THE enthralling career of Chris Eubank Jnr could end this weekend in the same city that it began. In November 2011, on the undercard of Tyson Fury-Neven Pajkic at Event City in Manchester, the 22-year-old son of a superstar walked to the ring so drunk on machismo it should be no surprise that he’s barely sobered up since.
His father peacocked alongside him, trainer Ronnie Davies looked suitably surly and the sense of nostalgia amid the boos and cheers was hard to resist, particularly when Junior hurdled the top rope and furiously shadow boxed upon landing. Emblazoned on gold trunks was that magnetic surname and, with nostrils flared and arms flexed, he stared coldly at the soon-to-be outclassed Kiril Psonko.
With that one act, Eubank Jnr had captured the sport’s attention in a way that very few can. There was the relationship with his world-famous father (the deep complexities of which remain to this day), his fighting style, his rampaging confidence and the promises that came with it. More than anything, we wanted to know if he could really fight.
Some onlookers were believers from the get-go. But most believed, and still believe, that Junior was more style than substance. What followed that debut was a mission, not only to get to the top, but to convince the boxing industry that he was a top-class fighter on merit alone.
Twelve eventful years later, that mission is at crisis point when he tackles Liverpool’s Liam Smith, a fighter who just eight months ago tore seismic holes in Eubank’s reputation when he stopped the Brightonian in just four rounds. That Smith won should not be deemed an upset, but that he did so via stoppage, leaving Eubank dazed, confused and on rubbery legs in the process, was unquestionably a shock.
Eubank has always believed in himself. His confidence has at times been startling, even after points losses to Billy Joe Saunders in 2014 and George Groves four years later. But even Eubank, on the surface still as cocksure as ever, will struggle to compute what happened in January this year. Because if plenty still doubted his ability at the highest level prior to that contest, nobody could ever have questioned his punch resistance. Now that quality hangs precariously, too. Even he, deep down, will be concerned that it no longer exists. Should it fail him inside the Manchester Arena on Saturday night, a career once turbo-charged by potential and intrigue will surely splutter to a halt.
The finish to fight one was so clinical, in fact, if it weren’t for Eubank’s reputation for durability – and therefore the possibility the stumble was a fluke or aberration – there would be no need, none whatsoever, for a return. For example, if Smith, 33-3-1 (20), had bashed up Denzel Bentley in four rounds in the same fashion, the appetite for a sequel simply would not exist, irrespective of clauses in contracts.
There are other potential reasons for Eubank’s poor form, of course. Whispers from inside that first camp suggest that Chris, 32-3 (23), was weight-drained after getting down to 157lbs for the aborted fight with Conor Benn three months before. Some have also suggested that Eubank’s desire is flailing, that his training was not geared to high-level combat. The split from his father, for so long the figure he sought to impress, must have weighed heavily on his mind as well.
Today, he denies there were any problems. Eubank’s memory of a contest that was nip and tuck before his collapse is predictably skewed. And for Eubank to have any chance of being Eubank again, the bulletproof, swaggering showman, he likely feels it imperative that he doesn’t dwell on the truth.
“I was dominating the fight so I can’t be disappointed,” Eubank told Boxing News. “I just switched off. I got too complacent, I got caught and I paid the price, but before that I was dominant.”
But to gain revenge, Eubank could do worse than study the mistakes he was making from the start. Within 20 seconds of the opening bell, Eubank, hands by his side, pulled up quickly with his unguarded chin in the air. Eubank’s belief that he was “dominant” can only have come from his memories of the third round when it did appear he was getting on top. His sudden and unbecoming collapse in the fourth, when he was pinned in a corner and then drilled to the deck – a left uppercut and trailing hook doing the damage – must surely be a concern.
“No. If I got battered for three rounds and then knocked out in the fourth then, yes, I’d have reevaluate myself as a fighter,” he said before rejecting the notion that once a fighter’s punch resistance has gone, it’s gone forever. “When you’re dominant for three rounds and then you get caught, you have to understand it’s part of the game.”
Smith’s not convinced. “He’s delusional, he always has been,” the 35-year-old told BN. “He hasn’t got much [evidence] to back his story. Even in the fight, he’s saying he dominated the fight, that he hit me with six or seven uppercuts. Well, I hit you with one uppercut, Chris, and your head nearly came off your neck. The next shot after the uppercut put you on your backside. So, if you hit me with six or seven uppercuts and I never budged, you want to be worried. It’s just Chris being Chris.”
Chris being Chris was once part of the charm. He fed from being Chris. He got high from being Chris. Chris being Chris, as he barely acknowledged his father in the gym, as he snorted at sparring partners and didn’t listen to a word Ronnie Davies was telling him, was indeed a sight to behold. Today, however, one wonders if Chris being Chris – that inability to take instruction and his belief that he didn’t need to – is about to spectacularly backfire now that his reactions are fading and those iron whiskers have been plucked from his chin.
“He’s delusional,” said Smith. “He always has been.”
