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The enigma of Chris Eubank Jr

Chris Eubank Jr
Huw Fairclough/Getty Images
The divisive Eubank Jnr draws as much criticism as praise but is impossible to ignore, writes Matt Christie

WE have paid close attention to Chris Eubank Jnr since he vaulted the ropes to mark the beginning of his professional career more than 10 years ago. On that night in November 2011, at Event City in Manchester, Eubank – dressed in yellow shorts with his surname emblazoned on the beltline – won at a canter while exhibiting cockiness and promise in equal measure. Yet there were questions, too. How good was he? How far could he go?

Ten years and three months later, Eubank continues to fascinate. And we still don’t know the answer regarding his true potential. Against Liam Williams on Saturday night, atop an entertaining Sky Sports card in Cardiff reportedly seen by 1.05m viewers, Eubank Jnr looked superb in spots, disinterested and disrespectful in others, yet his irresistible personality remained throughout. Fans love him. Fans hate him. Eubank nonetheless has an uncanny ability to make them stop and stare.

A look at the raw statistics tell us that Eubank defeated Williams convincingly. Four knockdowns scored and a winner on the cards by seven and eight points (twice). The highlight reels show Eubank displaying new facets to his game; the timing of his short and accurate counter-punching in the early rounds was excellent. His ability to box on the move, again in the first half, was impressive too. Yet, just like always, he drew as much criticism as applause.

Back when such subtlety was an alien concept, when he would motor forward with the expectation that his opponent would sooner or later crumble, he was written off as crude and being short of ideas. Particularly while being pipped by Billy Joe Saunders and, more tellingly, after George Groves outclassed him over 12 rounds four years ago.

On Saturday night, despite exhibiting newfound care and control under new trainer Roy Jones Jnr, his approach was mocked by armchair fans. ‘He’s just doing a bad impersonation of Jones,’ they scoffed. Regardless, they couldn’t take their eyes off him.

Had another British fighter – say, Felix Cash – defeated Williams like Eubank defeated Williams, it’s doubtful there would be anything but adulation. Doubtful, too, it would have generated this much attention.

It’s true Eubank does himself few favours at times. The callous remarks on social media, the lack of empathy. The showboating that drives onlookers potty. Witnessing such astronomic levels of self-confidence in fellow human beings often evokes silent envy, but rarely outward praise. Eubank Jnr does things the Eubank Jnr way. That’s not to say it’s the right way, but he has always been his own man. One only has to spend five minutes in his company to understand that.

Of course Eubank Snr has heavily influenced him over the years; that is the job of a father, after all. Indeed, as Junior opted to stay quiet in the early days, all but allowing himself to be ventriloquised, the wrong perception of their relationship was formed. But when witnessing them together behind closed doors it has always been clear that it is father following son rather than other way round. In Roy Jones, he has at last found someone from the outside who he respects. An all-time great fighter – as opposed to figures like Senior and Ronnie Davies who he’s always viewed as family – Jones Jnr is perhaps the first trainer he has listened to unconditionally. It should be no surprise that we see the odd flash of Jones Jnr in how Eubank fights today. One wonders where Junior would be now if he’d have been able to listen so intently to someone at the beginning of his career.

Now 32 years old, and acutely aware the clock is ticking, Eubank Jnr still has plenty to do. His accomplishments will likely never match those of his father or trainer but to keep making those comparisons is a tiresome exercise. That Junior is still here a decade on, and even after those high-profile losses is still as cocksure as the day he arrived, reveals plenty about what lies within. Yes, his surname opened doors but only Junior can take the credit for walking through them. And when those doors close behind him, and they will, he will hold only himself accountable if he’s failed to match his own expectations.

Eubank remains an enigma. We will all pick against him should he ever be matched with Gennady Golovkin, the fight he craves. We will all watch intently, nonetheless.

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