Liam Smith’s face was etched with pain after his fight with Chris Eubank Jr.
The marks of a punishing defeat were there in the clear bruising and the thickly stitched cut over his right eye.
As much as the physical toll their battle on Saturday night had taken on him, the emotion, of losing inside 10 rounds to the man he had knocked out in January, weighed heavily too.
That first victory may only have been a few months back but as Saturday night tuned into Sunday morning it felt like a long time ago.
In this weekend’s rematch Eubank had managed to contain a rival who had expertly blitzed his defences and dumped him down and out of the contest last time they met.
“I had to fight some demons,” Eubank said. “There were a lot of things to prove. People saying I’m shot. People saying I don’t have it anymore. I’m too old. Chin, punch resistance is gone, all these things I’m seeing and I had to live with that for six months knowing that it wasn’t true.
“That was tough. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a rematch before. Like I said I enjoy new challenges – I rise to the occasion when I have to.”
Ultimately he embraced “the demons” on Saturday. Eubank knew retreating to the ropes would be dangerous so he strode forward to meet Smith, moving himself in close, into clinches in the early rounds, so as not to give up ground and allow his opponent the room to pin him on the end of heavy shots.
He settled more, round by round, and used good jabs to tag Smith.
Eubank could work off that. He let combinations go and caught the Liverpudlian with hefty hits.
Smith was struggling for purchase in the fight. He did roll an ankle early on but insisted: “I’ve done my ankle before in fights, definitely not an excuse.
“Just flat from the get go, Chris was sharp from the get go. It was Chris’ night tonight. I won’t make no excuses, I’m blaming no ankles.”
A worse issue for him was weight-making. He’d had to postpone this rematch from its original date in June after sustaining a back injury.
“You’re starting camp quite heavy, I went heavier again,” he said. “The pressure was just the race against time to make weight.
“I cut 42 pounds, I feel it took a toll on my body in this last week.
“I feel it just played its part. You didn’t have to be a genius to see I was flat from 40 seconds into the fight. I just couldn’t get going.
“If nothing’s coming back you can throw and throw and throw. That’s why I feel Chris got confidence, because he knew nothing was really coming back. I just didn’t have it in me to counter.”
But Eubank’s confidence bloomed in the fourth round when he sank in a pinpoint right uppercut to drop Smith for the first time.
Smith got himself past that initial crisis but he remained in danger throughout the rest of the fight.
In the fifth round Eubank unloaded a full array of punches with Smith rooted to the ropes. Just taking punishment, Smith rocked and rolled beneath those hits. Outgunned in that moment, Smith slugged a right hook back at Eubank and pivoted round him, turning Eubank into the ropes. That brought up a huge cheer from the crowd.
But it was a moment only of defiance. He could not shift Eubank’s momentum.
“Crafty old fox,” Eubank said. “This guy’s tough.
“I hit him with a flurry of punches, I was probably punching for 20 seconds and he was still standing.
“This is going to be a tough cookie to crack,” he thought. “I’m going to crack it but this boy is tough.”
He added: “Listen, he’s a veteran. He’s been there, he’s been through it, he’s done it. This is what we do.”
Eubank would subject him to a heavy bombardment. Smith had to suck up cruel body shots. A 10th-round onslaught left Smith on the canvas for a second time. On a knee, he rose on the count of eight. He would not stay down.
Eubank would tell Smith afterwards: “You’re a warrior.
“He didn’t give up,” the victor explained. “He didn’t look for a way out like so many other fighters are doing these days. People are getting hurt, people are getting cut or dropped then they’re looking for the towel, their team’s looking for the towel or they’re looking to take a knee.
“A guy quit tonight, I forget the guy’s name [David Allen], he just quit. It’s becoming normal now.
“So when fighters like me and Liam get in the ring, we have no quit in us. That’s what boxing needs.”
The former world champion’s defensive guile was deserting him as Eubank broke him down. Straight right crosses began to catch Smith’s chin clean.
Eubank did vary up his work, throwing hard shots off the same hand. He dug for instance a right uppercut through a tight arc into Smith’s elbows only to at once blast another heavy right uppercut into the head.
Smith would ultimately be stopped, on his feet, in 10 rounds.
“Everything went to plan. It was a good performance. I did what I was supposed to do,” Eubank said.
Unsmiling, wounded and tired Smith still came out to sit alongside Eubank at a post-fight press conference in a backroom at the AO Arena in Manchester in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“This is obviously Chris’ night. I had my night in January,” Smith said. “I’m not taking nothing away from Chris this time round. This is his night.”
The spite that had characterised their rivalry throughout the build-up to this fight was now dampened.
But that does not mean the competitive spirit, of either man, won’t fire up just as fiercely once again.
“It’s 1-1 now, so let’s see what happens next,” Smith pointed out. “It’s 1-1. That doesn’t settle nothing for me.”
Eubank, pleased with his night’s work, was relaxed.
But he agreed: “It is 1-1.
“If the fans want to see a third fight,” he added, “you know me – I don’t back down from a challenge.”