ON a crisp and sunlit winter’s afternoon, Chris Eubank saunters down a particularly swanky street in London looking like a million dollars – rather than a man who might be feeling foolish after all his grand predictions a few months ago ended up in a painful first defeat for his son. Eubank is wearing a sleek, black and impossibly expensive designer suit, shiny boots and a huge smile as he stretches out his hand to say hello. In typically esoteric fashion, the former world champion has summoned me for this interview at the Playboy Club – a surreal retro establishment filled with plush opulence, bunny girls and poker tables.
“Come to the Playboy Club in one hour,” Eubank had suggested snappily on the phone.
It’s hard to resist such an invitation on a sleepy Thursday afternoon. The idea of meeting him in Mayfair also seems intriguing because, last November, I had spent an afternoon with Eubank and his son, Chris Jnr, in the dark and crumbling Hove Boxing Club on the Brighton seafront. While Chris Jnr prepared for his fight against Billy Joe Saunders, Eubank Snr had held up a warning finger.
“This is the most dangerous young man on the planet,” Eubank told me as he pointed to his poker-faced son. “He’s stoic. He’s still. There is a darkness in him I cannot measure. I want to apologise for Christopher’s demeanour because he cannot be the smiling celebrity type. He is a pure warrior.”
Eubank Snr had also suggested that Gennady Golovkin’s promoters would never allow the destructive force of “GGG” to face his son. “Christopher would knock out Golovkin in brutal fashion,” Eubank had stressed. “Golovkin’s people have to protect him.”
Eubank Jnr had fought fitfully against Saunders, however, and his strangely tentative performance in the first six rounds cost him the fight. He had dominated the second half of the contest but the apparent chaos in his corner – as Junior ordered his venerable trainer, Ronnie Davies, to “shut up” and Eubank Snr remained sphinx-like in his silence – had not helped as he frittered away round after round.
Yet there is no sense of hubris or humiliation in a new year as Eubank Snr ushers me towards the Playboy Club as if we’re a couple of middle-aged billionaires. The great old fighter has a business meeting to attend first and so he instructs me to relax and wait for our encounter to begin in another 30 minutes. I wave Eubank on his way and wonder how I ended up here. Yet Eubank is actually an exceedingly well-mannered man and less than half an hour later he calls to invite me to join him in the executive lounge of a five-star hotel a short walk away. It makes a change from the usual stinking gyms where I have interviewed Eubank and his bitter rivals, Michael Watson and Nigel Benn, in past decades.
Eubank and I go back a long way because, in the course of writing a book called Dark Trade, I first interviewed him and Watson before their two fights in 1991. Watson had outboxed Eubank in their rematch at White Hart Lane when catastrophe struck. Eubank was knocked down in the 11th round but he hauled himself off the canvas and, somehow, landed a punch of such devastation it resulted in Watson slipping away into a coma. The consequences still linger today.
I know that Eubank, for all his affections, really is a warrior who has gazed into the darkest corners of boxing’s violent business. And so, even if my allegiance back then was for Watson, I feel respect and affection for Eubank today. He is like no one else in boxing and he answers every question I ask in his trademark style.
As we gaze across a sumptuous view of Green Park, Eubank nods sagely when I ask him if he and Chris Jnr spoke honestly after defeat to Saunders. “Absolutely,” he says. “I was fierce. I was harsh. In this life, in this craft, there can be no gently, gently approach. I really hope Christopher has taken it as severely as he should because it was a loss – and an unnecessary loss because he lost the fight by around 15 jabs. He didn’t apply all the principles I gave him and so he has learned by his own experience. Now he knows that his mentors are absolutely right. But there is nothing better than being taught the hard way. I know it hurt him because it should have been an easy fight. But I’m not disappointed in him. I’m just disappointed for him.”
Did the occasion of a heavily hyped clash between two unbeaten fighters unsettle Junior? “I don’t think it was the occasion,” Eubank Snr says. “It was a very lucid night, a great atmosphere thick with drama. I don’t think it buckled him because look how defiantly he stood on the ring apron. So, no, Saunders was good at feigning that he was going to come forward but he never did. Christopher fell for it and he shouldn’t have. I possibly should not have allowed Christopher to stay at his pace. But then I had given him all the instruction and I didn’t feel I had to remind him. I told him beforehand that, ‘As soon as you settle, you will take him out.’ But Junior did not show a fraction of what he can do in the ring.”
At least Eubank Jnr proved in the last few rounds that he could actually fight, as he put Saunders under severe pressure. “Indeed,” his father says. “If he started like he had fought from round seven onwards he would have stopped him. You have to keep in mind that, at least in my head, the British Boxing Board of Control would not have allowed Billy Joe Saunders to fight me. The gap in ability was too vast. In my day – from 1992 to 1995 – I would have stopped Billy Joe in four rounds. I think Christopher is twice the fighter I was. So I saw it as a two-round fight. I gave him the strategy but he didn’t implement it so he paid the price.”
Setting aside the many journeymen Eubank Snr faced in his own career, it feels more important to press the old orator on the hopeless corner he ran that night. Why did he not shout out clear and simple instructions to his son when Junior looked so adrift for six rounds?
