British boxing opens its account for 2023 with a solid middleweight main event that promises a clash of both styles and famous boxing families. Chris Eubank Jr, of course, carrying the name of his famous father, whereas Liam Smith is one of four fighting brothers—all of whom have held British titles and at least challenged at a world level. This fight, while not for a title, should go a long way towards deciding which of the two gets to look towards major belts in future. At the very least, it’ll decide some bragging rights on the British scene. With some (frankly quite distasteful, at moments) heat in the buildup too, it should be a spicy one once both men step in the ring.
This card is available on DAZN in the US and other international territories, and on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK. It will start at 1pm ET (6pm GMT) with ring-walks for the main event expected at around 5:15pm ET (10:15pm GMT).
Chris Eubank Jr (32-2, 23 KOs) is a recognizable name to most boxing fans, having used his father’s reputation and an offbeat charisma of his own to grab the spotlight. It has been an odd run so far, though. A tendency to chase exposure rather than legacy means that, while he’s fought a number of names with world level experience, most of them (De Gale, Yildirim, Abraham) have been a long way past their best. The one time he did fight an opponent of definitely proven class at somewhere near his prime, George Groves gave him a schooling back in 2018.
One thing that should be noted, though, is that—having for a long time been known as un-coachable (and even openly coaching himself for a bit)—he’s more recently moved to the US to work with Roy Jones Jr. It seems to be working out too, judging by changes in his style. Whether that combination will work in the long run remains to be seen, but he is coming off a good—if scrappier in the end than it needed to be—win over Liam Williams last year.
Smith (32-3-1, 19 KOs) is less a star and less well known, but he’s been about for a while and has fought some very good opponents. That includes a fight at 154lbs with Canelo in 2016, in which he made the p4p great work for his win, before a mid-rounds KO. Since then he’s also had hard-fought losses to Jaime Munguia (much bigger than him) and Magomed Kurbanov (which he felt, along with many observers, should have gone to him). That last one in particular stung, as he seems to believe it have been his ticket back to world level fights. After a streak of three solid, though lower-level, he’s hoping to make that step again this year if he can get the high-profile victory here.
Smith is also making a jump in weight. He’s fought most of his career at 154lbs, but is stepping up to 160lbs for Eubank. That could work against him, especially since Eubank has fought up at even higher weights in the past and is comfortably the bigger man, but we’ve seen aging fighters find a fresh spring in their step by making moves up before, so he’ll be hoping for that.
At 33 and 34, respectively, they’re coming to the time of their careers where it’s really one last push for that top level, so it’s an interesting crossroads fight and a meaningful one both for their respective careers and the immediate future of middleweight as a whole. It should be a good bout.
On a technical level this is a real clash of styles. That’s true whichever version of Eubank turns up, which is an open question—since the outboxing style Roy Jones Jr. has been coaching him into differs greatly from the high-volume aggression he’d previously shown us. Whichever gear he chooses to engage, he’s a pretty unorthodox fighter. Whereas Smith comes with a dependable, rounded, meat-and-potatoes style with which he’ll be seeking to punish any mistakes Eubank may make.
That description might sound disparaging, but it’s really not. Smith doesn’t do anything flash or unusual, but he does the basics very well. Eubank will have to work hard to find gaps in the armor. The reverse won’t necessarily be true. Smith has made a career of keeping things composed and tidy until opponents show a flaw he can attack, and for all his skills Eubank has technical holes aplenty.
Which ones Smith will be taking advantage of will depend on Eubank’s approach, though. Throughout his career, he’s typically been a high-volume pressure fighter, assaulting his foes with hooks and uppercuts by the dozen. Under the tutelage of RJJ he’s become more of an outfighter, seeking to keep opponents at bay with a jab and stepping in and out to deliver single punches or short combinations. Or, at other times, attempting to draw his opponent onto loaded-up counters.
The latter is probably the more likely, especially given we saw him fight Liam Williams—a fighter with some similar tendencies to Smith—that way last year. A fight Eubank dominated early en route to a win. There is a risk in that game, though. While he knocked Williams down several times early, as the fight went on the bout started to lean towards Williams. And Smith is a step up in competition there.
The biggest problem for Eubank as an outboxer is that he simply doesn’t extend his punches well. He’s had elbow injuries in the past. Whether or not his mechanics problems are a direct result, he’s never been convincing as a rangy puncher. This means that even his jab is often not as long as it might be, and he has to get in and out of hooking distance rather than throwing sharp straights. He is, in other words, trying to play a distance-based game with a set of tools built up over years to be used close in—something he does quite well. He also simply isn’t the best mover in the world, probably because he only started learning this outfighting style in his 30s.
When fighting Williams, he needed to hurt him often to keep him at bay. That happened early on but, once Williams warmed up, Eubank didn’t really have the capacity to keep him on the outside for any length of time. If he comes with the same mindset against Smith, the latter’s superior defensive skills, better readiness to feint his way in and set shots up, and slightly better power could see Eubank punished in a way Williams couldn’t manage. Even if he does choose—or gets forced into—a close-in fight, Smith has a history of catch-and-countering opponents throwing wide punches at him, as he did against Anthony Fowler.
All that doesn’t mean Eubank doesn’t have a shot here. For all his tidy solidity, Smith can display an inability to adjust. In particular, his high guard is nice and tight, but it’s not reactive. That’s the kind of thing he might find gets him into trouble against the unusual shot selection of Eubanks. If Eubanks can find a home for his hooks and uppercuts, Smith may find it hard to adjust without breaking his defense entirely.
There is also a fairly big speed advantage for Eubank, which should mitigate some of the distance issues and mean Eubank has a chance of beating Smith to the punch in even exchanges on the inside. Add in that he’s also quite a lot bigger, fighting most of his career at this weight or higher, and those could all be serious factors as the fight goes on and the wear-and-tear on the new-to-160 Smith begins to add up.
There is one more thing to factor in, though, and that’s experience. Although their records are similar on paper, and Eubank’s name far more recognizable, Smith has spent more time at or near the very top of his division. As mentioned above, more of Smith’s fights have been against world-level opponents in their prime, and he’s been more competitive in them when he’s been there. So we could just see a bit more of a class difference in his favor than would otherwise be expected.
I’d say that the mix of ingredients for the fight do somewhat point towards Smith, then, but it should be an entertaining affair. Overally, I’d say it’s by no means a foregone conclusion, and a good competitive booking.
What’s on the Undercard?
The biggest attraction of the undercard by far is a welterweight clash, for the British and Commonwealth belts, between Ekow Essuman and Chris Kongo. Essuman is (usually) a relentless, hard punching machine—nicknamed ‘The Engine’ for a reason—and Kongo is entirely unafraid to throw down. Both men are in their 30s and looking to progress up to world level in a hurry, so there’s a lot on the line. It should be a heck of a scrap.
Richard Riakporhe faces Krzysztof Glowacki in the cruiserweight division, a fight seemingly designed to test Riakporhe’s readiness for world level. That could be fun, though he’s turned out snoozers before. Beyond that, there’s not a lot on the card. Jack Massey, having never fought above British level or similar at cruiserweight, will be making a step up to heavyweight against (for some reason?) Joseph Parker. Frazer Clarke, a heavyweight Olympian, continues his laughable introduction into the pro ranks with another over-matched opponent. Neither is likely to be competitive.