Alan Dawson – London
Chris Eubank Jr extended his undefeated run as a professional on Saturday, December 1 at the Odyssey Arena with a referee’s decision verdict over a tough Bradley Pryce. Eubank Jr showed good reflexes, decent defence and fast hands. The Brighton-born technical boxer emerged unblemished from the fight and will likely stay busy by fighting again next week, at the Bonus Arena in Hull.
Official verdict: Eubank Jr by referee’s decision (80-73).
“I’m the real deal,” Eubank Jr asserted to Channel 5. “Sure I can look for the knockout… the haymakers. But I want to learn and just get rounds under my belt.”
Chris Eubank Jr has not been mollycoddled as a professional. No. Since abandoning the headgear and fighting for pay, Eubank Jr went skipped four round fights and straight into six round tests. Against cage fighters. Against undefeated Scotsmen. Against durable journeymen and now, this weekend in Northern Ireland, against a domestic-level name with 33 victories recorded on his ledger.
In a similar fashion as to how he approached the aforementioned tasks, Eubank Jr – with Ronnie Davis in his corner – went about his business calmly in the opening stanza. The 23-year-old, easily one of Britain’s most famous prospects (undeniably because of his famous father, but also because of his skill-set), used his athleticism to deny Pryce passage to his flesh while pumping out single-fire artillery.
Eubank Jr double-jabbed well in the second round. He used canny movement in order to keep Pryce off of him and, in between motioning around the ring, landed a left glove on his chin. To vary his jabbing attack, Eubank Jr added uppercuts and straight rights, however, his two and three punch combinations were seldom used, despite their fast and ferocious success.
With the knowledge that he needed to up his output in order to win rounds, Pryce looked to slip the jab and counter in the third, however, Eubank Jr responded well and began to flurry with increased regularity. For the majority of the round, though, Eubank Jr’s pace slowed and thus allowed Pryce to bang his way into contention for points. If Pryce tied the third, he surely had a shout for the fourth as he staggered Eubank Jr with his punch of the night and wisely focused attention to his enemy’s body.
Eubank Jr reasserted his authority in round five and, in the sixth, had enough swag to showboat. In the seventh stanza, Eubank Jr posed in a variety of styles. With a left arm guarding his body he had clearly been inspired by Floyd Mayweather Jr’s defence system. And, in a slow-motion style stalk attack, he may have been watching a documentary where a shoulder-hunched tiger was ready to attack.
The boy clearly is a fine technician… especially for a fighter in just his eighth fight, yet there is still room for improvement when it comes to a: his power and b: his vulnerability in defending his body (he seemed to leak more shots to the midsection than he did the mush). His cockiness, while entertaining…maybe polarising… also got the better of him in the climactic round as, while he was goading and waving Pryce onto him, he ate a number of pounding punches.
“I saw progression,” said Chris Eubank Sr. “Absolutely! He is schooling them [sparring partners] in the gymnasium. He really is.”
The margin of the referee’s decision was generous to Eubank Jr but the actual result was just.
Alan Dawson – London
British middleweight phenom Billy Joe Saunders, 22, enhanced his already respectable reputation as a multi-dimensional boxer by overseeing Bradley Pryce in each and every round of their 12 round Commonwealth title tussle at York Hall, Bethnal Green in East London on Friday, June 1. Pryce had no answer for Saunders’ jab, was bedazzled by the Londoner’s exquisite technique and could barely see out of his left eye by the end of the fight.
Official verdict: Saunders wins UD (120-109, 120-108, 120-109).
“I got it all perfect, the game-plan was unbelievable,” said Saunders (14-0-0, 9ko) to Box Nation in speech as controlled as his boxing. “I knew Pryce was strong, he was compact and kept coming [but] I outboxed him.”
Aesthetically-pleasing southpaw Saunders got off to a technically-dominant start as he peppered Pryce (33-11,0, 18ko) with portside jabs whilst keeping himself out of harm’s way. Showing speed of foot, he was able to back away from Pryce’s shots while also employing a loose Philly-guard posture. A combination-puncher, Saunders’ speed of hand was far superior to Pryce who, judging from the first stanza alone, was completely out-classed.
Like the first, Saunders bossed the tempo and style of the fight in round two. He controlled the space and was comfortable with anything Pryce attempted to offer. Whether it was orthodox jabs he was able to see coming, or more forceful straight lefts, Saunders proved a frustrating target as he made himself – particularly his head – small. Pryce was a single-fire fighter who operated behind the jab and seldom anything else as he just couldn’t put his punches together. This was a contrast to Saunders, who not only jabbed, but one-two’d and even put as many as three and four shots together in any one move.
There may have been an element of surprise over Saunders’ approach as the North Londoner was controlled, rather than gunning to send his opponent to sleep in the first round (like he had done in his most recent outings against Tony Hill and Tommy Tolan), but Saunders and his corner will have been preparing for what was their first encounter scheduled for 12 rounds and had only once before been past six (a ten round points win over Gary Boulden when Saunders collected his first professional prize – the Southern Area middleweight belt).
