By G.E. Simons
At the end of February, Chris Eubank Jnr. beat gold medal Olympian and former two-time IBF super-middleweight champion of the world, James DeGale, into retirement and earned a signature win in a curious career so far, which has generated column inches, the airbrushing of defeats and a rain of dollars earned.
Junior, like his decorated father, just has that thing – it is undefinable, a lightning rod from Queensbury, infuriating, probably possibly impossible to deal with but vital and engaging at the same time.
Photo Credit: Ian Walton/SHOWTIME
Very few wish to sit down at the negotiating table with the Eubanks but their enigma is such that the same very few are not prepared to nip them out of the conversation all together. And fewer still embargo the opportunity to share a ring with the descendant of British boxing royalty.
But how good is Chris Eubank Jnr., how far can he go in the glittering duo of the middle and super-middleweight divisions which he is currently straddling, and is it possible for him to step out of the haute couture shadow of his truly, eccentrically iconic bloodline.
On one hand, what is there not to like?
Junior speaks with eloquence, eschews profanity, fully understands the mechanics of the black mirror generation and fights like a savage.
On the other, critics speak of nepotistic privilege, a lack of schooling and the most basic of foundation skills, narcissistic arrogance and even a dangerous ambivalence towards the dangers of the fistic art and its ramifications.
Chris Eubank Jnr. began his boxing apprenticeship in the US through an unusual familial arrangement which saw him move stateside and reside with a legal guardian in Irene Hutton, which also delivered a dual citizenship.
The young Eubank’s pugilistic genesis however, couldn’t have begun under much better tutelage, in working out of the Las Vegas gymnasium of Hall of Fame middleweight Mike McCullum, wo said of his charge, “Everything has worked out perfectly. In a few years, England is going to have another world champ named Eubank. I go in the ring with him and he’s skillful, but he can also bang.”
An amateur career began in 2007 and a mere seven fights later he claimed the Golden Gloves title for the state of Nevada and compiled a 24-2 record in the unpaid ranks before turning professional in 2011.
Back in the UK as a fledgling pro, the services of Brighton fight game don, Ronnie Davies were retained along with a presence, mentorship and guidance from Eubank Snr. of course. But who did what, who listened to who and what plans were planned is very much up for conjecture and whatever the what, why or where, was Junior really listening anyway?
His first 18 fights were the usual trade-learning, opposition-vetting, road-bleeding, hand-raising tour of scattered British leisure centres and arenas with a detour to Denmark for a victory along the way.
So far, was so good for an aspiring pro with burgeoning buzz, name value and an increasing presence in the one-to-watch and man most likely column.
But then came Billy Joe Saunders on a cold November night and a London acid test at the docklands ExCel Arena to contest the British, European and Commonwealth middleweight titles.
This was the first real test of the junior Eubank’s abilities as a professional and to be fair, Billy Joe’s as well, although he had operated in better company with wins over Gary ‘Spike” O’ Sullivan and Nick Blackwell on his record heading into this one.
A real fight of two halves saw Saunders befuddle, shut out and shutdown Eubank over 6 opening rounds and then defend that with some scares and enhanced aggression from his opponent through the closing 6, before inflicting a split decision loss on him.
Scores of 115-114 and 115-113 for Saunders and 116-113 for Eubank Jnr. were difficult to argue with and agreement with the outcome is probably dependent on whether you prefer your boxing served cultured or aggressively.
Speaking with SKY Sports in 2016, Eubank said of the fight, “I wasn’t battered or shown up. I made the mistake of not pressing him early, pacing myself too much because it was my first 12-round fight.”
A good assessment and a fair one against a skilled operator in Billy Joe Saunders who went on to claim the WBO world middleweight title from Andy Lee and defended it with a signature victory in a hometown humbling of David Lemieux in Quebec.
For his part, Eubank went on to win eight straight in increasingly impressive style against solid opposition including the then unbeaten Dmitrii Chudinov, Gary ‘Spike’ O’ Sullivan, Arthur Abraham and Avni Yildrim, the latter as part of the lucrative World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super middleweight tournament.
A run which also included his capture of the British middleweight title in a savagely and tragically one-sided encounter with Nick Blackwell.
