|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.|
Chris Eubank Jr says boxers “need to set the example” in the fight for an inclusive sport after controversy in Manchester.
Ugly scenes at a news conference on Thursday have overshadowed Saturday’s fight between Eubank and Liam Smith as the boxing year began on a sour note.
“It was about the lowest and the most out-of-control conference I’ve ever been at – it shocked me,” BBC 5 Live boxing analyst Steve Bunce said.
“Boxing went across that line.”
Eubank, 33, was the subject of taunts about his sexuality from Smith for much of the event and responded by taunting his opponent about his city of birth, Liverpool, and smearing his marriage.
Unified light-middleweight champion Natasha Jonas admitted it was a “bad look for boxing” while retired boxer George Groves said: “Both fighters crossed that line of professionalism.”
Smith has since apologised to anyone who was “offended” but insisted “not one homophobic thing” came out of his mouth.
In the exchange on Thursday, Smith made repeated comments apparently suggesting Eubank is gay, questioning why he had not been seen “with a girl” and asking “have you got something to tell us…?”
Smith said: “Do you want to tell us something? Because no one in this room has ever seen you with a woman.” He later added: “I’m not that type of way [gay] mate, I like women.”
Eubank replied: “My private life is my private life, it’s irrelevant to boxing. But I’m happy, I’m comfortable.” He added, “if you want to get dark and personal with it” before making comments about Smith’s private life, alleging Smith cheated on his wife.
On Friday, Eubank wore a rainbow armband to the weigh-on in a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Liam disrespected and hurt and alienated a whole group of people,” Eubank said. “That is unacceptable. We don’t want that in boxing. We want be all inclusive in this sport.
“When you’re getting ready to fight a man, tensions are high, I get it. But we’ve got to be responsible, we’ve got kids looking up to us and we’ve got to set the example.”
Eubank denied his reference to Liverpool needing a hero during hard economic times was a taunt about social class.
Fight promoter Boxxer and their broadcaster partner Sky Sports spoke to Eubank and Smith after the media event, reminding them of their responsibility to behave in a professional manner.
Neither intend to take any further action against Smith or Eubank, but the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) will conduct its own hearing into what happened.
“The stewards of the board will be considering the conduct of both boxers directly,” a BBBofC statement said on Friday.
Bunce said he expects fines to be issued by the governing body.
“I’ve never heard that language or homophobic stuff used in that way shape or form before in boxing,” Bunce said.
“Maybe as a throwaway line but that was relentless. Liam went on relentlessly and then Chris could have handled it better. It escalated out of control.”
“They won’t be banned for it, and I don’t think they should be,” he added. “But they should face a fine.
“And maybe everyone involved should face a fine.”
LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall said the proportion of sports fans who think homophobic remarks in sport are acceptable has almost halved from 2017 to 2022, from 25% to 14%, but said the incident in Manchester proved more work was needed.
“These instances show why it’s so important for boxers, coaches and individuals to continue to lace up and keep up the fight for inclusion,” Stonewall’s director of communications and external affairs Robbie de Santos said.
“Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic comments have no place in sport.
“It’s vital that the sports authorities take instances like this seriously and make clear that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric will not be tolerated.”
It is common for fighters who use derogatory language and bring the sport into disrepute to be reprimanded by the BBBofC, although no British fighter has ever been banned for using homophobic language towards another opponent.
Eubank joins a small but growing group of elite athletes willing to take part in a public show of support for the LGBTQ+ community on a major stage.
Bunce, who will commentate on the fight for BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday, hopes Eubank’s actions will lead to progress in the sport.
“That’s the infamous armband that wasn’t good enough for Fifa and for some of the highest paid sportsmen in the world to wear – and Chris wore it,” he said.
“It was beautiful, I thought it was a really good thing.”
“What happened here this week in Manchester won’t vanish. It’s not going to be an isolated incident. It’s going to stay.
“It will linger with Liam Smith. There’s a little bit more explaining and a little more openness needed for us to move on.
“Chris Eubank may have started it today.”