However, his 33rd consecutive victory proved to be hard work, the flamboyant champion seeming flattered by verdicts of 117-112, 116-113, and 115-113. Most ringside observers had little more than a round separating them, with some giving the edge to Thornton. The judges saw it differently, giving the American scant credit for a wholehearted performance which forced Eubank to concentrate for the full 12 rounds.
From the start, Thornton demonstrated that he was not a man to be intimidated. As anticipated, he launched straight into his opponent, landing a couple of good rights inside the first round.
On paper, the 32-year-old New Jersey postal worker appeared an ideal opponent for Eubank. He is strictly business, spurning finesse and fancy footwork in favour of non-stop aggression. Eubank generally finds such opponents easy to despatch, gradually wearing them down with the power of his work.
There was little evidence in the first half of the fight, however, that the champion could find the punches to trouble the American. Thornton came forward behind a high guard, and although Eubank managed to land plenty of solid blows, they had a negligible effect.
All the while, Thornton was able to land plenty of shots of his own, notably a right cross towards the end of the second. Overall, Eubank seemed in control for the first four rounds, but after landing three solid body shots to start the fifth, he seemed to lose his way. Thornton did enough to take the next two rounds, and by the end of the seventh Eubank, although not in distress, was blowing hard. The American illegally hurled his rival to the canvass in the eighth, and it was significant that the champion was slow in regaining his feet.
By this stage, the veteran challenger was enjoying his work, ending the eighth in style with a combination to the head which had Eubank backed up against the ropes, momentarily unsteady. Unfortunately for Thornton, the bell ended the round before he could capitalise on his advantage.
It all seemed to be up with Eubank in the ninth. Thornton, whose relentless chase had paid dividends, trapped his man in a neutral corner and began to unload. The crowd, sensing the finish, rose to the challenger, but as they did so Eubank responded with a fast and accurate counter-attack of his own which had Thornton in distress for the first time in the fight.
Eubank pressed on in the 10th, landing a heavy right to the side of his opponent's head. The tide had turned: now it was the champion who again seemed fresher and more confident.
However, having proved his point Eubank then spent the remainder of the contest demonstrating his footwork, skating around the ring and keeping well clear of danger. He seemed content to protect his lead and even allowed himself the luxury of raising his arms in triumph a few seconds before the end as the judges were to prove, his confidence was well founded.
In the night's other world title fight, local man Pat Clinton retained his WBO flyweight title with a unanimous points decision over Danny Porter of Biggleswade. The fight was difficult to score but the verdicts, 118-112, 118-113, and 116-112 in the Scot's favour were absurdly one-sided. Even the pro-Clinton crowd agreed Porter had been harshly treated, the result being greeted with a mixture of derision and disbelief.
Most of the early rounds are best forgotten. However the affair ignited in the fifth as Porter, encouraged by the champion's tentative start launched a determined offensive. Clinton, pinned against the ropes, took plenty of wild rights, but recovered sufficiently to regain the initiative.
As Porter rushed in, the Scot sidestepped his crude charge and as the Englishman rebounded back from the ropes, he was met with a perfectly executed three-punch combination. Porter seemed ready to fall, but survived to the bell.
From then on, while the quality work came from Clinton, he allowed himself to be out-worked by his rival's relentless assault. Clinton rallied towards the end, landing a succession of left hooks in the 11th, but he was unable to break his opponent's resolve.Reuse content