Boxing: Eubank survives Close encounter

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The Independent Online
CHRIS EUBANK survived yet another photo-finish to retain his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title at the King's Hall here last night with a split decision over the local challenger Ray Close, but once again the scoring threw into question the standard of judging among WBO officials.

American Gene Glen gave Eubank an astonishing six- point margin with a card of 118- 112, while British judge Roy Francis scored 117-114 in the Irishman's favour. An overall discrepancy of nine points in a 12-round fight is unacceptable, although the third official, Clark Sammarino of America, offered a more realistic assessment of 115-114 for Eubank.

At least the result safeguarded Eubank's pounds 10m deal with Sky Sports, although at times the Sky executives must have wondered about the wisdom of their investment. It was a typically patchy and unsatisfactory performance from British boxing's most controversial figure, and one feared the worst when the capacity crowd in the world's most partisan arena learned that their man had not, after all, done enough. In the event, the fans accepted the outcome with surprising equanimity.

Eubank knew from the tough 12-round draw he had fought with Close a year ago that his challenger would be difficult to beat, and this time he had clearly prepared for a long fight, although with typical bravado he had struck a pounds 1,000 bet at 66-1 with Close's manager Barney Eastwood that he would win inside the first two rounds. He tried hard to collect on the bet, but when Close failed to crumble Eubank's work disintegrated into the all too familiar ragged and undisciplined style. At one point he swung almost a full circle off balance after missing with a swiping left hook and Close consistently outjabbed and outboxed him throughout the first five rounds.

The Irishman hit trouble in the sixth when a vertical cut appeared on the hairline in the centre of his forehead, causing blood to trickle down into his eyes. But Eubank did nothing to build on his advantage and allowed Close to take the rounds virtually by default. Eubank at last injected some urgency, or perhaps desperation, into his work in the eighth, making Close hold on from a chopping right which was Eubank's best effort so far. He had to wait until the 10th, though, to land the punches which saved his title: two stunning rights to the head which left Close so dazed and confused that at one point he grabbed Eubank around the knees as he struggled to stay upright.

Earlier in the evening, the glorious uncertainty that makes boxing such an intriguing sport was underlined again by the spirited world title challenge mounted by a virtually unknown Russian, Ahmat Dottovev, who took World Boxing Association light-middleweight champion Julio Cesar Vasquez into the 10th round before the Argentinian's raw strength finally ground him down.