BEFORE being exposed to the harsh reality of life, the only version of it we know and view as ours is one presented to us by our parents. It is a version of life better for some than for others and often, until we reach an age capable of seeing something else, it is for a time the extent of our knowledge: of other people, of other places, of other cultures.
Children dream, of course they do, but these dreams will initially be shaped by the things to which they have been exposed. For instance, when I was at school and asked to start thinking about what I intended to do with my life, my dreams of becoming either a footballer or, when that seemed far-fetched, a writer were cushioned somewhat by a belief that if those dreams failed I could simply do what my father did for a living instead. There was comfort in that idea, as misguided as it was, and for the longest time my definition of a role model was this: someone who offers their child the illusion of a career path to follow if all else fails. Some fathers, alas, aren’t even able to offer that.
Mine did, however, and so I went through the early stages of life believing that if I didn’t create a path of my own there was always the option of becoming a firefighter as Plan B. Beyond the obvious (putting out fires), I had no idea what that job actually entailed but this hardly mattered as far as I was concerned. All that mattered, I suppose, was that my dad had done the job for a long time and therefore, if I couldn’t think of something different for myself, I could just follow what I became convinced was some family lineage.
In boxing, we tend to see a similar trend, with plenty of sons of fighters pursuing boxing as their profession and using their privilege to secure special attention. It is a privilege, too, by the way. Much like my assumption that becoming a firefighter would be an easy thing for me to do, based purely on who I knew and not what I knew, sons of boxers understand they will receive special privileges upon deciding to pursue the same profession as their parent. These privileges will be levied, no doubt, by the pressure placed on them either by said parent or sceptical outsiders, but they are privileges nonetheless.
For one, they will receive unwarranted attention from the very start; something they have been gifted, not earned. Secondly, they will, based purely on their surname, make more money than most professional boxers competing at that same stage in their career. Thirdly, and often the least sexy perk but the one most important, they have the inside track – that is, the opportunity to learn from someone who has not only been there and done it but also, in most cases, lives with them.
These factors are usually what makes the idea of a boxer’s son chasing a boxing life an alluring prospect, despite its inherent risk and danger. They likely played a part in Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn’s decision to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and for them, too, it has royally paid off, with both now established as solid professionals in their own right.
Though neither are world champions, both have clearly exceeded expectations (if not quite the careers of their fathers). They have a combined record of 53-2 and have used their perks and privilege to emerge as two of the most exciting and interesting fighters currently plying their trade in Great Britain. Engaging and enigmatic, not unlike the originals, Benn and Eubank 2.0, as characters, are as good as it gets in the UK right now and have, thanks to both their personalities and surnames, considerable crossover appeal.
It is perhaps for this reason, more so than an inability to secure fights against genuine world-class opposition, that the two of them, Eubank Jnr and Benn, are going to meet on October 8 at the O2 Arena. That, as a fight, is one with undoubted crossover appeal. It is Benn vs. Eubank III. It is The Next Generation. It is Unfinished Business.
Yet, marketing straplines aside, it’s also a concession. It’s a concession on the part of both Eubank Jnr and Benn that they need each other. More than that, it’s a concession that they need the legacies of their fathers to take the next step in their careers.
In agreeing to unite, gone, it seems, is the initial attempt to break away from those legacies and form two of their own. Gone, too, is any desire to become the world champion in their respective weight divisions and therefore both stand alone and on their own two feet.
In agreeing to unite, both as opponents and as a brand, they have succumbed to the pressure that was always there from day one. They have accepted at last that their own careers are secondary to those of their fathers and that, irrespective of their achievements to date, the very height of their accomplishments will likely always be this: Benn vs Eubank, redux.
There is no shame in that, of course. Nor should we begrudge them going in that direction when so much money and attention can be found there. Yet, to look in from the outside, having admired both men for different reasons and at different times, one can’t help but feel a little dejected that it has ultimately come to this.
It’s not quite a novelty fight, no, for both have more than proven themselves as worthy contenders. But nevertheless, the thought of Conor and Chris essentially giving up the ghost in terms of distancing themselves from their past and securing legacies of their own is without doubt a dispiriting one. Because this, no matter what they tell you, is not a natural fight, nor have the two fighters, a welterweight and a middleweight, been on some sort of collision course. Instead, it is a fight being squeezed and manipulated to fit a hole it shouldn’t fit, with both having to diminish themselves accordingly. It is little more than a fantasy fight someone thought would be a good idea to monetise and bring to life. It is an event first, and a fight second.
Then again, it’s easy to understand why it appeals – to the general public, especially. Fuelled primarily by nostalgia, that most dangerous of drugs, and aimed primarily at the lowest common denominator, it’s a Peter Kay stand-up routine of a fight. It’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It appeals only because it’s familiar – the names, the story – and because familiarity makes us feel warm and cosy and knowledgeable. (“Oh yeah, I know those two.”) Even TalkSport can pretend to be HBO for a week.
For the fighters, too, the appeal is considerable. Careers are short, after all, and losses can happen at any time. By facing each other, though, Eubank and Benn now have the chance to do something meaningful and momentous (at least in the context of their fathers’ rivalry) and that is not something boxers want to be passing up. Moreover, the alternative options for both not only pale in comparison, when talking prestige and attention, but also present a greater degree of danger.
We know by now Eubank Jnr’s level, having seen him reach it at middleweight and super-middleweight, and we suspect we know Conor Benn’s, even if the day he comes up short has still to arrive. But together, back in the shadows from which they previously tried to escape, Benn and Eubank Jnr are both safe, relatively speaking. Losing will still hurt, naturally, particularly with so much history between the families, but the danger of defeat in a unique scenario such as this is tempered somewhat by the perks of a ready-made franchise.
This they presumably both know as well. For regardless of their efforts to create a path of their own, one separate from their fathers, they have in the end decided to trigger that backup safety net and collapse into it, relieved on landing to no longer have to aspire to become something more; something greater; something else. They can now as a pair, once and for all, settle for being what everybody said they were in the first place: sons of legends.