Boxing: Close worth a third shot at Eubank: King rails at 'injustice'

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WHEN word filtered down to ringside at the King's Hall here on Saturday night that Chris Eubank had retained his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title on yet another controversial split decision, battle-hardened reporters began to calculate the distance between the press bench and safety under the ring platform.

This was in anticipation of a riot when the 8,000 crowd were informed that their man Ray Close had, for the second time, been denied a deserved victory over a man whose theatrical scowls and snarls throughout 12 hard-fought rounds seemed to be directed more at the paying customers than Close.

Instead, the fans accepted the verdict with a degree of decorum which would have graced Henley Regatta. The only unsavoury scene was provided by the co-promoter Don King, who, in an impromptu press-conference-cum-public-meeting conducted, bizarrely, in a crammed exit corridor, ranted loudly about substituted scorecards and a WBO supervisor's tally sheet which he claimed had mysteriously gone missing before it could be inspected and checked.

'We want justice,' he bellowed. 'This is just not fair.'

Of course, such shenanigans are not entirely unprecedented in the world of championship boxing, but the show of outraged decency was a bit rich coming from the man who tried to railroad WBC and WBA officials into overturning Buster Douglas's perfectly legitimate knock-out of Mike Tyson in Tokyo. His memory often appears as carefully selective as his matchmaking, but then that is the Don King we know and love to hate.

At least there was enough genuine controversy about the outcome to justify Close's retaining his No 1 ranking, which means he qualifies for a mandatory third fight with Eubank, who says he is willing to accommodate him providing the venue is London rather than Belfast.

So long as the champion can be confident of the services of judges like the American Gene Glen, whose 118-112 score was a grotesque misreading of the fight, in which there was never more than a punch between the well-matched pair, he should be safe, even if their third encounter is staged in Close's front garden.

Roy Francis, the London judge who voted for Close, did so with a three-point margin (117-114) and it defies belief that two supposedly competent officials - a description which certainly befits Francis - could manage a nine-point discrepancy in a 12-round fight.

It was a typically ragged and patchy display from Eubank, who did little convincing work for the first six rounds and waited until the 10th, when he almost stopped Close, to produce any punches of genuine championship quality. That kind of late surge is becoming Eubank's trademark: he salvaged the first Close fight with an 11th-round knock-down, and did the same against the ill-fated Michael Watson.

Like Harry Wragg, the jockey they used to call the Head Waiter, he has mastered the art of timing his winning effort to perfection, but he would do well to remember that even Wragg lost the occasional photo-finish.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE SCORECARDS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Gene Glen (US). . . . . . . . . . 118-112 Eubank Roy Francis (GB). . . . . . . . . 117-114 Close Clark Sammarantino (US). . . . . . 115-114 Eubank -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)