NO different than any other beneficiary of nepotism, or so-called “nepo baby”, Chris Eubank Jnr has been both helped and hindered by a famous fighting surname throughout the course of his 11-year professional career. He has, at times, looked to exploit it, shouting it and milking it for all it’s worth, while, at other times, he has made an effort to create distance between himself and this name – or at least his father – and do his best to give the impression of a self-made man standing on his own two feet.
A complex, singular character, Eubank Jnr would, it’s true, seem refreshingly unique and unusual were it not for the fact he is his father’s son. But, alas, he is, therefore in the eyes of many only following a lineage. The flow of his gene pool. A script. A path.
That said, based on the way he carries himself, he is clearly someone who makes an effort to be different; different from the rest; different from his father. He does this in a variety of ways, some successful, others less so. He talks in a slow, measured and methodical way, choosing his words carefully, and he often condescends opponents, talks down to them, and treats them as less than equal. He does so, he says, because they are no match for him in the ring, nor at the microphone.
Such displays are, in many ways, indicative of a “nepo baby”. They are fuelled, these displays, by the kind of arrogance and entitlement only afforded to those born into a life of privilege and opportunity. In the case of Chris Eubank Jnr, we are witnessing this attitude with him now in his thirties, when he has at last escaped the shadow of his famous father and matured as both a man and a fighter. With distance, it seems he has found freedom. He has also found himself; reinventing himself, with the required freedom, as someone who can hold a room in the palm of his hand and impressively dissect the mindset of the opponent sitting alongside him at a press conference. This he did with great success when preparing to fight Liam Williams in 2021 and it was something he was also doing quite well when preparing to fight Conor Benn last October. Meanwhile, for the past few weeks he has been practising this same spell on Liam Smith, someone who is experienced and shrewd enough to see it coming, yet has shown signs nonetheless of becoming embroiled in the kind of mind games he would, ideally, look to avoid.
Eubank Jnr, you sense, nowadays relishes these mental battles as much as he does the physical ones. He performs them with a wry smile, a tongue lodged in his cheek, and, not unlike his father, deliberately chooses to emphasise certain words and sentiments for effect, all in the name of strategy.
Perhaps, at 33, Eubank Jnr feels the need to claim this pre-fight mental edge. No longer the one-man army of flailing limbs and limitless uppercuts, Eubank Jnr has, in this final act of his career, calmed down, both as a boxer and as a man. He is considerably more thoughtful in his approach, not only beforehand but once the bell rings, influenced, it seems, as much by Roy Jones Jnr, his coach, as his father, the ultimate influence. It’s all about control, that’s all. He has it now in a way he never had it before. He controls his own moves. He controls what he says. Better yet, he also controls what his opponents say and sometimes think, with the hope, having secured this control, that it will be just as easy to control their moves on fight night.
That, given Eubank Jnr’s own limitations, is of course never a guarantee, but still, quite admirably, he tries. Still he tries to stack the deck in his favour and still he tries to remind opponents that they are not on his level – intellectually, psychologically, physically – at every available opportunity.
Indeed, in a fascinating interview with Alex Steedman on Boxing News’ Opening Bell podcast, Eubank Jnr recently said, “The difference between me and a lot of fighters is that I know how to talk. I have a vocabulary; I’m not an idiot. A lot of these guys are uneducated. All they have is ‘you’re an arsehole’, ‘you’re a tit’, ‘I’m going to knock you out’. What did Liam (Smith) say? ‘You think you’re a superstar but you’re far from it.’ It’s all basic schoolboy stuff. It’s embarrassing. I am able to articulate a lot better so it gets under their skin.”
Eubank Jnr, like so many other boxers I have encountered over the years, is nowhere near as intelligent or articulate as he likes to believe, nor anywhere near as stupid as many outside the boxing bubble will assume. He speaks well, of that there is no doubt, particularly in the context of his profession, but that, some would argue, is also largely immaterial in the context of his profession. It’s fighting, after all, that matters in a sport like boxing and for too long some would argue Eubank Jnr’s words have spoken far louder than his actions.
Perhaps that’s true. However, while some might say Eubank Jnr has avoided certain challenges as a pro, he has never avoided questions, nor, for that matter, his past. As he has matured, in fact, he has almost used his decent education and schooling – in an academic sense as opposed to a boxing sense – as just another stick with which to beat less eloquent opponents. He has also, since day one, embraced the financial perks of his surname and used it to open numerous doors along the way, even if, early on, one could tell this was a cause of great conflict for Eubank Jnr. Torn, always, there was a simultaneous hankering to embrace the good that his surname could bring him and a desperation to run away from it completely, if only for reasons pertaining to legitimacy. Without running, some felt, he would (a) never truly be his own man and (b) never receive full and proper credit for whatever he achieved – destined, sadly, to forever be compared to his father.
