Notebook: Eubank, Smith take very personal shots as bad blood builds
Joyce-Zhang being finalized; dramatic 'ShoBox' main event; Wallin staying busy; BetUS show; Quick hits; Show and tell
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As the time to step into the ring has grown closer, British middleweights Chris Eubank Jr. and Liam Smith have grown testier and testier with each other, culminating this week with a provocative war of words.
They will meet in a 12-rounder on Saturday (DAZN in the U.S., Sky Box Office in the U.K., 2 p.m. ET) at AO Arena in Manchester, England in a fight that came about after Eubank was in search of a notable opponent following the cancellation of a massively hyped showdown with Conor Benn due to Benn’s failed drug test coming to light days before the scheduled Oct. 8 bout.
Enter Smith, a former junior middleweight titlist, who has won three fights in a row and is going into his second fight at middleweight.
The fight may not have grabbed the British public the way the prospect of Eubank-Benn had — a second-generation grudge match after their famous fathers competed in two hugely popular 1990s battles — but it has drawn tremendous interest.
Whether the apparent bad blood is real or simply histrionics in an effort to goose the British pay-per-view sales it has gotten fight fans over the pond in a lather as Eubank and Smith have gone after each other in a very personal manner, particularly at this week’s news conference.
Eubank, who is trained by Hall of Fame legend Roy Jones Jr., ticked off Smith with his negative comments about the poor economic conditions in his home city of Liverpool and also accused him of cheating on his wife. Smith questioned Eubank’s sexual preference, all but goading him into saying whether he was straight or gay. Eubank did not directly respond but elected to wear a gay pride colored armband at Friday’s weigh-in.
After Smith repeatedly questions Eubank’s sexual orientation, he responded.
“I used to think (former cruiserweight titlist) Tony Bellew was the biggest asshole to come out of Liverpool, but at this stage Liam has definitely taken that No. 1 slot. It’s impressive, he said.
Then Eubank continued going at Smith.
“If you want to get dark and personal with it, talking about being gay and do I like girls, I've been told by multiple sources that you cheat on your wife on occasion. I’d rather be gay than a cheat,” Eubank said.
The British Boxing Board of Control said it is considering disciplinary action against both fighters for their actions at the news conference.
The tension remained high as they weighed in Friday — both were 159 pounds — and engaged in an intense staredown and exchanged words.
“I just said, ‘You made it personal. If you want to make it personal I will, don’t think I won’t’,” Smith explained. “I just told Chris that he made it personal (at Thursday’s news conference) on a couple of things — bringing my family into it, trying to slam my city, Liverpool. He’s in for a rude awakening (Saturday), let me tell you.”
Eubank (32-3, 23 KOs), 33, who has won six fights in a row since a decision loss to George Groves for the WBA super middleweight title in 2018, claimed to have seen fear in Smith’s eyes.
“I saw in his eyes on the stage (that) he doesn’t want to be here. He is going to be in for a shock,” Eubank said. “I guess the antics leading up to this fight have made me a bit hungrier. There is a little more needle in it now. He has made it personal, so I am going to go out and enjoy the punishment that I dish out. Now it is not just business, now it is personal.”
Smith (32-3-1, 19 KOs), 34, who lost his junior middleweight title to Canelo Alvarez by ninth-round knockout in 2016, is riding a three-fight winning streak, including notable wins over Anthony Fowler and former world titlist Jessie Vargas, and would love nothing more than to knock out Eubank.
“It’s just the win that matters regardless. I’d love to make a statement and stop him, but a win at any means necessary is the aim,” Smith said.
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Eubank wants the KO also and hopes a win might position him for a shot at unified middleweight titlist Gennadiy Golovkin, whom he turned down the chance to fight in a 2016 title shot that instead went to Kell Brook when GGG boxed in London.
“I’ve always wanted to win this fight by knockout. The fact that Liam is being a child up here, it gives me a bit of extra incentive to embarrass him,” Eubank said. “I’ve got to win in devastating fashion so that I can go on and face the big names in the division, i.e. Triple G.”
In two key undercard fights:
Cruiserweight Richard Riakporhe (15-0, 11 KOs), 32, of England, takes on the most notable opponent of his career in the co-feature when he faces former world titleholder Krzysztof Glowacki (32-3, 20 KOs), 36, a southpaw from Poland, whose only losses have been in world title bouts against Oleksandr Usyk, Maris Briedis and Lawrence Okolie.
