Boxing: Eubank takes the sprain

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CURIOUSER and curiouser: after nine points decisions, some more debatable than others, Chris Eubank contrived to retain his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title in even more bizarre circumstances at the International Arena here last night when the Belfast challenger Sam Storey was beaten in the seventh round after having apparently sprained his left ankle.

Storey had given Eubank lively and spirited opposition, although after a sweeping right floored the Irishman at the start of the sixth round there was never any serious doubt but Eubank would retain his title and his unbeaten 41-fight record. Storey's efforts were appreciated by the sparse crowd of around 3,000. The disappointing attendance probably owed much to Eubank's peculiar approach to the hard sell which is so much a part of modern professional boxing.

'Don't come to the show,' Eubank advised potential customers. 'If you want thrills, go and watch Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies.'

He had a point: the fight scenes in True Lies are much more convincing than anything Eubank has offered in recent times, and even Schwarzenegger's limited range of facial expressions is infinitely more entertaining than any in Eubank's decidedly threadbare repertoire.

Perhaps sensitive to the criticism which his July defence against Mauricio Amaral attracted, Eubank made a more aggressive start than usual, forcing Storey back across the ring with long rights to the body and one to the head which seemed to unsettle the challenger. But having made an impression, Eubank bewilderingly went on the retreat, running away from Storey as the Welsh fans, more accustomed to orthodox entertainers like ringsiders Howard Winstone and Steve Robinson, booed and jeered. Eubank came out for the second heavily greased over the right eye, where he has been cut in each of his last two fights.

Storey scored solidly with some sharp southpaw jabs and left crosses and seemed unperturbed when Eubank fired those distinctive looping right hands to the body. The Irishman was growing in confidence by the third, landing accurate left jabs and right crosses from his stiff, amateurish stance. Eubank was content to wait for Storey to lead and try right counters, but the challenger's dogged persistence edged the round.

The crowd warmed to Storey as he pecked away with his jab in the fourth, but midway through the round his challenge faltered for the first time as blood began to trickle from a cut on his right cheek. Eubank, as he always does, timed his best efforts for the final 30 seconds of the round in order to catch the judges' eyes, but clearly he was having rather a rougher ride than he might have expected.

Storey came under fire in a neutral corner early in the fifth. Eubank caught him with a solid left hook, but he showed grit and determination to fight his way out of the corner. They exchanged right uppercuts but Eubank's was noticeably and ominously the more solid. But Storey's style was still giving him problems and so far he had been unable to make any real impression on a dogged and durable opponent.

But all that changed dramatically in the first 10 seconds of the sixth round. A right hand from Eubank dropped the Belfast man heavily. He got on to one knee at the count of four and was on his feet by seven but, it later transpired, had damaged his left ankle as he fell. Had Eubank set up a sustained attack at this point he would surely have finished the fight but instead, bewilderingly, he walked away from his opponent, posing, posturing and ignoring the storm of boos. He danced around the ring perimeter, arms spread wide and allowed Storey to recover and to see out the round.

The damage to Storey's ankle had been worse than we realised at ringside and he crumpled to the canvas in the opening seconds of the seventh round without having been hit. He got up at the count of five, wincing in pain and shaking out his leg as London referee Dave Parris gave him the mandatory eight count. This time, Eubank did not let him off the hook: a flurry of blows drove the Irishman into a neutral corner and a right uppercut dropped him again as the Belfast man's chief second, Barney Eastwood, threw in the towel in surrender.

'I pulled him out because he was only being paid six- round money for this,' Eastwood said. Perhaps he was, but he had certainly earned it.

'He sounds like really a nice guy,' Eubank said. 'It's a shame we had to fight. I detest boxing, but it's what we do for a living.'

(Photograph omitted)

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