Like boxing, the world of literature is littered with unreliable narrators, from Humbert Humbert in Lolita and Frank Cauldhame in The Wasp Factory to the unnamed narrator in Fight Club. Seemingly readers, like fight fans, are drawn to such characters; drawn to them not only because they can tell a tall tale but also because there is something undeniably exciting about believing in something we deep down know is probably closer to fantasy than the truth.
In boxing, of course, most unreliable narrators tend to be either promoters, whose very job it is to spin a yarn, or the boxers themselves, whose entire ability to box is predicated on a suspension of disbelief. Together, these creative men and women often lie to us with a straight face and only our knowledge and understanding of the sport’s history allows us to approach what we are told with the scepticism it rightly deserves.
Needless to say, some boxers are better at selling than others and Chris Eubank Jnr is one of the best. Learning, it would appear, from the bedtime stories read to him by his equally imaginative father, he has developed a knack for tying opponents in knots at press conferences and, with all the conviction of a cult leader, having the rest of us believe that he is the fighter all evidence found in the ring would suggest he is not.
How Eubank Jnr achieves this is simple. He is, unlike many other boxers, a well-educated and to some degree privileged man who has taken to using his education and security to speak from a manufactured position of superiority; often talking down to opponents just to irritate them further. In boxing, where one punch can make two mismatched fighters equal, this can be a dangerous game to play but it is a clever one all the same. Because Eubank Jnr, by playing it, manages to achieve his goal of winding up opponents and creates, not unlike his father, a persona to which many fans will be drawn, whether to see him win or get his comeuppance.
That has happened three times now, by the way. Which is maybe why Eubank Jnr, at 33 and with a hattrick of losses to his name, can no longer seduce his audience with the same deliberate speech cadence and long and winding monologues the way he once did. A tactic no doubt effective in the past, back when he had the air of mystery and invincibility fuelling a lot of what he said, now Eubank Jnr finds himself at an interesting juncture in a career that could, depending on your viewpoint, be deemed either a success or failure.
Certainly, given all the talk, both his own and his father’s, there will be an element of disappointment if Eubank Jnr finishes his career having never won a version of the world title, much less slayed the men he has apparently been itching to fight for years. Then again, if you are generous enough to take into account his late start in boxing, coupled with the pressure he has experienced throughout his career, there is perhaps an argument to be made that Eubank Jnr, in simply becoming a decent top 10 contender, has overachieved to some extent.
While that can and will be argued, it is tougher to argue with those who believe he is running out of fuel, both on fight night and when at the microphone. Which is to say, whereas before we might have hung on the enigmatic Brighton man’s every word and allowed him to lull us into a fantasy he had shaped for us, the tendency now is to listen to him speak and consider what he says to be either the ramblings of a deluded fighter whose pride has been dented or the ramblings of a shrewd salesman who knows he has few paydays left.
Whichever of those it is, no longer do we sit and listen to Eubank Jnr and fear for his opponent the way we once did. We have after all listened to him talk the talk ahead of fights against the likes of Billy Joe Saunders, George Groves and, more recently, Liam Smith, only to then ultimately fall short when the talking stopped and the fight began.
Again, there is no shame at all in losing to those men. Yet, when you are crafting for yourself the persona of a destroyer too good for all domestic opposition, it becomes somewhat alarming to see this same destroyer succumb to the very domestic opposition upon whom he previously looked down.
As for his next fight, what makes Eubank Jnr’s attempt to sell a rematch against Liam Smith in June so fascinating is that he does so from a defensive and largely untenable position. Stopped in just four rounds by Smith back in January, to sell the rematch – both to himself and others – Eubank Jnr must now rely on an accusation that Smith hurt him with a stray elbow before finishing him off, as well as a claim that he was stopped prematurely, something surely only Eubank Jnr believes.
He is entitled to believe this, too, for he is the fighter and the one who must fight again. Often, in fact, an ability to delude themselves is the only way defeated fighters can make that walk and return to the place to which they must return. For some, a reimagining of what occurred is the only way for them to put it behind them and start afresh.
If that’s what Eubank Jnr is doing here, that’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t mean we have to believe what he suggests, nor, however, does it make him a liar or the only boxer to ever behave this way. What’s more, there is always the chance Eubank Jnr, given the abrupt manner in which he was stopped, is telling the truth. Or at least his truth. For who are we to say he wasn’t disturbed by a stray elbow back in January? Who are we to say he didn’t feel in complete control before Smith suddenly trapped him on the ropes and turned the fight on its head? Who are we to say he doesn’t have total belief that he can reverse the result on June 17?
Maybe, in the end, he will be proved right. Or maybe, in the end, those who buy the fight only to watch a repeat of the first encounter will realise once again they have been deceived by one of the finest unreliable narrators in a sport full of them.