympia was evident of that and the euphoric scenes after the fight further support it.

It’s all down to Jr now. He’s looked like the finished article for a long time. However, the performance against Quinlan did leave a few questions hanging over him.

Was Quinlan really that tough and resistant to Jr’s punches, or does Jr’s power not translate at super middleweight?

As Quinlan himself expressed in the post-fight press conference, perhaps it’s Eubank Jr's overwhelming punch volume which win fights as opposed to his power.

That would indicate that anyone with good timing, footwork and counter-punching ability could cause him problems. Middleweight seems to be the natural resting home for the man who claims he walks around at 12st 2lbs, but in the meantime, we need to take our hat off to this performance.

Eubank Jr's real tests lie at world championship level now, with the other (five!) versions of the world titles out there.

Can he mix it with the best? It’s an open debate, but based on what he’s shown so far, you wouldn’t bet your entire mortgage against Eubank with the majority of the title holders.

Golovkin is a step too far at the moment, but a rematch with Billy Joe Saunders right now would be perfect timing. Jr gets the chance for revenge, the chance to claim to be a two-weight world champion and take a big stepping stone towards a unification contest.