“What am I going to do?” Eubank Snr asks with an artful shrug. “That’s my demeanour. I look at Junior and think: ‘You must know what you’re doing. I’ve given you all the instructions.’ I could see that he was not jabbing enough but once you’re in that mode it’s like exam time. Perhaps I should have said to him, ‘Listen, you have to stay with him.’ Look, you have to take into consideration that Christopher is my son and I know him very well. I took it for granted that he had the information. I didn’t think
I would have to jostle him. But I should have jostled him.”
There are almost always problems between a father and a son, as the trainer and a fighter, but I slip into the semantics of a Eubank interview. Will he “jostle” his boy next time?
“Yes,” Eubank Snr murmurs, “if he is going to be negotiating. I would say: ‘Don’t do that. Go in there and take the fight.’”
Does he ever wonder if it might benefit his son if he stepped away from Junior’s corner? “Well, the only reason for stepping away is that perhaps a son has difficulty taking instruction from a father. So perhaps the father should give the instruction to another so that it can be passed on through that person. But, absolutely, I am on point. How could I not be? I’m not talking about something I haven’t done before. This is not something I have read about. I was a warrior. I know boxing inside out.”
Davies’ position remains curiously muddled. He is meant to be the head trainer but he is often treated disdainfully. “The man’s a master,” Eubank says of Davies, who also trained him. “But Junior can’t see it yet. So Christopher has to activate his intelligence. He now knows that ability doesn’t mean anything if you don’t use your jab. I say to him: ‘Think of the jab as a tape measure. Once you’ve measured your opponent you can unload everything on him.’ That’s why I have no concerns about Christopher. He’s got more ability and destructive force than anyone I’ve seen in the last 20 years.”
Does he harbour any regrets for hyping Junior as “the most dangerous young man on the planet”? Eubank smiles like a wise man looking at a simpleton. “Absolutely not!” he exclaims. “Everything I said to you in that interview is true to how I see it.
“The interest in him is still palpable. People will switch on to watch him.
“Unfortunately, for Junior, the pressure is really on him now. He really does have it all to prove because he lost a fight that he should have won. In my view it was a mismatch. But it was only a mismatch if you used the right strategy, the right principles. In my view Christopher has the potential to be a champion of the people. But he will have to prove it. I believe he will.
“In truth, the loss was very good for him. I gave him his head. I said, ‘Do what you need to do… you’re a man now.’ He was doing so well that I let the reins go. So now he’s harnessed – and he’s done it himself. I pointed out to Christopher the other day that, ‘You’re never going to be as good as me. So you’re going to have to be better than me – and I can show you how to be better. All you have to do is pay attention.’”
Surely he won’t still peddle the line that Junior would knock out Golovkin? Eubank smiles again: “Golovkin couldn’t live with Christopher.”
When I point out to Eubank, amid some mirth, that I think it’s wrong to heap so much unnecessary attention on his son, through such absurd claims, the ex-fighter taps me politely on the wrist. “I know you do – but let me explain. On Christopher’s last performance Golovkin is a really tough fight because Junior didn’t implement the correct principles. If he does do this then Golovkin cannot live with him. No one can – in my view.”
Eubank has always been a provocative and outrageous talker. When we were in Brighton he pondered the sight of his son in sparring and then uttered these nuggets. “I don’t know what to make of it,” he said of Junior’s apparent “darkness” in the ring. “All I can say is that he has been parented in a very peculiar way. I am not a conventional man. I have made citizen’s arrests in front of him. I have commandeered heavy-goods vehicles which were illegally parked in front of him. I am a strong father. The punishments I gave him over the years formed him. Who has inspired that incandescent rage that lives within him? He is shaped by his upbringing and my parenting. It has turned him into a predator.”
I laughed then, and I smile fondly at Eubank now. But, sometimes, I worry about the partnership between Eubank Snr and Jnr. What might happen if, one day, Junior is involved in a fight as dangerous as Eubank-Watson II? How will Chris Snr react in the corner?
“I am a fighter,” he insists calmly. “This is the life. When I saw him take a beating from a heavyweight in Cuba, during sparring, I thought ‘This is good for you. Hardship makes you. It moulds you. It gives you life.’ This is a hurt business. It’s not that I was more talented than a lot of guys I fought but I had more determination than them, more persistence…”
Eubank looks up. “You know, I took my lumps…”
Anyone who watched Eubank fight Benn, Watson, Steve Collins, Joe Calzaghe and Carl Thompson knows the depth of his courage. He was remarkably brave and determined in the heat of battle. He has made peace with Watson and Benn, and I hope that, in the end, he will find a way to succeed with his son.
As we take one last walk through the cold streets of Mayfair, Eubank rests a hand on my arm, making me stop in my tracks. I have just asked if the mockery and ridicule of his many critics ever wounds him.
“I know you know this,” he says, “but listen to it again…”
In a booming voice, as people stare in wonder at us, Eubank recites a long and looping quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Unsurprisingly, Eubank is word-perfect. He finishes with the pride of a man who has known both victory and defeat. He bows his head, almost shyly, and stretches out his hand.
“It’s been fun,” I say to Eubank.
“As always,” he grins. He raises his right hand in farewell and turns sharply back up the road towards his office, near the Playboy Club, looking like a busy and important man. An outrageous boxing story continues in the dandyish, immaculate and formidably effusive shape of 48-year-old Christopher Livingstone Eubank.
You might not agree, but boxing seems a much more entertaining world with Eubank talking up a storm whether he and his son, the more stoical Junior, have lost or won again.