Boxing: Eubank draws Close to rematch for title: Mixed fortunes for three British fighters on a busy championship bill

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The Independent Online
CHRIS EUBANK may have retained his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title, but his draw with Belfast's Ray Close on Saturday night not only spoilt his perfect record, it put on hold ambitious plans for big-money encounters against the likes of Nigel Benn, James Toney and Michael Nunn.

Instead of a proposed pounds 1m encounter with his old adversary Benn in September, Eubank instead will meet Close again, probably in late July.

The draw - one judge scored for each fighter, the third sat on the fence - left both sides fuming. 'How they scored it a draw I'll never know, but I'll go along with the judges' decision even though I don't agree with it,' Eubank said.

'I said two weeks ago that I feared we might be brought over here to be robbed,' Barney Eastwood, Close's manager said. 'I sounded the warning bell and I was proved right. I was convinced Ray was two rounds ahead going into the last. Eubank is a phoney fighter.'

For all the Irish bluster Eubank's complaints seemed the more justified. Respected ringside observers such as Harry Gibbs and Jim Watt made the champion a comfortable winner, the contest swinging decisively in his favour in the 11th, when a right uppercut sent Close to the canvas for a count of nine.

True, the Belfast man worked hard throughout but as Gibbs correctly observed, it was rarely effective aggression. He never had Eubank in trouble, the few quality shots which connected all belonged to the champion.

Nevertheless he was by his own admission lazy, coasting through the early stages, allowing the Irishman to maintain the initiative. Doubts remain about Eubank's ability to maintain a fast pace, and also over his power. The shot which put down Close was a beauty, but he was unable to find the decisive blow to end matters.

In total, six of his last seven contests have now gone the distance, suggesting that his strength is on the wane. He should comfortably defeat the Irishman in the July re-match, and may even have enough left to deal with an increasingly vulnerable Benn.

As for Nunn and Toney, who hold the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation versions of the title, Eubank would be well advised to grab the opportunity should it arise. He will have time in retirement to count his winnings.

Of the other two world-title fights on the bill, Scotland's Paul Weir looked an excellent prospect in claiming the WBO strawweight title from Mexico's Fernando Martinez in only his sixth professional contest.

The future looks less rosy for Pat Clinton who was separated from the same organisation's flyweight crown following a ruthless, one-sided pounding at the hands of the South African Jacob Matlala. That fight also produced some questionable scoring: one judge had them level.