Roy Jones Jnr seemed to be just what he needed when they hooked up in 2020. In Jones, Eubank recognised befitting greatness. At last, it was someone he seemed to genuinely respect. There was patience evident in Eubank’s game during subsequent victories over Marcus Morrison, Wanik Awdijan and Liam Williams. And in a nod to Eubank’s chances in this return, that points victory over Williams – as recent as February 2022 – was among the most complete showings of his entire career. To beat Smith, he will need plenty of what he used to bamboozle and outpoint Williams in Cardiff.
Jones is no longer part of the team, however. In comes Brian ‘BoMac’ McIntyre, Terence Crawford’s trainer. Two more figures who Eubank likely feels are worthy of his attention. Yet the relationship began just four weeks ago. “I know what I have to do in this fight,” Eubank explained. “Whether I had a trainer or not, I’d still have the same mindset and the same approach. I need someone to help me work on things, get me fit, get me in the right mental state, to put the right game plan together, to help me to do what I want to do.”
Smith smirked when asked what McIntyre can bring to the equation. “I like him [McIntyre] as a person and he’s probably a very good coach too but it doesn’t mean to say he’s a very good coach for Chris,” he said. “He’s had good coaches in the past and he couldn’t gel with any of them. His ego is too big. Regardless of anything, what can they learn him in four weeks? You can’t learn anything from a new coach in four weeks.”
That we’ve not focused on Smith too deeply in this preview should not be seen as a slight. Unlike Eubank, with Smith we generally know what we’re going to get. There is stability behind the scenes with Joe McNally, Declan Rourke and his band of brothers. Throughout his career, he’s prepared diligently and technically, he does barely anything wrong. Far from cocky he’s nonetheless always exuded self-belief and now, after scoring the biggest and best win of his long career, he comes armed with the knowledge that he can not only hit Eubank, he can knock him out.
Yet the outcome is far from a certainty. Some of what Eubank says about the first encounter is true. He was having success, his uppercut was landing, his jab was on target. It’s not difficult to envision Eubank winning by employing similar tactics to those that were working in round three, while resisting the urge to backpedal to the ropes and instead hold centre ring. And should he do so, whether winning on points or forcing a stoppage in the mid-to-late rounds, then the Eubank rollercoaster will regain an awful lot of momentum.
It’s tempting to pick that result, too. But perhaps that temptation is purely a consequence of everything we’ve seen and heard since that moment he walked to the ring in 2011. Maybe it’s even born of a subconscious desire, after spending so long invested in the journey and not wanting it to end, for some of those old promises to at last ring true. However, though Eubank has always defied common sense in many ways, it is now wise to draw from common sense when calling this fight. And given the finish of their first encounter, Junior’s history against technically sound boxers who are not in any way overawed by his nature, and that constant sense of chaos in the background, the conclusion is that Smith will win again. How he does it, like every single prediction we ever make, is no more than educated guesswork, but Smith winning convincingly on points seems a decent bet.
“He could have been a tremendous fighter,” Eubank Snr recently said of his son. “He electrified me when watching him. But he doesn’t listen. And when you don’t listen, you have to feel.”
THE VERDICT – This could be the end of the line for the enigmatic Eubank Jnr.
Heffron is on the crest of a wave while Cullen is fighting for survival
THE 12-rounder between Oldham’s Mark Heffron and Little Lever’s Jack Cullen for the former’s British super-middleweight title should be keenly fought. Heffron, who beat Lennox Clarke in five rounds to win the belt last summer, is enjoying something of a resurgence. Cullen, however, is need of a victory to keep his career alive.
Since losing to Denzel Bentley in November 2020, Heffron has won four in a row. In the same timeframe, the 6ft 3ins challenger – who will enjoy advantages in height and reach – is 3-2 but he has lost twice in step-up bouts against Kevin Lele Sadjo (rsf 6) and Diego Pacheco (rsf 4). The damaging nature of those defeats are likely to have affected his confidence.
Cullen is solid at this level, however. He can make life difficult for the champion but we expect Heffron to have found his range by the midway point and to force a stoppage late on.
Boy wonder Adam Azim, 8-0 (6), takes on Ukraine’s decent Aram Faniian, 23-1 (5) over 10 rounds at super-lightweight. Slough’s Azim, out of action since injuring his hand during a points win over Santos Reyes in February, should be favoured to rediscover his killer instinct and win inside schedule.
The last time Coinsbrough’s Dave Allen, 21-5-2 (18), encountered an Olympic medallist he ended up in hospital. Though he’s won four since that loss to David Price, all in poor company, the leap to Frazer Clarke, 7-0 (5), is a concerning one.
Allen is frighteningly gutsy and tough. This could go the full route but a mercy stoppage, as it becomes clear that Allen is in over his head, is the pick.
Colorado Springs’ Mikaela Mayer, 18-1 (5), should be far too good for Italy’s 38-year-old Silvia Bortot, 11-2 (3).