REGARDLESS of how many trainers he employs, how many new styles he tries to implement, and how many different handbags he ingeniously turns into jackets, we now know, at the age of 33, what it is we are getting with Chris Eubank Jnr. It’s not his father, it’s not Roy Jones Jnr, and it’s not Terence Crawford. Rather, he is simply an amalgamation of his influences, with each forced through a blender with so much urgency and desperation that the end result naturally loses some of its strength in the process. This makes Eubank Jnr, in other words, effectively a dilution of all his influences, ingredients, and flavours. Yet even that, given the quality of these influences and the natural potency of his DNA, is still not necessarily a bad thing.
Indeed, watered down or not, Eubank Jnr continues to show signs of improvement, as was clear during Saturday’s (September 2) win over Liam Smith in Manchester. Improvements, it must be said, in a physical sense but also, and perhaps more importantly, a mental sense, too. For it could not have been easy for Eubank Jnr to chase revenge following a fourth-round stoppage loss in January, yet secure revenge is precisely what he did. Every bit as conclusive as Smith’s victory was first time around, Eubank Jnr unveiled new dimensions to his game on Saturday, including a vital ability to mix the two styles – aggressive swarmer and back-foot punch-picker – between which he has been stuck for much of his professional career. He also showed an improved left jab, as well a willingness to again let go of his right uppercut, a favourite punch of his from way back. This ensured Eubank Jnr had a fairly easy time of it with Smith, eventually stopping him in round 10, and would, moreover, have those who previously wrote the Brighton man off wondering if they had done so prematurely.
Not done yet, clearly, there are other big fights now in the offing for Eubank Jnr, 33-3 (24), this year and next. That may have always been the case, of course, on account of both his surname and his obsession with making money, yet there is a difference between selling yourself as a product or brand and chasing fights that can still enhance your career and legacy. By beating Liam Smith on Saturday, for instance, Eubank Jnr remains very much in the hunt for the latter. Which is to say, his destiny remains in his own hands and he now has a choice; one which will say a great deal about his own character and ambition, as well as the motives of various others whose form has been, let’s say, a little sketchy in recent times.
1) Conor Benn, 21-0 (14)
We may as well get it out of the way first, for sadly it shows no signs of going away anytime soon. More inevitable now, perhaps, than it has appeared at any other stage in their professional careers, this fight is going to happen, whether this year or next, and we must all be prepared for it. That is, we must be prepared to listen to the nonsense being spouted by the fighters and the promoters involved, and we must be prepared to gloss over what happened last October, when they all tried to carry on with a fight despite knowing one of the two fighters had failed a performance-enhancing drug test, and we must also be prepared for the smug smiles, and the so-called redemption arc, and the impassioned speeches at various press conferences in which no real questions will ever be asked. Get your head around all that and I’m sure, such is the way of these things, all will be fine. Yet even if it all does turn out to be all right on the night, and even if the fight passes without incident and entertains the bloodthirsty, nothing can conceal or cover the fact that this fight, regardless of when it happens, highlights boxing’s issues on an international stage rather than does anything to help us solve or forget them.
2) Liam Smith, 33-4-1 (20)
Oddly, despite Saturday’s fight being as conclusive as the first, albeit with a different winner, there remains interest in a third fight purely on the basis of the uncertainty that has followed both fights like a starving dog. In fight one, of course, the uncertainty had to do with the stray elbow with which Smith caught Eubank Jnr moments before stopping him, whereas on Saturday the uncertainty had more to do with Smith’s physical condition, notably the health of his ankles, which he appeared to roll early on. This, rightly or wrongly, took away some of the shine from Eubank Jnr’s otherwise excellent display and, despite the anticlimactic nature of their rematch, does leave the door ajar for them to settle the score in a third encounter. As for whether that is something Eubank Jnr would now want is anyone’s guess, however. Seemingly hunting for bigger names, the kind he mentioned post-fight on Saturday, there is a sense he now sees Smith as being very much in his past and no longer a name with whom he can make the kind of money he so clearly wants to be making at this late stage in his career.
3) Gennadiy Golovkin, 42-2-1 (37)
A target for Eubank Jnr for a while now, Kazakhstan’s Gennadiy Golovkin is someone who, at 41, appears to have been cooked just enough for Eubank Jnr to actively call him out with the kind of conviction his previous callout attempts, for obvious reasons, lacked. Back then, at a time when the fearsome Golovkin was on top and Eubank Jnr was still trying to work out his own identity, the thought of the two men sharing a ring would have been a terrifying one to comprehend. Indeed, one suspects Eubank Jnr, had the fight happened when it was mooted, would have fared no better than Kell Brook (stopped brutally by Golovkin in five rounds), whom in a sense took Eubank Jnr’s chance when he dilly-dallied and didn’t show up. Now, however, things have all changed. Now Golovkin has one foot in retirement and, as shown last year against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, is neither the fighter of old nor has many rounds left in him. It would, for that reason alone, then, be rather depressing to see him drop down to Eubank Jnr’s level in order for Eubank Jnr to essentially fulfil a fantasy he should have by now left behind.
4) Kell Brook, 40-3 (28)
Not unlike a potential Golovkin fight, this one between Eubank Jnr and Kell Brook would make sense only because of the names involved and would, should it happen, require people having to ignore context and past form. For there can be no arguing, unfortunately, that Kell Brook, at 37, is nowhere near his athletic prime, nor should be encouraged to end his retirement and return to the boxing ring. His problems, which have been well-documented, will not be solved by coming out of retirement or securing one final payday. Instead, they will merely be arrested, delayed; ready to return with gusto at a later date. What is more, the last thing someone like Kell Brook needs is a high-profile and painfully public defeat against someone like Eubank Jnr, particularly when he is for now able to look back on his last pro fight – a stoppage of great rival Amir Khan in 2022 – and smile to himself.
5) Josh Kelly, 14-1-1 (7)
For so long the talk was of Josh Kelly and Conor Benn being on a collision course only for that to all change, or become derailed, once Kelly suffered his first pro loss (against David Avanesyan in 2021) and Conor Benn had his boxing licence revoked. Now, though, with Kelly back in the saddle and showing signs of improvement, the talk of him fighting Benn has started up again. As too has the talk of him fighting Chris Eubank Jnr, someone who, by virtue of him entertaining a fight against Conor Benn, would surely have no issues boxing Kelly, who now campaigns at super-welterweight (where he held the British title). Stylistically, it’s true, it could be a messy one, with both men lovers of posturing and feinting and flurries fuelled more by fast-twitch muscle fibres and nervous energy than bone-crunching power or intent. Yet if Eubank Jnr is looking to buck the trend of beating over-the-hill opponents a little too late, he could do far worse than fighting Kelly, 29, and prove once and for all that he has no fear of mixing it with men whose speed and athleticism can match his own.