His show reel third round knockout of Turkey’s come-forward Yildrim set up a WBSS semi-final against the venerable WBA world champion at the weight in George Groves and represented a second step up to challenge at elite level.
Groves produced a mercurial performance in a unanimous points victory which made a mockery of his underdog status going into the fight and showed perhaps even more than the Saunders defeat, the inability of Eubank to deal with a moving, technically correct and knowing elite-level opponent.
However, the defeat did reiterate Eubank’s own attributes of iron will, proper toughness, punch volume and unerring willingness. And the changes that he seems to have now made in the aftermath of that second defeat will perhaps now combine as the cornerstones to build a final sparkling act to his career.
A rust shaking blow-out victory over the tough but outgunned JJ McDonagh on the undercard of the WBSS final in Jeddah at the end of 2018 returned Eubank to winning ways which takes us right back to the DeGale victory.
In the build-up, James DeGale described their ITV pay-per-viewer as the ‘retirement fight’ and whilst Eubank refused to even say the R word, he knew it was so.
And so it proved to be with DeGale indeed retiring in the days after 12 torrid rounds where he saw the last echoes of his skills shredded, tasted the canvas twice and looked pretty unsteady from the second round onwards.
Though he refused to admit it, Eubank knew that a defeat to a third opponent from the elites in DeGale, albeit a corroded one, would surely confine him to that frustrating tier of ability sandwiched between too good for European but not good enough for World level.
Such did he know this, that he looked for the first time to galvanise and build on those cornerstone attributes that he had shown in defeat to Saunders and Groves by appointing a new trainer, his first officially, in Nate Vasquez.
Vasquez, a Mayweather Boxing Club coach with form, seemed to have the ear of Eubank and his respect too. Whether Junior’s claims of self-tutoring up to appointing him are entirely true or not is a slippery one but he certainly listened to his new trainer’s instructions between rounds and looked to implement them.
So, the question now is, with victory over James DeGale and a public ability to take instructions and schooling from a new voice in the team, has Chris Eubank Junior finally graduated to the seniors?
He probably has.
However, that new voice in the team will no longer be that of Nate Vasquez, who speaking with SKY Sports in April confirmed that he had heard through word-of-mouth that Eubank Jnr. is now training with Virgil Hill in California.
“I don’t know if jumping trainers will help him. You can’t learn if you’re jumping trainers from time to time. If you go from trainer to trainer to trainer, it’s not good.”
Vasquez has not heard directly from Eubank following their work together for the DeGale fight, but is pragmatic, “I got the best win of his career with him. I’m not mad at him if he goes to another trainer.”
And with that the spread of possible next opponents is as broad as it is appetising, where win lose or draw he will make turnstiles spin and PPV tills ring for two or three more legacy fights at least.
A rematch with Billy Joe Saunders does great numbers and would be an intriguing match-up with both having improved since first they met. Whilst the unbeaten WBA champion Callum Smith would offer another intriguing civil war in the UK.
At 34, WBC champion Andre Dirrell offers an interesting option too in what is a really winnable one, as does the largely untested Caleb Plant, Tennessee’s unbeaten IBF belt holder.
Let’s also not forget the shadows cast and opportunities posed by Golovkin and Canelo whose radar Eubank has bleeped several times in the past
Speaking with talkSPORT Radio following the DeGale victory, Chris told the station, “For me, I’m 29 years old, I’m in the prime of my career and there’s just so much more that I wanna achieve. So many more belts that I want to collect, so I’m definitely looking now for the big names in the middleweight and the super-middleweight division.”
And that’s about the size of it.
Chris Eubank Junior always possessed every ingredient to make a massive impact except perhaps the technical seniority to worry the elite and cause trouble in the world title mix. Victory over James DeGale has given him that, his team is bolstered, his attitude has matured and his commercial alliance with ITV Boxing and PBC combine to make him a real player.
Whether this has been partly built with a victory over the carrion remains of what James DeGale had left rather than what Eubank has recently acquired remains to be seen but it will certainly be exciting and entertaining to find out.
Follow G.E. Simons on Twitter @GESimonsBoxing