Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Eubank Jr showed he's ready for Golovkin by getting revenge against declining Smith

Chris Eubank Jr was doing pretty well until he got stopped in his first fight with Liam Smith, which meant that for a rematch he wouldn’t necessarily need to make a big adjustment – beyond being more responsible, psychologically.

Once a fighter’s been knocked out there’s a lot of intangibles. It can create doubts in a fighter’s mind – particularly ahead of a rematch. But if Eubank Jr could make his peace with the fact that he had been knocked out, I believed he could focus on the fact that he had been doing okay in the first fight, and therefore force Smith – who couldn’t just rely on knocking him out again – to make the greater number of adjustments.

Eubank Jr started that rematch tentatively, but once he established his rhythm it became one-sided. Anytime a fighter responds to a defeat and wins – and dominates – it’s impressive. Smith’s been an excellent champion, and remains a durable, solid veteran, and Eubank Jr won convincingly, which was important. 

He started by imitating John Ruiz’s jab-and-grab routine until he built his confidence, and at his best he would have avoided that. If he applies himself he can be even better. 

Brian “Bomac” McIntyre was in his corner for the very first time, but though he’s had a good year, I don’t think they worked together for long enough for him to be responsible for the improvements we saw in Eubank Jr – and he’d probably tell you that himself. Equally, I don’t think it made a difference that Roy Jones Jr wasn’t in Eubank Jr’s corner – again, he had been winning the first fight. This time he just happened to not get caught. 

Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Eubank Jr showed he's ready for Golovkin by getting revenge against declining Smith
Photo: Lawrence Lustig / Boxxer

Yet even though Smith wasn’t letting his hands go in the same way, Bomac also deserves credit – he still needed to guide Eubank Jr through the fight. Regardless of how long a fighter and trainer have worked together, on fight night that trainer needs to provide the right words.

At 35, there was also an element of decline behind Smith’s performance, but that shouldn’t mean Eubank Jr’s game plan should get overlooked. He smothered Smith early on, which Smith struggled with, and once he had recovered some confidence he hurt Smith with the uppercut – a punch Smith was unable to adjust to. When Eubank Jr recorded that first knockdown he then had the confidence to punch from the correct distance instead of being worried about conceding the correct distance to Smith, and to consistently use his jab, in turn enhancing his momentum.

Unlike when it was first announced that Eubank Jr was going to exercise his rematch clause, I’m not sure that the appetite for a third fight between them will exist.Smith really didn’t do much second time around; he almost performed like he was mentally checked out – a third fight could unfold similarly.

Gennady Golovkin instead strikes me as a good opponent for Eubank Jr to pursue next. He’s a little past his prime, and because he is 41 no longer generates the same attention in the US, but if he came to England to fight Eubank Jr he’d prove a massive draw – just like when he fought Kell Brook.  

When Eubank Jr talks about fighting Brook and Conor Benn it’s because he’s looking for the biggest possible pay cheque, but from a wider perspective there aren’t many outside of the UK who are going to care about either of those fights. The British market is big enough that those fights could still generate plenty of money, but if Eubank Jr wants to become a legitimate world champion, a fight with Golovkin is the one that can put him on the correct path – it’s a victory over a bonafide future hall of fame with a big reputation. 

If he can’t beat Golovkin at 41 – either way he’d have to improve on his performances against Smith – then he’s probably never going to become a world champion. It therefore strikes me as perfectly timed. 

His natural size advantages over Benn and Brook means he’d be the favourite against both of those, too. But Golovkin will be tempted to fight if the price is right.