It was a truly savage end to a brutal campaign outside the ropes and one of the most shocking finishes seen in a British ring. It was unexpected and quite brilliant.
Smith trapped Eubank Jr in his own corner, connected six or seven times in a bloody blur and down slid Eubank Jr. He beat the count, tottered, rolled, nearly fell without a touch and was allowed to continue. There was mayhem at ringside and in the packed arena. He was soon down again, sprawling desperately to a sad heap when it was waved off. It was over, the hate was finished and the referee, Victor Laughlin, stopped the fight: Liam Smith winner by fourth-round stoppage; it was a result that the bookies placed at 28-1, which might even be generous.
Eubank Jr looked fully isolated in defeat, trying to make sense of the violence he had just been subjected to. It is a lonely place, the boxing ring, and any man standing there with just his wayward predictions for company is a harsh sight.
The action came close to continuing once it was done; Eubank was up, still reeling and he wanted to fight some more as the ring filled with the joyous and concerned from both contrasting corners. Smith was willing and there was a hateful moment when it looked like Smith would oblige, but thankfully his trainer, Joe McNally, wrapped Eubank Jr in a caring embrace and shuffled him back to the safety of his own corner and the care of Roy Jones Jr. It was a final piece of drama on a night of extremes and also an act of great kindness. We are not animals in this blood-drenched boxing caper.
The fight was raw and fast, the crowd loved every single second of it. At the end they were, soon, in a strangely tender man-hug and Eubank Jr, who plays the pantomime villain so well, led the applause for the winner. He also looked totally broken, stunned by the finish. And, he looked like he was all on his own, barely registering the soft words of hope from Jones Jr as he stood waiting for the official verdict.
Nobody in the capacity and heaving crowd of just under 20,000 expected that ending. It was devastating, a win for the ages and the perfect finish to a week when insults threatened to eclipse the action.
Eubank Jr had never been hurt like that, never handled with the disdain Smith showed throughout the build-up, electrifying entry and fight. Smith was fearless throughout, focused and refused to consider a loss. He fought like a man inside an invincible spell. He probably lost two of the three completed rounds, but it was clear he was adjusting his feet, finding his range and waiting. Patience, at this level, is the equivalent of power and guts; Smith had patience, Eubank had his notorious power and guts.
“I could feel it early, I sensed he didn’t like it,” Smith told me at ringside. “I knew I could put him under pressure, I knew I could hurt him.” The famous Eubank Jr jaw, a physical inheritance from his father, Chris the Dad, was cracked too often and too fast. The final sickening triple of punches would have removed an elephant from the fight. However, the real damage, as so often happens in shock stoppages, will be to his pride.
I went to Eubank Jr’s dressing room at midnight, but he was holding an ice pack to the right side of his cheek and asked not to be interviewed. Jones Jr stepped out to speak on his behalf: “He will be a much better fighter now,” Jones Jr said, the disbelief still etched heavily across his face. It really was a shocking end and, in the secret tunnels at the Manchester Arena at midnight, there was still a great sense of surprise. Possibly even awe and wonder.
Smith, a year older at 34, was moving up in weight, but had talked intelligently about his true grade as a fighter and had genuinely wondered how Eubank Jr could beat him. Still, Eubank was the bigger, fresher man, the favourite with the bookies and the villain of the peace once the ring walks started. Smith was composed and relaxed until the moment he let his fists go; Eubank Jr went down like treacle falling from a spoon, as the hacks in the Fifties liked to write. The fight was over, the night was young.
Smith told me that he would take a rematch at his beloved Anfield, if, as expected, Eubank Jr invokes the rematch clause. Both need a rest from the fury of the week and the night. It was an unforgettable fight, a reminder of just what boxing can deliver on nights when fairy tales and nightmares collide. It is a brutal and sickening game, make no mistake. It is also, on nights like this, unmissable.
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