Chris Eubank Jr turns 34 today. His father had been retired for two years when he reached the same age. His final world title win had arrived in his late 20s. It is the paradox of Eubank Jr that we still view him through the prism of his father and his potential to “live up” to the man they called ‘Simply The Best’. That “Junior” in his name means that we still view the younger Eubank as a prospect even as he nears the age where many boxers retire.
His father was one of a kind. The poise, the pronouncements, the ring entrances, the mainstream-snaring charisma. Put simply, Eubank Sr is one of the biggest superstars British boxing has ever produced. Tens of millions tuned in to his fights, peaking with his electric two-bout rivalry with perfect foil Nigel Benn.
Eubank has never quite found that opponent that pushed him into the stratosphere. Liam Smith, who he just got revenge over in a high-profile rematch, is perhaps his closest. While not coming close to the ubiquity of his father’s wars with ‘The Dark Destroyer’, his two bouts with the Scouse star have performed well by modern British standards.
Eubank hasn’t hidden from anyone either. His lack of a natural rival isn’t for the want of trying. At one stage it looked like Billy Joe Saunders would provide that foil. Their 2014 clash for the British, European and Commonwealth titles was won by Saunders on a split decision. It seemed a lock that one day they would go again with world titles on the line. However, they never rematched even when Saunders held global belts at middleweight and super middleweight.
Britain has always been blessed with great fighters around the 160-168lb weight classes. Eubank has fought his share of the modern era’s finest. Along with Saunders he has also engaged George Groves and James DeGale. Eubank lost to the former in a spirited effort and defeated the latter in perhaps his finest performance. But Groves and DeGale’s most iconic beef was always with each other. Both men would retire soon after their Eubank bouts, with DeGale never fighting again and Groves departing after losing to Callum Smith in his next fight.
The one rival Eubank has always coveted demonstrates his willingness to fight anyone and everyone. The 34-year-old has worked tirelessly for years to try and get Gennady Golovkin in the ring. The finest middleweight of his generation, ‘GGG’ is the one fight Eubank craves over any other. Even now, with Golovkin’s future uncertain after he vacated his world title belts, Eubank is still trying to make the scrap happen.
The one rival that could have defined Eubank’s career is perhaps the most obvious in some ways. Conor Benn, son of his father’s nemesis Nigel, has long been on a collision course with Eubank. The fight was even scheduled before a pre-fight anti-doping test found banned substance clomiphene in Benn’s system. He hasn’t fought since as he has attempted to clear his name.
The fight was ill-conceived to begin with. Benn has fought exclusively at welterweight throughout his career while Eubank is a middleweight who has boxed as high as super middleweight. Were their surnames not so inextricably linked, the match would never have been considered. With Benn appearing to take a banned substance in his quest to hit an agreed catchweight ten pounds above his highest scale, the fight was exposed as the farce it always promised to be.
Which leaves Eubank in an awkward position as he enters his 35th year. He has never won a world title, something that he will always be judged for. Does he seek one out before hanging up the boots? Or is it now about securing his future with the most lucrative fights possible?
Eubank’s post-Smith pronouncements were mixed in this regard. Eubank called out names as diverse as Benn, ‘GGG’ and Kell Brook. The latter would be a ridiculous bout to take considering ‘Special K’ is retired and peaked as a welterweight. The Benn fight is a loaded one full of reputational obstacles. ‘GGG’ would be great for his legacy but wouldn’t come with a belt.
Obviously titles aren’t the be-all-end-all of boxing. But they are the most reliable barometer of how success is measured. Would Eubank really be happy to retire with a mantle that holds two IBO titles and a WBA ‘interim’ bauble? By Junior’s age, Senior’s title-winning days were far behind him. But it is hard to shake the feeling there's still more to come from Chris Eubank Jr. He might be 34 but there is still something promising about a fighter who pointedly still refers to himself as ‘NextGen’.
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