Chris Eubank Jr: Can ego be put aside in order to allow him to break out of his father’s shadow?

Boxing gloves
Chris Eubank Jr will now actually throw a right hand in the first six rounds of important fights after revolutionary advice from his new trainer

You’re halfway through the biggest fight of your life and being told by your father, who is physically in your corner, that you need to step it up or you’re going to lose the fight. Most fighters would soak the information in like an over sized sponge in attempt to try and turn the tide yet Chris Eubank Jr isn’t most fighters. His father isn’t his trainer for one, instead playing more of a mentor role, stepping in only when he feels it’s necessary. Dad incidentally also happens to be one of the famous fighters in British boxing history, both in and out of the ring. Many would assume that having such a presence in your team can only be a good thing yet if you look ‘Juniors’’ career so far it’s clear that he may be picking up more bad habits than good.

After having what essentially now looks like eighteen tune up fights, Eubank Jr was thrown into the spotlight when he become part of a good old social media tear up with fellow Brit Billy Joe Saunders. Both men took full advantage of platforms such as the ever popular YouTube channel ‘IFL TV’ to sling insults at each other in order to build up a potential showdown for Saunders’ British, European and Commonwealth middleweight belts. And after months of back and forth the fight finally took place in November 2014 at The Excel in London.

Unfortunately, like so often with grudge type fights that are hyped to death (the recent ‘British Beef’ contest between Lawerence Okolie and Isaac Chamberlain springs to mind) the build up far eclipsed the actual fight, which was underwhelming to say the least. Particularly from Eubank Jr’s side, after promising so much before the first bell (and convincingly so) his performance on the night can be kindly described as bang average. Saunders, though not on fire himself, was savvy enough to negate his opponent for long periods of the bout and was victorious on points despite a late Eubank Jr rally.

In doing so Saunders had partially burst the hype bubble that was Chris Eubank Jr. Though in the post fight interviews Eubank Jr began to showcase an ego that seemed almost impenetrable by stating that he had won the fight. His argument didn’t really have a leg to stand on yet it was evident that he genuinely believed in what he was saying, something that has been a recurring pattern of behaviour throughout his career. Despite his brashness, after the Saunders defeat, Eubank Jr had to reroute his way to the top and in his 25th professional fight decided to move up to super middleweight to challenge the Australian world title holder Renold Quinlan for his IBO belt. Despite some fans pointing out that Eubank Jr was challenging one of the weaker title holders in the division it still handed him to an opportunity to fight for a world title on a pay-per-view stage, something that he hadn’t managed to get anywhere near in his career thus far.

Eubank Jr dominated Quinlan before stopping him in the tenth to gain world champ status A childhood dream realised no doubt, though in truth there was a slightly hollow feel to the victory. The loss to Saunders, thirty months previous had been a far sterner test than defeating the Australian Quinlan to capture the IBO super middleweight world title (fittingly, Quinlan was recently blitzed in 70 seconds by Joshua Buatsi). So despite now having gained a foothold on the world stage, Eubank Jr still had it all to prove to the majority of the boxing world. This fact (and the chance of a huge payday) perhaps pushed him to take part in the Super Middleweight World Boxing Super Series alongside six other competitors including fellow Brits Callum Smith and WBA Super Middleweight champ George Groves. This was clearly the opportunity that Eubank Jr had been waiting for as he now had the stage to show the world that he was the real deal beyond his impressive Snapchat and Instagram training videos.

And the Brighton native’s quest for world recognition started well as he dominated Avni Yildirim in their quarter final bout before viciously knocking him out with a left hand that started to turn a few heads in his direction. Eubank Jr’s timely lean and mean performance was needed after a series of uninspiring ones. Now though, with long time rival George Groves also winning his first bout, the second acid of Eubank Jr’s career was about to come, an all British showdown with two world titles on the line in front of a worldwide audience. Of course Eubank Jr, as usual said all the right things in the build up to the fight yet his more experienced opponent seemed deadly sure that Eubank Jr’s bark was a large degree worse than his bite.

And after twelve rounds of mainly scrappy action that culminated in a highly dramatic finish where Groves just about managed to hold off a wildly swinging Eubank for a comfortable points win after dislocating his shoulder in the final round, it was hard to argue with Groves stinging pre-fight assessment of his opponent. Once again Eubank Jr had not really turned up in a fight that was supposed to propel him to the kind of level both his pre-fight chatter and the potential shown during his career had promised.

Instead, similarly to the Billy Joe Saunders fight of three and a half years previous, Eubank barely threw a meaningful punch in the first half of the fight. He claimed afterwards this was partly due to a nasty cut sustained after a clash of heads in the third, yet in truth it was clear that Eubank didn’t mentally possess a good enough game plan on how to break a world level opponent down. Again naively assuming that his superior levels of athleticism and work rate would be sufficient to win out. It was only when his opponent started to tire that he grew into the fight but by then it was simply too little too late when it came to the judges’ scorecards.

Eubank Jr’s mainly tepid performance was panned both within and outside the boxing world, with Nazeem Hamed famously ranting on ITV Box Office about how he should retire if this is how Eubank Jr is going to approach big fights (Eubank has since joked that Hamed must have had a bet on him to win to be so upset). Despite calls for Eubank Jr to retire at the age of twenty-eight being somewhat ridiculous, there was a defined cloud of frustration surrounding his career following the Groves fight. Without a full time trainer (Eubank maintained that Ronnie Davies in the corner along with his father simply oversee his career) many claimed that unless Eubank Jr changed that puzzling fact along with a few others, that his career could very well be over when it came to world level showdowns.

Whether or not Eubank Jr listened to intense criticism he received after the Groves fight or not (Davies recently claimed that ‘Junior’ doesn’t really listen to instructions and essentially does what he wants once the first bell rings) it seems he has decided that it is time for a change in approach. As he stated last week that for the first time in his life he finally has that much needed around-the-clock trainer in his camp in the form of Team Mayweather Gym trainer Nate Vasquez. This seemingly positive shift in approach and mindset has no doubt coincided with the fact, that after only fighting once since the Groves defeat last February, Eubank Jr will face off with another old foe (there’s a healthy queue of those) in the form of James DeGale. Which is already being classically touted as a fight that neither man can afford to lose as DeGale himself will be eager to prove he is not a spent force after seeing his career stagnate in the past couple of years in the midst of the shock loss of his IBF super-middle title to Caleb Truax

Though the fight, in a world of Joshuas, Furys and Canelos, may fly under the general public’s radar somewhat it is a match up that should actually please fans, as cliches aside, it is indeed a fight that neither man afford to lose (lose badly anyway) if they are be taken seriously at world level again. Many feel, at the age of thirty two, that DeGale’s career clock is ticking and in many senses he has much to prove as his opponent. Yet for Eubank Jr, who continues to be an increasingly divisive figure in the boxing community, there’s more on the line than just getting the W. If the Groves fight was vital to win in terms of establishing his own legacy outside of the remits of his father’s shadow, then this fight is the definition of must win. And perhaps must win well.

When reviewing Eubank Jr’s career to this point many will infer that that may well be beyond him yet many of the same critics would also concede that if he can adjust his attitude towards fight preparation, then there is a truly world class fighter in there somewhere (Eubank’s hand speed and granite chin are world class attributes). Yet even with a full time trainer and an apparent admittance of significant past mistakes, you feel that Eubank Jr will really have to turn a corner mentally in order to become the fighter he could be, rather than trying to be fighter his father was.

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