Boxing: Eubank close to reaching land of gold: World champion's defence

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The Independent Online
THROUGHOUT his career, Chris Eubank has placed little store in fame and glory, motivated instead by a single-minded pursuit of the financial independence he has craved since growing up in poverty in the streets of south London.

Ever mindful that an ex-champion carries drastically reduced weight in the cash accumulation stakes, defences of his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title have become somewhat predictable, Eubank grinding out a succession of points victories against strictly low- risk opponents whose credentials as world title contenders have sometimes stretched credibility.

At first glance, the pattern is set to repeat itself tonight, when Ray Close tilts at Eubank's crown before a sell- out crowd at the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow. Close is the European champion, but the likeable, 24- year-old from Belfast is a novice at this level. He gets his opportunity after achieving that most unlikely of feats, a victory in Italy.

Few gave him a hope when he travelled to Campione d'Italia in March to meet the defending champion, Vincenzo Nardiello. However, a gash above the Italian's left eye forced a stoppage in the 10th, and although his corner argued bitterly that the damage was done by a head-butt, Close looked good value for his win.

Well schooled at the Eastwood gym in Belfast, Close, a practising Mormon, is a compact, unruffled type who works well behind an imposing jab. He possesses the style, his manager, Barney Eastwood, insists, to cause the champion problems. Recent evidence does not bear this out: Eubank has struggled only against rivals who put him under pressure.

In truth, Eubank has perfected the art of matchmaking to his own advantage, and seems to have found another opponent who, however unwillingly, will be forced into the role of also-ran.

There is the prospect of genuine wealth on the horizon now. His promoter, Barry Hearn, has collaborated with his American counterpart, Don King, to raise sufficient cash to promote the long-awaited rematch between the Brighton man and Nigel Benn, whom Eubank defeated in 1990 to claim his first world crown.

Both men would stand to make pounds 1m from the return, with the winner going on to another potential seven-figure pay day against either James Toney or Michael Nunn, the Americans who possess the other versions of the 'world' super-middle title.

This is the kind of tangible reward Eubank has been seeking since he embarked on his professional career eight years ago, and he is unlikely to let it slip through his grasp. Close will not be disgraced and may even last the distance, but Eubank now has the promised land in his sights.

In what is being billed as the biggest night in the history of Scottish boxing two other world championships will also be contested. Pat Clinton defends his WBO flyweight title against the diminutive South African, Jake Matlala, while Irvine's Paul Weir contests the same organisation's strawweight crown, a division not formally acknowledged by the British Boxing Board of Control.