In search of a legacy: Chris Eubank Jr interview
Luke G. Williams
Chris Eubank Jr has moved out from under his father’s shadow. Now, he tells Luke G. Williams, he aims to build a career he can look back on with pride - starting with victory against George Groves in the World Boxing Super Series semi-finals...
In 2003, Channel 5 broadcast a reality TV series entitled At Home With the Eubanks, a light-hearted, fly-on-the-wall documentary about the family life of the retired former WBO middle and super middleweight champion Chris Eubank.
At the time Chris Jr — the oldest of four children born to the flamboyant pugilist and his then wife Karron — was just 13 years old, and a student at the prestigious private school, Brighton College. Already an outstanding sportsman who excelled at rugby, badminton and basketball, Chris Jr was seen in one episode pleading with Chris Sr to allow him to box.
“I just want to try it, I just want to see what it’s about,” he said to his father, who moments earlier had told him: “Boxing is a business you never see middle class or upper class youngsters become champions [in]… I don’t think you’re going to be hard enough.”
Fast-forward 15 years, and Chris Jr has proved his father wrong and then some.
No longer a fresh-faced, wide-eyed teenager, he is now a steely-gazed pugilistic assassin. Twenty-eight years old, with a 26-1 (20 KOs) professional record, the former British and WBA “interim” middleweight champion and current IBO super middleweight title holder has a massive and potentially career-defining showdown against domestic rival George Groves on 17 February.
It’s been quite a journey from those innocent childhood days in a mansion on the sleepy south coast, where once Eubank Jr’s try-scoring exploits in junior rugby and his appearance as Kenickie in a school production of Grease featured in the local newspaper. Now, his boxing matches are televised around the world, while his social media accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers.
However, as Eubank told Boxing Monthly, Eubank Sr was dead-set against him boxing. “He wasn’t just reluctant, he forbid me to do it,” Eubank said. “He was determined that I wasn’t going to fight. He thought that I wouldn’t be tough enough to survive in such a cruel and hostile sport.
“I guess he had every right to think that — as a kid I grew up in a mansion, I went to private school, I had everything I wanted. I didn’t have a hard life. Most of the fighters that have made names for themselves, who have become great world champions, came from hardship.
“Me? I had every option. I could have been anything I wanted to be. I had an education. I had so many different paths I could have gone down. I still do. But I guess love of sport is in my blood, in my DNA. Fighting is something I couldn’t shake. I had to try it. I had to see what it was about. When I started out it was the hardest thing I’d ever done and I think that’s what I loved about it. I don’t like taking easy routes.”
Eubank’s aversion to an easy life extends to the unconventional way he has conducted his career, during which he has made choices that have left many scratching their heads. From turning pro in November 2011 after a brief amateur career, to ending a promotional association with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing before it had really begun, to launching the ITV Box Office platform, Eubank has always done things his way.
“It’s how I’ve been my entire career,” he said. “I don’t go with the masses. I don’t conform. I have my own style, my own way of thinking, my own business mind. That’s what’s got me to the position I’m in now. I’m not a follower. I’m a leader.
“I’m not following people who actually don’t know about boxing, people who haven’t actually been in the ring themselves. That’s where a lot of fighters go wrong — they’re directed and advised by people who haven’t done it. I listen to the people that have done it and I listen to myself because I am the one doing it.
“To be a true champion, to be not only a great fighter but somebody who is revered and loved, you have to be a maverick in some way, shape or form. You can’t be ordinary. You can’t be orthodox. You have to do things other people don’t do or understand.”
After years of scepticism from detractors within and outside boxing, it is increasingly looking like Eubank might have the last laugh — 2017 was a great year for the ambitious fighter, whose move up to 168lbs has seen him string together impressive victories against Renold Quinlan, Arthur Abraham and Avni Yildirim.
These performances, combined with Eubank’s decision to enter the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super middleweight tournament, have helped him secure the high-profile showdown against Groves.
Eubank admits it was the presence of “Saint” George in the WBSS line-up that clinched his decision to sign up for the ambitious tournament. If he defeats his fellow Briton, Eubank will face either Callum Smith or Juergen Braehmer in the final in May.
“As soon as I was told he [Groves] was going to be in the tournament, I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity because outside of this tournament I don’t believe he would ever get in the ring with me,” Eubank maintained. “This was my way of securing that fight, of cornering him and ensuring that I am able to get the opportunity to take that [WBA Super-world] belt from him.”
Financial considerations were also, Eubank admits, a major factor. “The people behind this tournament are paying very generous purses, let’s put it that way. Obviously, we are prize fighters — we want to make as much money as we can so we can provide for our families and secure our futures. And these guys are most definitely paying well.
The Groves bout on Saturday will be Eubank's third fight in a 10-month span, which he said has brought a new outlook and focus to his training. “I love the idea of a stable and secure fight schedule,” he said. “It’s a challenge, and from when my career began I’ve always been one to love a challenge.”
Eubank’s Super Series quarter-final victory — a third-round stoppage of Avni Yildirim in front of a hostile Stuttgart crowd in October — was arguably the most impressive showing of his 27-fight career.
“It was a great performance, it was exciting,” he said. “It’s quietened a lot of the people who said that maybe I didn’t have power or that I wasn’t strong enough to move up to super middleweight. It was cold and clinical. It was on point. It was purposeful.