The tactics were inspired. Saunders’ defence baffled Pryce and his offence was just as spectacular as he jabbed, double-jabbed and treble-jabbed, busting up Pryce’s eye which had begun to swell so grotesquely that, by the end of the fourth round, it was fast closing and threatened to impair vision. Saunders’ technical skillset was underlined further by his ability to lead with the uppercut.
Pryce gained enough confidence in the fifth round to throw a lot of shots… he backed Saunders onto the ropes and went to work, especially with uppercuts and straights, however, Saunders blocked the uppercuts with the gloves while it was rare that a straight would penetrate his peek-a-boo.
The swollen eye became target practice for Saunders in the second half of the bout. While Saunders’ elusiveness was diluted after 18 minutes of boxing, his accuracy remained on point, if not further enhanced, notably on the right side, as Pryce leaked considerable southpaw shots as his left eye was virtually sealed by the end of play in the seventh.
While Saunders’ jabbing ability will be rightly lauded, the fighter himself expressed regret post-fight that he did not incorporate his left hand more into his repertoire: “I won every round, I was comfortable. I didn’t use my left hand often enough but that’s 12 round experience. I know I can bring it in more next time. Because my jab worked so well, I switched off with the left.”
Saunders’ authority was further stamped in the championship rounds. Pryce’s corner attempted to motivate their man by reminding Bradley he wouldn’t want to look in the mirror in the morning, see his eye, know he lost and to go out there and come back to the corner with a winning score. That, though, proved an impossibility as Saunders simply out-techniqued his first challenger for his Commonwealth title throughout what had largely been a tactical battle.
In round 11, the referee paused the fight to ask Pryce how many fingers he was holding up. It was a question to test his vision, one he passed whether by knowledge or guesswork and, when fisticuffs resumed, Saunders went after the eye with a further flurry of jabs. In the final round, Saunders showed sheer quality by striking Pryce with three-punch combos that included southpaw jabs, straights and left hooks and took the final ten score even though Pryce will have wanted to at least land one meaningful power shot but, such was Saunders’ talent, Bradley couldn’t even light the fuse let alone launch a bomb.
With the classy victory, there will be much clamour to see Saunders matched even tougher, against a plethora of strong middleweight contenders from Britain and Ireland including current European champion Kerry Hope, former world title challengers Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray or even Andy Lee, John Ryder or Craig McEwan.
Said Saunders: “Nobody is going to be taking this title off me any time soon. Ryder, Macklin, Murray… I’m coming after them [but] I want the British belt next.”
Francis Warren of Queensberry Promotions added: “I think he’s ready for any of those guys. The guidance he’s getting around Jimmy [Tibbs] and Mark [Tibbs]… the sky is the limit for this guy.
“He looked like a world class operator.”
Tommy Barber – London
Fast-rising British middleweight prospect Billy Joe Saunders (13-0-0, 9ko), a 22-year-old champion of the Commonwealth, has a hard night’s work ahead of him on Friday, June 1 as weekend opponent Bradley Pryce (33-10-0, 18ko) intends on being the first fighter to inflict defeat onto the Welwyn Garden City resident when the two collide at York Hall, Bethnal Green in East London.
“I wouldn’t know Billy Joe Saunders if he walked in my gym today, I’ve never watched him or seen him fight before,” said Pryce boldly. “What I do know is that I will knock him out on Friday night at the York Hall and get back in the big time. I generally never watch fights of my opponents, some of my best wins against the likes of [Anthony] Small, [Sergey] Stepkin plus Ossie Duran were fighters that I had never watched before.
“I’m confident in my ability and I’ve got nothing to worry about against Saunders [because] at my best I can beat anyone out there and you’ll see that against Saunders.”
Saunders has strong pedigree. As an amateur standout, he was signed to Frank Warren’s stable when he turned professional along with former World Amateur Champion Frankie Gavin and gold medal Olympian James DeGale.
Gavin initially attracted the acclaim but his initial inability to capitalise on momentum allowed DeGale to enjoy the media applause. That is, until, his loss to long-time rival George Groves. Having overcome hand injuries, it is Saunders who has preserved his undefeated record, captured two professional titles (Southern Area and Commonwealth) and will regard Pryce as his prospective stepping-stone to British honours and the type of fanfare that both Gavin and DeGale had previously been the recipient of.
“I read about Saunders’ quick win against Tony Hill, if he can do that to me then fair play he’s going to be a world champion, but I’m far and away the best he’s faced so far.”
Breaking down the contest, Pryce said: “For the first six rounds I reckon he’ll be dangerous and I’ve prepared for that with my trainer Gary Lockett, but after six rounds the fight’s mine. I’ve never been so pumped up for a fight before, I love a challenge and taking Saunders’ unbeaten record is a massive incentive for me.
“For the last two years my face hasn’t appeared on fight posters and seeing my photo on the poster for this fight with Saunders has given me a huge boost. It’s going to be massive shock when I beat him, but I’ve told you here first.”
Elsewhere on the card, Saunders’ TRAD TKO gym-mate in Canning Town; Frank Buglioni, takes on Jody Meikle in a super middleweight bout.