Sand bag for Eubank

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The Independent Online
Reality has crept up on Chris Eubank and thumped him on the back of the neck with a sock full of desert sand. No more seven-figure pay- days: no more vast TV audiences. Instead, the former World Boxing Organisation middleweight and super- middleweight champion begins his comeback with a non-title fight against the Argentinian Luis Barrera in Cairo on Saturday for a purse he would have scorned in his prime, and with a conspicuous lack of TV interest.

Eubank is said to have demanded pounds 200,000 for the television rights to the show, which he has largely put together himself. When his former paymasters, ITV and Sky Sports, said no thanks, he dropped the price to pounds 50,000 but still found no takers. Finally Eurosport bought it - but they are only paying for delayed, not live, transmission.

It is all a long way from the heady days of Eubank's "World Tour" on Sky, and the supposed pounds 10m deal which accompanied it. In fact, the real figure was much smaller, although still impressive. But then the whole concept of the "world tour" was laughable since the ports of call included such far-flung locations as Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and Whitley Bay. How ironic, when Eubank genuinely appears in an exotic setting, he should find that his world has shrunk in every other sense.

This will be his first appearance since losing to Steve Collins in their WBO super- middleweight title rematch a year ago, but it is also the most predictable of comebacks. Eubank is still young enough to regain past glories, and to replenish a bank balance which tax demands have diminished. Nobody in the business really took him seriously when he announced that he was turning his back on boxing forever; he merely needed a long break to recharge his batteries after a demanding spell on centre stage.

It will not take too many victories to move him into contention again. Eubank is always marketable, and once he has strutted his way back into public consciousness the TV offers should improve. Already, at least one of the big US networks has expressed interest, and since Eubank has never boxed there as an established star he may well be tempted to continue his comeback across the Atlantic.

With a world ranking (never difficult to achieve with the WBO) he could begin to build towards a money match with Roy Jones, the brilliant American who dominates the division. Barrera, a pedestrian performer who has spent most of his undistinguished career as a welterweight (three divisions lower), will not interfere with such grand ambitions. In the game's parlance, he knows what he's there for - "to be the opponent" - a role he has filled many times in his 47-fight career (eight losses, four draws).

He has been beaten in each of his last four contests, which had he been a British licence holder would have resulted in an automatic invitation to appear before his local area council to explain why he should continue to be permitted to box.

Curiously, Saturday's show takes place under the auspices of the British Board, who will supply all the officials. They confirmed their participation this week after pounds 45,000, the total purses for the boxers on the under card, was lodged with them in London. Their caution was understandable, since apart from Eubank himself no one involved in the promotional group (which apparently includes a minor Arab princess) has any background in boxing.

Eubank will have to be content with the quick win which his match-making has virtually guaranteed, and then look to make some serious money when the opposition improves sufficiently to bring in the television funding without which big-time boxing cannot function.

For all Eubank's faults, the sport needs him, one of its few "characters", even if his return is unlikely to occupy more than the two rounds which one Gerson Anglarill took to flatten Senor Barrera in March.

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