Chris Eubank Jr: Chip off the old block
John A. MacDonald
With similar chiselled physiques, some mannerisms and - of course - the same name, it is simple to draw comparisons between Chris Eubank and his son, Chris Eubank Jr.
In the 1990s, Eubank Sr became one of the biggest sporting stars in Britain as his eccentricities, outlandish styling and posturing, allied with epic contests against the likes of Nigel Benn, Michael Watson and Steve Collins saw him transcend the sport of boxing to become a household name.
Now Eubank Jr (21-1, 16 KOs) is fast forging his own career in the middleweight division. Despite the commonalities, there are also many differences between father and son; both in and out of the ring. While some would feel the weight of expectation at being measured against one the best boxers this country has produced, Eubank Jr takes it in his stride. With a steely determination, an unwavering self-belief and clear direction, Jr is very much his own man and believes in time he will be judged on his own merit.
“People will always compare us as we have the same name, in the same sport,” Eubank Jr told Boxing Monthly. “I will never be able to escape people comparing us so I let them do what they want to do, say what they want to say and I just get on with business.
“I’m my own man, I know what I am, my fans know who I am and that’s good enough for me. Eventually, with the fights that I have as I climb the ladder, more and more people will see that I am my own fighter. I’m not just a cardboard cut-out of what my father was. I am my own man and I am the real deal.”
The fact that Eubank Jr is a boxer it testament to that mind set. Eubank Sr did his best to shelter his sons - Chris Jr and Sebastian - from boxing, prohibiting them from attending his fights. His profession was never discussed as he attempted to give his children a normal upbringing. Despite the fact strangers would ask for pictures and autographs on the street, this all became part of day-to-day life. It wasn’t until he stayed with a friend - at approximately 10-years-old - that he discovered what his father did for a living.
”For a long time I didn’t really understand why he got all the attention that he did,” he recalled. “Until one day I went to a friend’s house and had a sleepover there. His dad had some VHS tapes of his [Eubank Sr’s] fights. I saw him on the front of a VHS tape and went: ‘What’s that?’ I put it on the TV and watched one of his fights for the first time. That’s when I realised that this is what my dad does.
“I don’t remember what fight it was. I wasn’t concentrating on the other I guy I was just like: ‘Wow! My dad is punching somebody and people are cheering and excited.’ I didn’t even realise it was a sport until then. It was a pretty strange experience. I think that’s the first time I really understood what boxing was. From that day, I was always interested in the sport and wanted to try it for myself.”
Eubank Sr famously described boxing as “a mug’s game” so it’s not surprising that he was reluctant to allow his children to follow in his footsteps but Eubank Jr was persistent. It wasn’t the fame, fortune or adulation that drew him to the sport, nor was it to emulate his father - it was for the competitive nature of pugilism. A natural sportsman, Jr participated in football, rugby, cricket, athletics, swimming and just about every sport available to him. His father felt his talents would be better served in another sport; one with less violence and politics but Jr’s desire to take up the sweet science was unrelenting.
“It really wasn’t the fame and all of that stuff that drew me to it,” Eubank Jr admitted. “I am not a boxer because my father was a boxer. I played every sport. I was always very competitive; it’s in my blood, in my genes. I would try to be better than my opponent in all these different sports. Once I started looking into boxing properly I realised this is the ultimate challenge. That’s what attracted me to the sport; the competitive nature of it and really being able to test your metal against somebody in the purest way.
“Dad was always telling me: ‘There are so many easier options; be a footballer, be a doctor, be a tennis player. You’ll make more money and you won’t get punched in the mouth for a living.’ He was always trying to push me in a different direction which is understandable because now that I’ve gone through it, I’ve seen the hardship, pain, blood, sweat and tears you have to go through to make it in the sport.”
Despite his protestations, Eubank Sr finally yielded when he discovered that his son had been sneaking into his gym behind his back. With no training, Jr wasn’t aware that he had to wrap his hands, instead he just put on the gloves and hit the heavy bag. This resulted in cuts across his knuckles. When his father saw these injuries he realised such was his son’s desire that he would not be discouraged.
If Eubank Jr was to box, he was going to do it properly. Chris Jr and his brother were sent to live in Las Vegas and to be trained initially by - former middleweight world champion Mike McCallum and latterly Floyd Mayweather Sr. This mirrored Sr’s experience as he learned his craft in the gyms of New York when he went to stay with his mother at the age of 16. Although this was a challenging experience for Eubank Jr, he now feels he is reaping its rewards.
“It was a massive change but that’s how much I wanted to do the sport,” he told BM. “I was willing to leave all my friends and family behind, travel to this foreign country and basically be thrown into the lions’ den. I was thrown into some of the toughest gyms in the world. It was to see what I could to. It was to see if I could come out of there in one piece, which I did.
“It was risky but this is boxing; you have to take the big risks to win the big rewards. If you don’t take risks with your training and your sparring then you’re never going to make it. You can’t be wrapped in cotton wool your entire career. I started off in the lions’ den, I grew up in the fire pit. That’s why I’ve got such thick skin now, I think.”
Having spent the best part of three-and-a-half years on-and-off, in America, Eubank Jr returned to Britain having served his boxing apprenticeship and was soon displaying the same enthusiasm to take gambles in the paid ranks. In November of 2013, after just three years as a pro, he challenged Billy Joe Saunders in a final eliminator to become mandatory challenger for the WBO middleweight title. At this stage, Saunders was the reigning British, Commonwealth and European champion (and now, of course, the WBO middleweight king). In stark contrast, Eubank Jr had never been in a scheduled 12-rounder and had never been beyond the eighth. He believes this inexperience cost him the contest as he dropped a split decision (114-115, 113-115, 116-113). However, he feels he has learnt from his mistakes and would love the opportunity to avenge the defeat.