Former heavyweight titlist Joseph Parker (31-3, 21 KOs), 31, of New Zealand, takes on Manchester’s Jack Massey (20-1, 11 KOs), 29, who will take an enormous step up in competition as he moves up from the cruiserweight division. Parker is coming off an 11th-round knockout loss to Joe Joyce in an action-packed WBO interim title bout in September. Massey’s only loss was to Riakporhe by decision in 2019.
Joyce vs. Zhang on tap
A fight between WBO interim heavyweight titlist Joe Joyce and Zhang Zhilei is close to being finalized for April 15, probably in London.
“Working on it being finalized. We like the fight and hope we can come to terms,” Zhang manager Terry Lane told Fight Freaks Unite. “I am confident that we can, but nothing is final until it’s final.”
The bout would headline a Queensberry Promotions card and match two of the division’s biggest men in the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Joyce and the 6-6, 275-pound Zhang.
“It’s a fun fight, another good fight to add to a good 2023 boxing line up,” Lane said.
Joyce (15-0, 14 KOs), 37, of England, who was the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight silver medalist, won the vacant interim belt in his last fight, knocking out former world titlist Joseph Parker in the 11th round of a hellacious fight of the year nominee on Sept. 24 in Manchester, England.
Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs), 39, a Chinese southpaw and 2008 Olympic super heavyweight silver medalist, is coming off a tight decision loss to Filip Hrgovic in an IBF final elimination bout on Aug. 20 on the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua II undercard in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Joyce is already one of the mandatory challengers for three-belt titlist Usyk but with that fight a ways off he will remain active. If Zhang beats him, he would take over the IBF mandatory position.
Stevens dramatically KOs Hemphill
Super middleweight David Stevens (11-0, 8 KOs), 22, of Reading, Pennsylvania, dropped Sean Hemphill (14-1, 8 KOs), 27, of New Orleans, twice in the eighth and final round and dramatically stopped him with two seconds left to culminate an exciting and competitive main event of the 2023 debut of Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation” on Friday night at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The fight, which was originally scheduled for Oct. 21 but postponed after Hemphill had to postpone due to an injury, was seemingly up for grabs going into the final round, although it turned out that Stevens was ahead 68-65 on all three scorecards.
Stevens, however, did not know the scores and knocked Hemphill down with 21 seconds remaining with a barrage of punches that caused Hemphill to slump in his corner. He beat the count but Stevens was all over him, drilling him with a sharp left hook that sent him into to the ropes and down, causing referee Shawn Clark to wave off the fight.
“I felt like it was a good performance in front of my hometown crowd,” Stevens said. “I didn’t know how the judges had it scored and I knew I wasn’t executing like I should have been, and I had to pick it up like my corner was telling me. Near the end I just had to stay relaxed. I think I could have done a better; just improved on a little bit of everything. We were both breathing pretty heavy near the end there and I knew I just needed to keep pushing.”
In the co-feature, light heavyweight Atif Oberlton (8-0, 6 KOs), 24, of Philadelphia, won a unanimous decision over Artem Brusov (12-1, 11 KOs), 31, a Russia native fighting out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Oberlton looked sharp winning 79-73, 78-74 and 78-74.
In the opener, junior lightweight Julian Gonzalez (9-0-1, 9 KOs), 21, of Reading, Pennsylvania, dropped Rosalindo Morales (9-1, 2 KOs), 29, a southpaw from Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, in the first round with a barrage of shots. When he rocked Morales with a right hand in the fourth round of their scheduled eight-rounder, referee Clark stopped it at 27 seconds.
Wallin tune-up fight
Heavyweight contender Otto Wallin, who has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Anthony Joshua for his tentative return on April 1 in London, will stay busy against Helaman Olguin on Jan. 27 in the main event of a club card at the Castleton Banquet & Conference Center in Windham, New Hampshire.
Wallin (24-1, 14 KOs), 32, a southpaw from Sweden, has won four fights in a row since he badly cut Tyson Fury and pushed him to the limit in a 12-round decision loss for the lineal heavyweight title in September 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Wallin has not fought since a near-shutout of durable journeyman Rydell Booker in a 10-rounder in May.
“We are keeping Otto busy while he is being avoided by big names,” Zach Levin, Wallin’s manager, told Fight Freaks Unite. “We are working hard to make sure the fight to follow this one will be high profile and meaningful.”
