|Venue: AO Arena, Manchester Date: Saturday, 21 January|
|Coverage: Radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra from 20:00 GMT and main card from 22:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 Live; live text coverage on the BBC Sport website & app.|
Boxing analyst and former world champion George Groves writes for BBC Sport about Chris Eubank Jr’s middleweight bout against Liam Smith on Saturday in Manchester.
Eubank fights for the first time since his cancelled bout against Conor Benn with world title ambitions in his sights. Smith, like Eubank, is on an impressive winning run and is stepping up to middleweight to face his British rival.
Can Smith deliver Eubank’s first defeat since 2018? Or will Eubank march on?
Boxers go on a journey throughout their career and there are significant moments that make them change how they fight and who they are – it usually comes after a loss.
I was the same when I lost to Carl Froch – I thought I had to learn to be a bit more of a combination puncher. Then I lost to Badou Jack – I thought I needed to get back to punching hard.
Chris Eubank Jr lost against Billy Joe Saunders in a really close fight, a split-decision loss, and he would have come away thinking if he had put his foot on the gas a couple of rounds earlier he would have won that fight.
That was a change in mentality for him, where he was throwing a lot of punches – how busy can I be?
It served him really well and got him to the highest level. But when I beat him in 2018 he went back to the drawing board again.
He’s with Roy Jones Jr now and Jones will want to put his stamp on him somehow. But for me in this fight against Liam Smith he needs to sit in the pocket and punch like he did before.
Technically he throws very good punches. He doesn’t necessarily have a great jab or straight shots but his uppercuts and hooks are thrown really well.
He also has the fitness to throw those shots in volume.
As long as he’s not too tight at the weight then I think he can bully and manhandle Smith, being the naturally bigger guy.
I can imagine Smith is mentally very tough but physically I don’t know. I make Eubank a chunky favourite but it’s definitely a banana skin.
It has been four years since Eubank beat James DeGale. Financially he has achieved a lot. Considering he had no amateur background and traded off having a famous dad, he has succeeded in that regard.
He has a couple of decent names on his record – like DeGale and Matt Korobov. But Korobov was stopped on an injury and he caught DeGale right at the end of his career.
If that win was five years earlier it might have looked a lot more impressive.
But he hasn’t done an awful lot wrong. I think it’s tough for him because he has always got pressure on him for having a famous name and he can earn a lot of money without taking a lot of risk.
And at this stage of his life, does he really want to take the risk?
‘Size makes Eubank the favourite’
When I’m put under the spotlight to give a prediction for a fight if there is a niggle of doubt in my mind it always makes the fight a little bit more interesting for me and there is certainly a decent niggle that Smith might cause an upset here. This is a risk of sorts.
But I think what makes Eubank, 33, the favourite is the size; Smith is the smaller man.
It wasn’t that long ago Eubank was up at super-middleweight fighting me and his dad was talking about him moving up to light-heavyweight.
Me, him and Smith’s brother Callum were all in the same tournament together a few years back. It seems a bit bizarre to say that now with Eubank back down at middleweight and Callum up at light-heavyweight.
Meanwhile, Liam has moved up from light-middleweight but I just don’t think he looks big enough.
He’s the better boxer of the two – much more well-rounded and with a far superior amateur pedigree.
He’s proved his worth at amateur level and that shows definite talent.
The pro game’s a little bit different and he will give away a lot of the natural advantages; Eubank is a bigger guy, has a good chin, is going to hit harder than Smith, has a good engine and throws a lot of punches when he wants to.
Eubank handpicked Smith
If Eubank goes out and fights that sort of fight I’m just not sure how Smith, 34, can compete.
But if he wants to be clever and box, that might be Eubank now, and it may open the door for Smith.
Eubank might think boxing his way through a fight is a better option and we saw him do that to some degree against Liam Williams.
He was in full control and dropped Williams heavily in the first and second rounds but couldn’t pull the trigger to finish it and ended up winning on points.
But this is a big event and he will want to make a real statement. If he wants to continue as a big star he will have to blast away Smith.
Smith is a picked opponent by Eubank here, certainly, because there are no belts on the line, but he just might have got it wrong.
Smith is pretty fresh and in good form and might have a little bit too much ability and could get the win – he shouldn’t, but he might.
If Eubank comes into the fight like he did when he boxed Avni Yildirim in his last fight before me, and that’s his mindset, then that’s where he will have most success.
That’s how he can get the stoppage and continue this journey.
George Groves was speaking to Declan Taylor for BBC Sport.