“I’ve been jumping the ring ropes like that since day one actually,” Eubank Jnr said to me 10 years ago at a gym in Vauxhall when I asked him about the decision to do so on his pro debut. (The impression of others having influenced him stung Eubank Jnr even back then, I could tell. Accuse him of mimicry, fine, but don’t you dare suggest it wasn’t his decision to repeat the moves of his father.) “I did that for my first amateur fight and have been doing it ever since. Nobody told me to do it on my pro debut. That’s just something I’ve always done.
“The song choice (‘Simply the Best’) was a group decision, though,” he went on to admit. “At first, I wasn’t too sure about it, to be honest, but we talked it through and collectively felt the fans would appreciate it. In the end, I think it worked. It was a nostalgic ring entrance and the presence of my father obviously helped a lot, too. When my dad stood in front of the camera and then moved away to reveal me, it was telling people that he was then and this is now.”
The process, somewhat annoyingly, took its time. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun to see Chris Eubank Senior wax lyrical about his son at press conferences or, during fights against Latvian journeymen, stand and stare at his son for 60 seconds between rounds. Because it was. Yet if Eubank Jnr, at 22, thought he could simply pick and choose the moments in which his famous surname would come in handy and then be someone else the rest of the time, he was sorely mistaken.
“Of course there will be similarities between the two of us,” he said back then, with a sigh. “I am his son and we share the same blood and DNA. Things might not be exactly the same, but if you watch the way I punch and move, I’m sure you will pick up similarities. It’s just a natural thing. I’m not trying to impersonate him or steal ideas.
“The one aspect of his game that I’d love to implement into my style would be his movement. His ring generalship was truly impressive, and that is something I have definitely taken from him over the years. As far as a great chin, I definitely do have that same ability to take a good punch, but it’s not something I plan on showing off anytime soon.”
Slowly but surely, Eubank Jnr has started to sound more and more like his father and move more and more like his father, too. The monosyllabic truculence of his early days has by now smoothed out and transitioned into a kind of playful, impish charm, while every fidgety action he performs on fight night is designed to confuse rather than cause anything like the chaos of old. Maybe this is simply due to an awareness of his own limitations, both in a physical sense and a career sense. Or maybe, when left alone, and when finally able to accept both the perks and trappings of being a “nepo baby”, Eubank Jnr was able to at last truly discover who he is and what kind of fighter and personality he actually wants to be.
Which is to say, although on the face of it being the son of Chris Eubank seems like a guaranteed route to the top (at least financially), the size of the shadow is like no other. So large is it, this shadow, it has appeared at times impossible to escape and for years Eubank Jnr would sit at press conferences and almost cower in the presence of his old man, knowing it was for him the gathering press were ultimately waiting. He also for years had him in the gym and with him in the corner, the partnership working better on some occasions than it did on others. When he then wasn’t there, the son was inevitably asked “Where’s your dad?” and had to try to think of something reassuring to say in response.
Even now, with Eubank Jnr a seasoned campaigner of 33, he is often asked this question. It was asked on a near weekly basis before Eubank Jnr’s ill-fated fight against fellow “nepo baby” Conor Benn last October, with nostalgia junkies not only perplexed but disappointed by Senior’s absence in the lead-up to the fight, especially given the storyline involved. (Nigel Benn, in fairness, was as much a spectator from afar.) Yet maybe, whether planned or not (and likely it wasn’t), Eubank Jnr vs. Benn was if nothing else the perfect opportunity for the severance of the boxing umbilical cord, running from son to father, to happen once and for all.
Since then, Eubank Jnr has reconnected with Roy Jones Jnr, with whom he has been preparing for his upcoming fight against Smith, and he has continued to put himself out there, albeit more in an effort to sell a questionable pay-per-view rather than because of any newfound generosity or altruistic streak. He has, rightly or wrongly, repositioned himself as a “star”, a character, a personality. Done with brooding, Eubank Jnr is, if not yet the good guy, now coming around to the idea that the pantomime villain is perhaps the best way to go in this final leg of what has been an up-and-down pro career.
Or, in other words, despite years of living together and appearing to be joined at the hip, it is only with distance and disconnection that Chris Eubank Jnr finally learned the one lesson – or trick – key to everything that made his father such a unique and successful superstar in the 1990s. With the original nowhere in sight, it could be argued Chris Eubank Jnr now acts more like his father than ever before.