Seeing Chris Eubank Jr Stirs Memories
To each their own. Every generation venerates a new clutch of heroes. My grandfather was born in the era of Jack Dempsey, marvelled at Joe Louis and was a contemporary of fellow Doncastrian Bruce Woodcock, who could fight a bit. His voice whispered through the pages of the books I inherited on his passing in 1984 too,
Ali was the best of them all the collection suggested. He was gone before Iron Mike tore through the late 80s and before the seeds of love for the sport he planted blossomed into interest.
For children of the 70s like me, it was all about Tyson, inescapable, unique, intoxicating. But he was also out of reach. Seen through the prism of highlights and delayed screenings. Domestically, it was Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, with a fleeting dose of McGuigan, and a sprinkling of Big Frank.
The Eubank and Benn rivalry simmered over three years between their first and second encounters and swirled and spilled across the decades that followed. The two boiling points, first in 1990 and the rematch in 1993 were seminal moments in British sporting history. Particularly in their second contest, they brought a nation to a virtual standstill.
A different time. Four television channels, smoke filled pubs and tiny televisions. Eubank and Benn’s Manchester fight – with Benn back from his American adventure, now improved, matured and vengeful – was unflinching warfare.
Boxing at its most brutal. And a draw.
In part because of a point Richard Steele deducted from Benn in the sixth, who held the WBC belt, for striking the WBO champion, Eubank, below the belt too often. With the sanction, the revenge Benn so badly craved slipped away and Don King’s control of the winner could never be fulfilled.
It is from within the shadow of this gigantic collective memory that the 2022 bout between Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn, the sons of the famous pairing, was born. With huge natural difference in size, it was at least opportunistic by design and at worst merely a cash grab as both fighters had other avenues for progress toward the world titles they purported to want. Benn’s failed tests for banned substances, two of them, and suppressed until the brink of the fight, scuppered the pay day and damaged the family’s name too.
In the ashes of that fight, Eubank emerged with credit for his conduct, if criticism for the cynicism displayed in making the fight in the first place. His fight this weekend with Liam Smith is more difficult and against a man with deeper experience but still naturally smaller than Eubank, who has fought at Super-Middleweight at world-level.
Watch Dan Rafael and T.J. Rives preview Eubank Jr. vs. Liam Smith, off the Friday BetUS TV boxing show here,
So, opportunism remains if not as extreme as the proposed Benn encounter. For those of us who remember those famous nights in the 1990s, when at our most impressionable, there remains a compulsion to see Eubank the Junior box. Almost regardless of opponent. This is a truth promoters and broadcasters are evidently aware of.
A Pay Per View this fight should not be.
Nevertheless, nostalgia will swirl, with its faithful accomplice melancholy, and transport the willing back to those totemic encounters. Aged 33, Eubank appears increasingly unlikely to match the feats of his father. A man with an iron chin, and unshakeable self-belief, but one who held a world title but operated in satellite to the likes of Michael Nunn, James Toney and Roy Jones.
His career statistics are favourable by their absence, but his renown and the regard with which he is held in United Kingdom, are undimmed by those who saw him fight. A popularity that grew in the humility brought by defeat to Joe Calzaghe and Carl Thompson, the latter at Cruiserweight.
Eubank Jr presses on, a concocted narrative of a perpetually unresolved potential. He will acquire credibility in victory this weekend should he secure it, and there is a case to be made for Smith being the more qualified to win. But size is important, it is why there are weight classes in boxing after all. And the good big guy usually beats the good smaller guy.
The Eubank name has been his making, thrusting him into paydays and opportunities less famous fighters with more polished tools could not land. But it is also a benchmark others are not measured against. A paradox Eubank has acknowledged.
The best way to approach the conflict, is to embrace the nostalgia the music, the rope flip and the posturing and to recognise the facsimile before you will never quite reach the heights of his father.
But then, things, fighters, good times, they were always better in the old days.