Billy Joe Saunders handed Chris Eubank Jr the first defeat of his career after prevailing by a close split-decision victory to keep his European, British and Commonwealth middleweight titles.
The three judges saw it 115-114 Saunders, 116-113 Eubank Jr and 115-113 Saunders after a gruelling contest, which was also a WBO final eliminator.
The 25-year-old Saunders record now reads 21-0, while Eubank Jr, also 25, drops to 18-1.
Saunders shaded a cagey opening round, marking the face of Eubank Jr, who had entered the ExCeL to more boos than cheers, with a couple of sharp right jabs.
Eubank Jr, with his father Chris in his corner, struggled to cope with the more lively Saunders in the second, the jab once again piercing through Eubank Jr’s defence.
The theme continued in the third, until Eubank Jr caught Saunders with a solid right on the counter.
Saunders dominated the fourth, Eubank Jr swinging and missing in almost comical fashion as the round progressed.
Eubank Jr goaded his opponent, who he has dubbed “Average Joe” throughout the build-up, but unfortunately for the challenger it was he who looked average. The odd charge forward his only offence. In the sixth he caught Saunders with a slick uppercut on the inside, but Saunders again outworked his opponent.
It was in the seventh, however, that Eubank Jr forced Saunders to retreat, pressuring him continually against the ropes, and using that right to great effect.
Eubank Jr showed more quality in the eighth, catching Saunders with an explosive right that drew wolf whistles from his father at ringside.
A crisp left-hook from Eubank Jr in the ninth bust the nose of Saunders, rendering him a bloody mess.
Eubank Jr smiled as the 10th began, and a solid left jab rocked Saunders, his head bouncing back as the Eubank Snr wolf whistles continued, and Jr clawed back another round.
The gloves of Eubank Jr touched the floor in the 11th, but referee Michael Alexander ruled it a slip as he charged forward throughout the round, although not without being caught by a stiff left jab.
Both men celebrated at the end of a brutal encounter, after a round of relentless attacks, Eubank Jr’s classy combinations keeping Saunders back.Reuse content