Chris Eubank Jr and Liam Smith step into the ring on Saturday night some seven years after spending two weeks training together in Bolton.
Smith, now 34, was unbeaten at the time as Eubank was in the midst of a rebuild after suffering the first defeat of his career by Billy Joe Saunders a few months earlier.
Eubank was drafted by Liam’s brother Paul, who was preparing for a world title fight with Arthur Abraham in February 2015.
They fought three times. Smith, then a regular at light middleweight, remembers it well. Eubank does not.
“I really don’t remember how those spars played out,” the 33-year-old Eubank said. “He said he almost crushed me with a bullet to the body.
“The myth around his gym and around Liverpool is that Chris Eubank Jr is vulnerable and weak to the body and he exploited that. I highly doubt that’s what happened.”
“One minute he tells you he can’t remember, the next minute he says he can,” Smith said in response.
“The next minute he says he beat me in battle, the next minute I was just another body.”
“No one gets under my skin”
Although it was seven years ago, the workouts were a bone of contention for both men in the build-up to their middleweight bout.
He was ubiquitous in the verbal exchanges, used as a mental weapon by both.
“We had good spars, really good spars,” Smith recalled. “But at the time he was not a good fighter that I could learn from.”
Smith hasn’t backed down from the taunts, hitting back in person or on social media. But the Liverpudlian says Eubank failed to strike a chord.
“Nobody is going to put words under my skin. I react to him the same way I react to anyone who asks me a question,” he said.
“Any man sitting across the table saying he’ll beat me 50%, I’ll tell him to stop lying.”
Eubank rode an eight-game winning streak after the practice session. The Brighton boxer hopes the memory of Smith’s events will energize him in the ring.
“I like that he has that little bit of confidence, that little bit of hope,” he said.
“I’m happy for him to take that little piece of confidence and hope to the ring with him. It’ll probably help him fight better at night, survive a little longer.”
Eubank will revert to “type”
Smith has stopped his last three opponents. At 34, he is in a purple spot of shape. He attributes it all to “momentum” rather than a dramatic improvement in his abilities.
Smith’s trainer is Joe McNally, who recently added former undisputed champion Josh Taylor to his coaching ranks. Inside their base at Rotunda ABC in Liverpool, Liam’s brothers and now retired boxers Paul and Stephen watch the drills, his younger brother and former world champion Callum appears at the end.
During the session, McNally can be heard telling Smith, “He won’t change in the fight.”
Smith thinks Eubank is one-dimensional, a “better fighter than a boxer” and doesn’t think teaming up with boxing legend Roy Jones Jr in 2020 has resulted in any significant changes.
“Chris is getting back to type,” Smith said.
“He was found missing against Billy Joe Saunders and he was found missing against georges groves [in 2018].
“Two fighters who are better than him, basically wise and big enough to stand up to him. If I’m big enough to stand up to him, I beat him and beat him good.”
Eubank says he didn’t consider wasting a second. He’s confident Smith’s style will make for an exciting match, even though he clearly sees himself as the favourite.
“Liam doesn’t shine in any particular department and that’s why I say he can’t beat me. You have to shine, you have to be outstanding in some way or another, in some aspect of boxing, to be able to compete with me,” Eubank said.
“He’s very good in the fundamentals. But I’m good in many aspects. Excellent doesn’t compete with good.”