“We’re in a tournament and I didn’t want to risk getting cut, getting injured, so the objective was always to go in there and take this guy out viciously and quickly. I believe my performance against Groves will be similar, if not even more devastating, than my performance against Yildirim.”
The air of focused professionalism Eubank exuded in the ring that night was reflected out of the ring in his dealings with Boxing Monthly and belies a reputation in some quarters for being awkward. On the day of our telephone interview, he rings at exactly 3pm as promised and twice promptly calls back when a patchy phone signal causes him to be cut off. His demeanour throughout was measured, thoughtful and honest.
“I’m 28 years old, I’m still learning, I’m still improving, I’m still tweaking,” he said. “You can never stop learning in this sport. There’s always new things, different ways you can approach a fight, approach an opponent. Over these last couple of years I’ve definitely seen a sharp improvement in my skills, in my performances, in my stamina, in my ring craft. I know boxing now but I’m still getting to know it at the same time.”
Not that such an assessment should be viewed as an admission of weakness on Eubank’s part. Indeed, his self-confidence seems unshakeable.
“You develop self-confidence over years,” he said. “Years of testing yourself in the fire pits — in sparring sessions and training camps and fights themselves. That’s where confidence and self-belief comes from.”
Eubank’s past experiences sparring against Groves have left him certain he has what it takes to become the third man — after Carl Froch and Badou Jack – to defeat the 29-year-old from Hammersmith.
“It was a long time ago but we’ve sparred countless rounds over the years, especially early on in my career,” he said. “I believe I was on top of him for 90 per cent of the sparring sessions we had and that was early on in my career when I wasn’t the fighter I am now.
“I’m sure that he would say that he’s not the fighter he was then and he’s improved, but in my opinion I know what he is, I know what he’s capable of, I know his weaknesses, I know his mindset, how far he’s willing to push himself, how far he’s willing to go when he gets hurt.
“I know many of these things already, so unless he’s become a completely different fighter, which is pretty much impossible in my opinion, I know how to beat George Groves and I will do that in February next year.
“He’s up there — he’s one of the best. He’s a world champion. So this is not going to be an easy fight. This is not going to be a walk in the park — just because I have all this confidence doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I’m not underestimating him in any way, shape or form. But I know what I need to do.”
Eubank pinpoints Groves’ old rival, the IBF title-holder James DeGale — who is not part of the Super Series tournament — as the man he would most like to meet once the WBSS is complete. [N.B. This interview was conducted before DeGale's defeat against Caleb Truax].
“That’s a fight the public have been demanding for years, probably more than [against] Groves,” he said. “DeGale and I have had a beef, let’s call it. There’s no love lost. We’ve had our back and forths over the years. The talking’s done. We can’t say any more now. We just have to get in the ring and prove who’s the man who’s fraudulent and who’s the man who’s been telling the truth all these years.”
Eubank said a move back down to 160lbs is a further option — a division where, of course, Billy Joe Saunders, the only man to have defeated him as a pro, still campaigns.
“I am a middleweight, I’m not a super middleweight,” Eubank insisted. “Before my weigh-ins, I’m having breakfast. For my last fight, I had to gain weight throughout the camp. I don’t know anyone who does that unless they’re a heavyweight.
“I came back from Las Vegas before I started my camp for the Yildirim fight and I was 11st 10lbs [or 164lbs, 4lbs under the 168lbs super middleweight limit]. I have to go through an intense training camp and gain weight, which is hard to do.
“Of course, there are great fights to be made at middleweight. They might even do a middleweight [Super Series] tournament next year. If that opportunity arises, I will be in there again.”
Eubank maintains that building a legacy is his chief consideration.
“I’ve always wanted to have the respect that my father had from the public,” he said. “[As a child] watching people come up to him on the streets, watching the love and respect he got, I wanted that for myself.
“I didn’t want to always just be known as ‘Chris Eubank’s son’. You know: ‘He’s that boxer’s son.’ I want [people to say]: ‘That’s Chris Eubank junior. That’s the world champion. That’s the fighter.’
“Continuing the Eubank legacy, creating my own legacy, becoming my own man, stepping out of my father’s shadow, which I believe I’ve now done at this stage in my career — those are the big drivers for me.
“I want to be remembered. I want to be able to look back on my career and be proud of what I achieved and have other people be proud of what I achieve.
“That is the number one drive, the number one goal for me. To have my kids watch tapes and be proud of their dad. That’s the end goal.”
Although his father’s visible presence in his career has been much commented upon, Eubank was keen to emphasise his mother Karron’s vital support. “My mother has always supported me in everything I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “That’s the type of person she is. She always supports her kids. Whether it was sports or academics, she’s always been 100 per cent behind me.
“Just one more point about my mother, though — I don’t actually let her come to my fights. Even though she’s supportive I don’t believe it’s something a mother should be around. I know fighters who have their mothers ringside but I’ve never agreed with that. You’re in a hostile environment, you’ve got people who are screaming and shouting and don’t want you to win or want you to get hurt. I don’t want to put my mother in an environment like that.”
For viewer information on how to register for the Eubank Jr vs Groves fight, go to www.ITVBoxOffice.com