Chris Eubank Jr. takes on Liam Williams in the year’s first big domestic dust-up next month at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. It’s an enticing battle for sure, fuelled by bad blood and social media bile. The bout was supposed to take place last year, and the extra wait seems to have stoked the fires of enmity on both sides of the equation. But when the peacocking Eubank Jr. first emerged, beating his initial 18-0 opponents with no shortage of his father’s borrowed swagger, we had perhaps expected his 34th fight to be something more glamorous. Most experts suspected that by 32 years old, ‘Next Gen’ would be a world champion.
Ask the son of the great Chris Eubank Sr. and he will tell you that he has been there and done that. The Hove man won the IBO super middleweight championship in 2017, after a tenth-round TKO win over Ronald Quinlan. The IBO are considered a lesser organisation, and few take their claim to sanction a legitimate world title seriously. Eubank Jr. has been mocked in the past for asserting otherwise by both the public and opponents, such as James DeGale, former champion of the widely-recognised IBF. The attempts to belittle Eubank’s two reigns as an IBO boss haven’t come from cruelty, but from a common belief that we all expected him to have held one of the true world belts by now.
‘Next Gen’ is a case of belated potential that is becoming increasingly common in sport. It is the same pervading idea behind Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard long being seen as a promising youngster, even as he nears his 30th birthday. Eubank Jr. has been tipped as a future world champion for so long that even at 32, he is seen as a fighter for the future. But the future has arrived now, and Williams will represent the first fight of a year that Eubank Jr. needs to finish with a world championship in his possession.
The shadow of his father is a long one. Chris Eubank Sr. is one of the greatest fighters to ever step into a British ring. The fact the elder Eubank was 24 when he won a first world title does shine a spotlight on his son’s predicament. Another disconcerting tidbit is the reality that Eubank Sr. was retired by 32, an age at which his son is still trying to make a permanent mark on his sport. Every fighter develops differently, and these numbers are akin to a coincidence in a wider context. But they speak to the expectation and untold pressures of a fighter with a famous name to live up to.
Chances have arrived before for Eubank Jr. His 19th fight came against British, European and Commonwealth middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. ‘Next Gen’ started that bout slowly, and was well behind on the cards by the time he rallied impressively late on. Eubank Jr. was on the wrong end of a split decision, and could only watch as his conqueror moved on to capture two world titles. The only other loss on his record came in his sole shot at a legitimate world title, when he met WBA ruler George Groves in 2018. The unanimous points defeat carries no shame, with ‘Saint George’ being one of this country’s premiere fighters of recent years. But it is a defeat for which Eubank Jr. is keen to atone.
He looks likely to get his chance. Liam Williams is a good opponent, and the fight sells itself. British boxing has long thrived on personal grudges, and this bitter rivalry should make for 2022’s first banner night of domestic ring action. The bout is a must-win for Eubank, considering the fact Williams has always been found out in world class company. His three losses came at the hands of former world champion Liam Smith (twice), and current WBO boss Demetrius Andrade. Eubank, ranked first by the WBA and second by the WBC, really should be winning this enticing clash. If he does, he should then conclusively put domestic level behind him.
Time is of the essence. Eubank Jr. is nearing the age where skills begin to wane, and the body stops doing what you tell it to in the ring. The next three or four years are crucial, they are his chance to enjoy a monumental prime at the top of his sport. Chris Eubank Jr. has often seemed pre-destined to wear a world title belt, but boxing owes nothing to anyone. ‘Next Gen’ will have to enjoy the best year of his career in order to realise the promise observers have long seen in him. That journey starts next month against Liam Williams. It will be fascinating to see where that journey ends.
*18+ | BeGambleAware