Eubank's show of strength

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FOR much of his fighting career Chris Eubank has been the most memorably boring of British world champions. He made laid that reputation to rest - in the ring at least - in Manchester last night in retaining his World Boxing Organisation super- middleweight title with a style and sense of purpose it was felt had long since deserted him.

What he could not lay to rest in a constantly thrilling contest was his challenger, the Yorkshireman Henry Wharton, who battled through most of the bout with a closed left eye which swelled continually.

Wharton had frozen in an almost immobile state when he fought for the World Boxing Council version of the championship earlier this year and had promised he would not do likewise on this occasion. There was never a chance of him doing so, which was just as well considering Eubank's positive intent.

The champion strode out from the third round and immediately began jabbing in earnest. It was clear from then that Wharton would have to call on all his famous resolve. That he did, but he was frequently caught unawares, and although he shook his head and smiled at the champion he was doing so through a mouth that was spitting blood and could not hide the pain.

The challenger looked in fairly serious trouble as early as the second round when the pattern was set, for towards the end he staged a recovery, trying to get through to Eubank's body, which was his objective throughout.

Eubank's accuracy was unerring. He jabbed mercilessly but it was the right-hand follow-up which so disconcerted the challenger.

The combinations rained in and as early as the second round Wharton's left eye was swelling - sadly, like his Yorkshire pride, looking fit to burst. Never in his career has Eubank begun a contest in such breathtaking style.

When he became a world champion after beating Nigel Benn four years ago, he was involved in mutally relentless assaults from start to finish, but if anything this contest was more frenetic still.

Eubank was perhaps aware that many pundits were suggesting he was on the slide. If that is so, it will be intriguing to see him climb some more mountains. He may also have been provoked by being referred to as "scum" by Wharton's manager, Micky Duff, in an extreme example of pre-fight hype. Eubank may be many things, but that was needlessly over the top.

In Wharton, he had the most resilient and brave of challengers, as fit as he was strong. Every time he was hit, which was often as the combinations wore on in the first five rounds of the fight, he found something in reserve to hit Eubank back.

Both fighters went off at such a rapid pace - both with so much to prove - that it seemed certain to slacken.

It did, although not by much. By the seventh round, Eubank looked to be tiring and Wharton, with a big right hand of his own, found a gap or two. But in the ninth his eye was closed fully and if he was still firing on all cylinders his vision was not so intact. Eubank's pattern barely changed. He stalked Wharton, furiously unleashing the left and coming through with the right. Duff screamed furiously at his brave protege to find the knock-out punch, but in truth by this time he could not get close enough to do so.

The 12th round was as fast and as violent as anything earlier in the fight. The champion was by now skirting away from the man who would be king. It was a perfect riposte to his critics, many of whom were in the packed G-Mex centre, and the sustained aggression of the fight gave the crowd value for money.

As for the decision, it could only have been unanimous. It was one of those occasions when nobody could quibble with the judges, as they have done in the past where Eubank is concerned. If there was a point of debate it was only with the judge who made it only 114-113 in the champion's favour. It was more than that, and for once Eubank emerged victorious and with his reputation enhanced.