Right down to the blue-framed glasses and Savile Row hauteur, Chris Eubank Snr is still putting on a show. There he stood, one foot higher than the other on the ringside steps, both hands resting on the elevated knee as if he were looking out to sea composing a stanza.
Inside the ring the son he described as the most dangerous in boxing was negotiating one of life’s lessons in the most unforgiving arena in sport. Eubank Jnr displayed all the characteristics of the father: rampant narcissism, fanatical commitment, a soldier’s heart and a sense of occasion. That’s a dangerous bundle when you vault across the ropes anchored to a fundamental deficit – inexperience.
It was some night in the East End of London, the ExCel arena occupying a site that has witnessed all of human life, a waterfront crucible in which men great and small have forged an existence for more than 1,000 years, and shaped a great city with their endeavours.
Boxing slips easily into parable, offering in an hour of sound and fury a microcosm of what it is to succeed and to fail in life. And a lesson was duly handed down. The capacity of the son to step outside the hubristic bubble that surrounds him will determine how far he might travel along the road conquered by the father. There is some way to go, on Saturday’s evidence.
Billy Joe Saunders left the ring as he entered it, with belts intact. “And still…” are among the sweetest words a boxer will ever hear, just after “And the new…” Next up for the British, Commonwealth and European middleweight champion is a crack at the WBO crown.
Saunders, a traveller from Hatfield, has visceral combat in his veins too, the great grandson of bare-knuckle bruiser Absolom Beeney, king of the early 20th-century fairgrounds. Saunders polished that heritage in a formal setting and was good enough as an amateur to qualify for the 2008 Olympics at the barely legal age of 18. That he did not progress beyond the second round in Beijing cannot be held against him. He brought the hard experience of qualifying via elite multi-nation events, plus an unblemished record of 20 pro fights, into the ring on Saturday night.
Eubank Jnr brought a golden narrative threaded around the dangerous idea that he is somehow special, unique, irresistible, destined to succeed by virtue of the preordained zeitgeist that courses through him. Dad clearly believes this, too. How else could he stand as if in repose, stroking his chin, while his boy was being bashed about the ears by the superior technician? Thus junior and senior are boxed in by the same fallacy.
Of course, they now see a first career defeat as part of the journey. It is not the loss, but how you respond that counts, etc. Though few would argue with that, the wisdom it expresses will not confer any benefit unless they detach themselves from the supremacist vision that binds them.
Eubank Jnr walked to the ring with full plume of feathers spread wide. The lock-jawed pose on the ring apron before vaulting the ropes in the manner of the old man was pure theatre. Eubank Snr has taken enthusiastically to the role of legendary father. He passed on the vault for fear of damaging his ox-blood daisy roots. Instead he nipped through the ropes in practised fashion, the cut of his navy blue suit accommodating the move without a hitch.
The audience, a rum demographic all its own, was fully engaged. The male of the species in this environment is a curious beast, an overly muscled creature with a tough-guy complex at one end of the spectrum and the overly groomed dandy at the other. Threaded eyebrow meets latissimus dorsi. Somewhere in the middle, sitting at ringside next to the obligatory blonde, was Spencer Matthews, that peerless chump of Made in Chelsea infamy.
This is the lure of the Eubanks. They draw a crowd. But it takes more than a menacing pose to turn the blood of Absolom Beeney’s fighting line to stone. Saunders must have been laughing inside. He boxed the hind legs off his beautiful opponent for five rounds. At the end of the first Eubank spun histrionically to flick the death stare at Saunders before assuming his stool.
At the end of the second there was another choreographed exchange in the centre of the ring. By the middle rounds all that display had been knocked out of Chris the younger and the elder. Dad had taken to clapping his hands furiously, as if to trigger a schooled response. At other times he would whistle as if hailing a cab, all that grandeur reduced to coarse ringside exhortations. And all to no avail.
Eubank Jnr simply lacked the miles under the belt. He did not have the technical tools to resist the finer combinations of Saunders or inflict one-punch damage on an endlessly moving target. Knocking people over in sparring is no match for testing your mettle in the middle against an opponent who wants to win every bit as much as you do.
The better man won. It is for Eubank to accept why that was the case and respond accordingly. He can keep the affectations if he wants but he must understand that they do not earn him a point in the ring, or respect. What he did show in spades was the heart that underpinned his father’s successes. There is no quit in him.
The final round of unremitting effort, wringing from his being the last drops of energy and strength in order that he might advance, did him great credit. Saunders met fire with fire and ice, edging a split decision courtesy of a clear head as well a noble heart.Reuse content