Billy Joe Saunders Narrowly Defeats Chris Eubank, Jr. In Grudge Match

The talk of hard feelings and pugilistic comeuppance between Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank, Jr. was exaggerated, in hindsight. Adding to the “Bad Blood” billing of Tyson Fury vs. Dereck Chisora II, it may have been a strong contrast of personalities and characters before the bout, but the action didn’t spill forth until almost half of the fight was already tucked into bed.

Saunders, the new British middleweight champion, improved his record to 21-0 (11 KO) with a split decision win over Eubank over 12 rounds at the Excel Arena in London, but closed just well enough to stay unbeaten. Eubank, now 18-1 (13 KO), likely displayed more intrigue, but he waited far too long to move his hands with purpose.

An opening round saw little action, with Saunders tentatively jabbing his way forward, occasionally whipping a southpaw left hand. Rounds 2 and 3 didn’t bring much change, though, and Eubank’s supposed pre-fight fire was nowhere to be seen. Saunders continued being steady, even if nothing was spectacular, and that’s really all it took for him to pickpocket the early rounds.

Saunders’ technique and game plan proved to be far superior to Eubank’s in the 4th, and it essentially turned into a waiting game between two fighters unwilling to commit much to offense.

In round 5, Eubank, Sussex, finally looked to be frustrated into letting his hands go, though his rushes were sporadic and involved holding and hitting. He succeeded in making the fight a more physical one, even if he didn’t win the round outright. But in the 6th, Eubank managed to land enough snappy right hands to likely seize three minutes for himself, and Saunders at last looked like the lesser athlete and talent he was supposed to be, even if only briefly.

A mouse was created near Eubank’s right eye in round 7, as Saunders halted Eubank in his tracks with long jabs and lead left hands, but Eubank was becoming more adventurous with his attacks. Eubank’s increased aggression walked him into a variety of punches, but also opened up opportunities he was denying himself earlier.

As both men slowed and tired, rounds 8 and 9 saw more clinches and rabbit punches, but Eubank was punctuating many of the exchanges with winging potshots that were landing very obviously, and pushing Saunders’ head around. Exhaustion reared its head in the 9th in particular, with Eubank stumbling about before taking the latter portion of the round with nice hooks.

Saunders walked with Eubank and caught him with a few longer punches in round 10, though he endured a number of hard body shots to do it. Mouths were open and punches lost steam, but the action got grittier inside, and Eubank was in new territory, having never gone past eight rounds. It was Saunders who floundered in round 11, however, as his fatigue had him wading forward clumsily, opening him up to Eubanks’ rogue uppercuts.

Eubank, clearly understanding the need for greater output and a strong finish, pushed forward in the 12th round, landing roundhouse uppercuts and looping hooks before handcuffing himself with poor balance. Saunders struck back, but Eubank responded by swarming with more muscle, closing strong.

One judge had it quizzically wide for Eubank at 116-113, but that score was overruled by the other judges, who had it 115-114 and 115-113.

While Eubank’s offense was often more eye-catching, the lack of it early on hurt his chances at actually winning rounds against his more dependable opponent. At times, it appeared as though Eubank felt he should be getting credit for punches he wasn’t landing, simply because he was throwing them very hard. He said after the bout that he felt he won, but his best chance at improving would come from recognizing his lack of effort.

Saunders, however, scraped by in a manner of speaking. He won the decision, and it probably should have been unanimous, but his stamina was lacking late in the fight, and Eubank’s infrequent rushes still managed to overwhelm him, without much actual substance. The fighter from Hertfordshire should still find enough challenges teetering on the abyss at middleweight to move him up rankings, without risking too much.

Deeper on the undercard, Frankie Gavin, former amateur standout, picked up the British welterweight title by pecking at Bradley Skeete, 18-1 (7 KO), more than he got pecked, apparently. The contest wasn’t a bruising one, by any standard, but a jabbing and positioning clinic by most.

Skeete took advantage of Gavin probing tentatively with his jab to the body in round 1, whipping a few right hand counters that looked to sting slightly. The cleaner work from Skeete continued into round 2, and before the bell Gavin’s right eye began to swell up, adding to the red marks accumulating in the area. Gavin’s southpaw jab went head-to-head with Skeete’s orthodox counterpart, and the only separation in round 3 was likely a Gavin left hand.

Momentum continued for Gavin, 21-1 (13 KO), in the 4th round, however, and Skeete did little into the 5th, save for the odd right hand, and fewer jabs than Bermingham native Gavin.

Backward movement from Skeete had Gavin following, and without many favorable angles, meaning he walked into a snappy right hand or two in round 6. Skeete, Penge, London, again led Gavin into a series of right hands later in the 7th frame, netting him a clearer round.

Round 8 was close, and again without much in the way of excitement, but Skeete likely edged it with clean rights. His corner implored him to step into his right hands more, though – advice that wasn’t really followed by Skeete, but wasn’t necessary, as Gavin fell short with most of his work in round 9.

Gavin appeared to be in more of a hurry to win a round in round 10, and he uncorked an effective left hook to the body. But Skeete’s movement greater range took away Gavin’s offensive surge in round 11, until right before the bell. All the while, Skeete’s nagging jabs were wearing away the skin around Gavin’s eyes.

Though Gavin fought with a greater sense of urgency in the 12th round, his face still caught much of Skeete’s work, and his forward motion looked as much like aimless pursuit as it did effective aggression.

Judges turned in scores of 116-112, and 116-113 twice, confirming Gavin as the British welterweight champion. Despite the win, Gavin looked shaky in spots, but also soft around the middle.

It’s doubtful that he figures into the upper edges of the welterweight division, but it’s fair to note that Skeete gave Gavin little to work with. Being more effective as a counterpuncher, Gavin might find a groove against a more aggressive foe, but a step down in weight should be at least considered.

About Patrick Connor

Patrick Connor is a long time boxing fan and historian. He is additionally a voice actor and co-host of TQBR Radio, Queensberry-Rules' boxing podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @VoiceOfBeard