Levin, of course, hopes Wallin can land the Joshua fight but he is skeptical.
“Our sense is that Otto is too good for his own good,” Levin said. “He is liable to upset the applecart against a guy with shaky confidence who desperately needs a win in his life — not a skilled, cerebral, southpaw with guts.”
Olguin (9-4-1, 4 KOs), 39, a Mexico native fighting out of South Jordan Utah, doesn’t figure to last long against Wallin. He has never faced a notable opponent and is 0-1-1 in his last two fights, including a first-round knockout loss to Terrell Jamal Woods two fights ago in August 2021.
BetUS Boxing Show
If you missed the BetUS Boxing Show live at 1 p.m. ET on Friday on YouTube, please check out the replay (and also subscribe to the YouTube channel). We previewed and picked two fights from the most notable card of the weekend: the Chris Eubank Jr.-Liam Smith middleweight bout and Joseph Parker-Jack Massey at heavyweight. We also, as always, took viewer questions and comments! Check out the show here:
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya said he is interested in signing free agent super middleweight up-and-comer Edgar Berlanga. “Would love to work with Boriqua Edgar Berlanga,” De La Hoya wrote Friday on Twitter. “Imagine fighting Jaime Munguia and selling out Madison Square Garden.” De La Hoya promotes former junior middleweight titlist Munguia (41-0, 33 KOs), 26, of Mexico, who has been fighting at middleweight but would happily go to super middleweight. On Wednesday, Top Rank and Berlanga signed a separation agreement that ended their promotional deal. The sides were at loggerheads over the direction of his career, the opponents he should fight and the money he should make. As a free agent, Berlanga (20-0, 16 KOs), a 25-year-old Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, New York, who began his career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts, figures to also draw interest from PBC and Matchroom Boxing.
During Friday’s “ShoBox” broadcast, Showtime announced the next edition of the prospect-oriented show for Feb. 17. The Lou DiBella-promoted tripleheader will take place in Topeka, Kansas, with junior middleweight Ardreal Holmes (12-0, 5 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from Flint, Michigan, taking on Ismael Villarreal (12-0, 8 KOs), 25, of Bronx, New York, in the 10-round main event. Junior middleweight Misael Lopez (14-1, 5 KOs), 26, of Denver, will face Edward Vazquez (13-1, 3 KOs), 27, of Fort Worth, Texas, in the 10-round co-feature and junior welterweight Victor Padilla (10-0, 9 KOs), 24, a Puerto Rican southpaw fighting out of Berlin, New Jersey, will face John Mannu (7-0-1, 4 KOs), 26, a southpaw from Australia, in the eight-round opener.
Show and tell
Floyd Mayweather and Diego Corrales had been on a collision course as undefeated junior lightweight titleholders, who were both with Top Rank and both on HBO. They had appeared on a doubleheader together and then the fight was finally made, although Corrales vacated his world title so he could make the match rather than be forced into a much lesser mandatory defense.
The showdown came less than one year into my tenure of covering boxing. I had been to Las Vegas two months in a row to cover my first fights there — Lennox Lewis-David Tua and Felix Trinidad-Fernando Vargas, both at Mandalay Bay — and then went back for a third month in a row to cover Mayweather-Corrales. It was the first fight I covered at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where I have covered more fights than any other venue. At this point, I have covered around 100 events there.
The build up to the fight was incredibly rancorous between the fighters. Corrales, who went into the fight knowing he was headed to prison soon after the fight due to a domestic violence conviction, had been a dominating knockout machine and I picked him to win. It was the only time I ever picked against Mayweather and I learned my lesson. Mayweather put on an absolute masterpiece that to this day I consider his greatest performance. He knocked Corrales down five times in a brilliant showing before Corrales’ corner threw in the towel after the fifth knockdown in the 10th round. The fight was Jan. 20, 2001 — 22 years ago on Friday. Here is a very limited HBO poster from the fight in my collection as well as my ringside credential.
Eubank-Smith photo: Lawrence Lustig/Boxxer; Joyce photo: Queensberry Promotions; Stevens-Hemphill and Wallin photos: Amanda Westcott/Showtime
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Why, then, did Eubank Sr carry on son about how dangerous it was for his son to fight at 160 lb against Benn unless Sr feared a doped-up Benn?