Eubank probably did enough to win, even if the wide margins awarded by the three judges seemed hard on the American, but there was little of the power and intensity of previous triumphs. Eubank's trump card has always been his strength: against Thornton it carried little weight.
The 26-year-old Brighton boxer dominated the first four rounds, landing plenty of clean shots, but nothing slowed a determined and capable challenger who began at a fast pace which he sustained throughout. Sensing trouble, Eubank went into a defensive shell during the middle rounds, only emerging in the ninth, when a concerted attack had Thornton reeling, grateful to hear the bell.
Eubank rushed in for the finish at the start of the 10th, but when the American refused to yield, the champion went into retreat, dancing around the ring, shamelessly protecting his lead, much to his rival's disgust. 'He had said he was going to win the fight hands down,' Thornton said. 'What I didn't expect was that he'd do it by running his ass off.'
Explaining his tactics, Eubank admitted: 'This man was very tough. To have stayed with him would have been suicide. One must win at all costs, and the tactic I chose was a prudent one. In the ring, one has to adjust, adapt, compromise.'
Agreed, but the Eubank of a year or two ago would have finished Thornton off. Never the most technically accomplished performer, the champion is forced to rely heavily on the withering effect of his punches. With three of his last four opponents having taken him the distance, it seems likely that this power is ebbing, with the result that his continued presence at the peak of his profession is looking precarious.
He could do with a rest - nine world title fights in less that two years have left their mark - but seems determined to persist with a punishing schedule of contests. 'The more you do this, the more you get sucked in, and it becomes harder to get out,' he admitted. 'I hope one day to be able to say 'no more, that's it' but the more you win, the more you want to go on.'
That approach has certainly been the hallmark of Eubank's career to date. He boasts of his warrior spirit, his need for combat. Common sense dictates the need for a break, an opportunity to draw breath and regroup, but the suggestion is treated with scorn. 'I need to fight,' he said. 'I have a lot of responsibilities, places to go, people to see, walls to build.'
True to form, a date has already been set for his next defence, 20 November in Manchester, and although the opponent has yet to be named, the promoter Barry Hearn has said he is seeking more opponents from the Thornton mould.
'From now on, it's only tough guys for Chris Eubank,' Hearn said. 'We don't want anyone who'll go backwards, we're looking for sluggers. Nobody knows how long Chris will go on for, but I can promise you it will be exciting while it lasts.'
A future which combines hard opponents, insufficient rest and declining strength suggests it may not last long.
Pat Clinton held on to the WBO flyweight title on the Eubank underbill despite a damaged left hand and lack of sleep. Although Clinton won on an unanimous verdict, his opponent Danny Porter was convinced that he had been robbed of the title and is demanding a rematch.
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