Sometimes a boxer will produce his very best work when his back is against the wall. Chris Eubank Sr certainly did in a Birmingham ring way back in 1990. Against the fearsome Nigel Benn, the fabled ‘Dark Destroyer’ many thought the stylish ‘Simply The Best’ would get the beating of his life. He basically did. But such was the resilience and brilliance he showed in front of a baying mob at the NEC Arena, Eubank was able to emerge as a ninth-round knockout victor and as the WBO middleweight champion of the world.
Now the son of the great man faces similar adversity. Chris Eubank Jr goes back into the ring with Liam Smith, having lost to the Liverpudlian by fourth-round knockout back in January. It is a revenge mission for the man they call ‘Next Gen’, as well as a last chance to make good on the promise he has always hinted at.
Eubank has enjoyed the benefits of his famous name. Thrust into the limelight right from the moment he turned pro, the enigmatic and often bizarre presence of his father alongside him turned heads in those early days. Who can forget Senior, in a sleeveless waistcoat and tie no less, coming into the ring and simply staring at Junior between rounds of his sixth-stanza TKO win over Stepan Horvath in 2014?
Senior has loosened his grip as time has gone on. To his credit, Junior showed that the training wheels were no longer needed. While a decision defeat to future world champion Billy Joe Saunders caused concern, Eubank fought back well to rebuild. He captured the WBA interim middleweight title, British middleweight title and IBO super middleweight belt. The young up-and-comer also scored statement wins over Arthur Abraham and Avni Yildirim.
This immense run of form earned Eubank a shot at WBA super middleweight champion George Groves as part of the World Boxing Super Series. Eubank lost a dramatic, chaotic fight but the Manchester crowd who had booed his entrance cheered his spirited efforts. In defeat, the fighter had proved he belonged at world title level for reasons beyond his iconic surname.
Six wins on the trot followed, crystallising Eubank’s place on the world stage. Former world champion James DeGale was well beaten, as was ex-interim boss Matt Korobov and domestic rival Liam Williams. It finally felt like Eubank had the momentum that would carry him to that long-awaited world title. Then Liam Smith happened.
‘Beefy’ is a top class fighter in his own right, a former light middleweight world champion no less. But Eubank was expected to be a level above the Scouser. The bout was seen as a final big-money domestic scrap before Eubank took his place on the world throne. But four frenetic rounds and one surprising stoppage later, Eubank’s career had been turned upside down.
In a way, Eubank is fortunate to secure this rematch. An early stoppage defeat isn’t usually enough to secure another go at your conqueror. But given the lucrative nature of their first bout both in the arena and on pay-per-view, where it garnered over 200,000 buys, we are all set for a Eubank revenge mission.
In his own mind, Eubank will feel this rematch is only fair. After all, he feels Smith struck him with an elbow during the closing salvo that brought about the stoppage. But even ignoring that controversial detail, a rematch is what Eubank needs to put the train back on the track. His fading world championship future depends on it. A dominant win over Smith is needed if ‘Next Gen’ has any hope of emulating his legendary father and lifting a world belt.
Getting that win is another matter. Smith was superb last time out, fighting like a man possessed. But Eubank did have successes early in their January bout and it is those he must look to build upon. His natural size advantage and slick boxing skills are a necessity, lest he be drawn into another firefight. Eubank must keep his cool and outbox Smith here. In the past he has been criticised for being safety-first and passive but a little of that technicality-over-brutality approach would be just the ticket here.
Eubank was always likely to be judged against his father. Considering Chris Eubank Sr is one of Britain’s greatest ever fighters, it was always a comparison he was unlikely to win. Now his focus must fall squarely on avenging the Smith defeat. To do so would open the doors to the last chance saloon, where a world title shot could well await. A defeat would likely spell the end to a fight career that, while not scaling the very heights of the sport, has been nothing short of compelling.
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