“I went into the fight not knowing how I’d feel in the 10th, the 11th. In the back of my mind, that made me pace myself a little bit too much in the early rounds when I didn’t really need to. It was inexperience. In my eyes, I stayed with him for the early rounds.
“Looking back on it now, you realise that he is the champion so with all these close rounds they are going to be given to him because he has the belt. That’s the mistake I made, I should never have let the rounds be so close in the early part of the fight and I should have stepped it up earlier. If I’d done that, I don’t think he’d have lasted five or six rounds.
“The guy [Saunders] took my undefeated record, that’s something I’ll never be able to get back and I will never forget or forgive. The only way for me to rectify that is to go in there and beat him. The rematch has to happen. The public have been demanding it ever since we got out of the ring that night. I think it would be a crime for it not to happen.”
Eubank Jr was adamant he could maintain the pace he fought the final rounds of the Saunders fight for the full 12 rounds. There were those that still had their doubts. Those doubts were eradicated by his next performance when he challenged - then-undefeated - Dmitry Chudinov for the WBA Interim middleweight title. The champion was marauding and bullish, absorbing punishment round after round as he continued to charge forward. Finally in the 12th round Eubank Jr obliged referee Mikael Hook to stop the contest. Even now, the man from Brighton is astounded by the resilience Chudinov displayed.
“I had a point to prove,” he proclaimed. “I had fire in my belly from my previous fight where I didn’t get the decision. Unfortunately for Dmitry Chudinov, he was the man put in front of me that night.”
“I thought to myself: ‘This guy is a barbarian! How is he still coming at me?’ I’ve hit guys with a quarter of the shots I hit him with and they gave up. I think it was the 11th or 12th round, I was hitting him so much I had to stop and put my hands up like: ‘What do I have to do for you to give up or for the referee to stop the fight? I’ve hit you with about 80 punches here and you’re still gritting your teeth, coming at me. What’s going on here?’ But it was a great fight, full credit to him.”
For Eubank Jr, the belt he claimed wasn’t the biggest reward of victory, rather it was the reaction of the crowd in attendance. Some sections had booed him and jeered him as he made his ring walk. By the time the referee stepped in to halt proceeding with his opponent taking a barrage of punches, everyone was on their feet and applauding. This was a special moment for him.
“It felt beautiful,” he reminisced. “I’m always going to have haters, I’m always going to have doubters but I know who I am and I know I am real so I don’t worry about that. If people keep watching me, eventually they will see something which will inspire them to change their opinion. That to me is very fulfilling. To know that there are people out there that don’t like me and I go into the ring and perform. They start out booing me as I walk into the ring, they applaud me and become a lifelong fan as I exit the ring. That is a great feeling."
Detractors are something he has been accustomed to. Due to his surname, he received more media attention than most prospects when he turned professional, with the early portion of his career televised live on terrestrial television. Increased exposure brought more fans but also attracted more negativity. It’s not just taunts from strangers that he’s had to endure but also his opponents. Both Saunders and Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan – who Eubank Jr retired on his stool after seven pulsating rounds in December - have tried to provoke him in the build-up, yet he has always remained calm, he believes he is now impervious to these jibes.
“To be honest, I’ve been dealing with disrespectful comments, trash talk and hate from the first minute, of the first hour of my career,” he said. “I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and you’ve got your keyboard warriors and haters that love to go on there and talk it up, call you names and do whatever they can to try and unsettle you. I’ve been seeing that my entire career. I’ve become immune to it now. You can’t say anything to me I haven’t heard already, a million times before.”
Recently, Eubank Jr has made changes to his team which he hopes will benefit him in the future. He has teamed up with Adam Booth, who joins Ronnie Davies and Chris Sr as part of his coaching team. When it was announced, many were sceptical as to how three strong characters would work alongside each other. However, Eubank Jr believes that a mutual respect between them has ensured the dynamic is perfectly balanced.
“Adam brings a new perspective on boxing, I think. My father and Ronnie Davies – who have guided me for my entire career - are very old-school. Adam is from the newer-school of boxing. I think we just needed a different set of eyes in the team, a different perspective.
“Some people were speculating: ‘Three personalities like that, it’s never going to work. There’s going to be clashes and confusion in the corner.’ It’s been the complete opposite really. I think everyone understands their role and everyone does their job. They do it together, not on top of each other or over each other so it’s working very well at the moment. There has to be respect in any corner, in any boxing team and they definitely have that for each other.”
Eubank Jr is of the belief that he has everything it takes to win and defend world titles and is already casting an eye towards the formidable Gennady Golovkin. While many perceive the Kazakh puncher to be almost infallible, Eubank Jr believes he has spotted chinks in his armour. Eubank Sr was widely regarded as having one of the best chins in boxing, Jr believes he has inherited the same granite whiskers.
“Any fighter worth their salt wants to fight the best, to be the best and at the moment Gennady Golovkin is seen by many as the best middleweight in the world so that’s the fight I want to aim for.
“Golovkin is slow and Golovkin easy to hit – those are his two main weaknesses that I see. Those are the two weaknesses I feel I can exploit. He doesn’t throw combinations. I’ll throw; three, four, five, six punches in a combination, he’ll throw one or two power shots – he’s very power orientated.
“If you are not there to be hit or if you are throwing at the same time and you’ve got a chin – which I know I do – I’ll hit him with a lot more shots than he can hit me with so he can’t beat me that way. The only way he can beat me is if he knocks me out and I feel I have the same chin as my father. It’s been tested in sparring, it’s been tested a few times in my professional career. I’m not afraid to get hit by Gennady Glolovkin."