Chris Eubank Jr. vs Liam Smith: Junior’s journey from villain to hero needs similar in-ring transformation


Very few winners emerged from the grim spectacle that unfolded as Chris Eubank Jr. and Conor Benn’s proposed superfight last October collapsed.

During fight week, it emerged Benn had tested positive for a banned substance. It subsequently came to light that he failed two tests for clomifene, which can be used to boost testosterone levels in men and is banned in and out of competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Benn has repeatedly protested his innocence and posted to Instagram this week to once again insist that he will be cleared.

Nevertheless, the reputational damage from the whole episode is clear for the 26-year-old, who was on a path as a golden boy to emulate the exploits of his father and Chris Eubank Sr.’s old rival Nigel Benn — a British boxing icon.

The British Boxing Board of Control and promoters Matchroom Boxing and Sauerland were also criticised at various points regarding what they knew, when they knew it and why certain details were and weren’t made public.

In fact, there was probably only one winner from a bleak episode for professional boxing. Chris Eubank Jr. had never been so popular.

WATCH: Chris Eubank Jr. vs. Liam Smith on DAZN (only in US, CA, JP and DACH)

Having assumed his father’s old role of pantomime villain and provocateur, the public view of Eubank Jr. did a hasty 180 as the most lucrative night of his career collapsed.

He conducted himself with dignity when it would have been easy to sling mud at Benn — their acerbic back-and-forth has since resumed — and made his contracted catchweight even when there was no need to deplete his body anymore. This was perhaps a calculated move, to look like the gallant man who was a slave to the regulations even after his opponent had been ruled out for presumed malpractice.

Since signing to fight former WBO super-welterweight champion Liam Smith in an alternative domestic pay-per-view barnburner this weekend, Eubank Jr. has brought plenty of the familiar preening arrogance to the table.

That appears to have done enough to irritate Smith but, when he steps out at the Manchester Arena, there are likely to be just as many cheers as boos, if not more. It marks the latest twist in a career that has been full of intrigue but still lacks fulfilment.

When did Chris Eubank Jr. make his boxing debut?

World title talk has followed Eubank Jr. around from the very start of his professional career, which began amid plenty of intrigue.

Whereas Nigel Benn was quickly keen to leave Conor to his own devices during his early days as a pro, you could not move for Chris Eubank Sr. when his son first punched for pay on November 12, 2011, stopping the pacifistic Kirilas Psonko in the fourth round of six.

“We have a livewire,” Eubank Sr. said afterwards, theatrically enunciating the latter word into two distinct parts. “He has world-title potential.”

It had been a bizarre occasion, which was only partly as a result of the elder Eubank’s presence but very much to his liking. Chris Jr. was boxing on a Tyson Fury undercard at Event City in Manchester.

Fury was still four years out from scaling the heights of the heavyweight division and the notion of him dethroning Wladimir Klitschko with such eventual ease seemed fanciful as dutiful Canadian pug Neven Pajkic dumped him on the seat of his pants with a winging overhand right in round two before being stopped in the next session.

MORE: Chris Eubank Jr. vs Liam Smith date, start time, odds, schedule & card

It was something of a homecoming for the Gypsy King, who was fighting in Manchester for the first time as a professional. From the moment he was plonked on the canvas until he rallied to victory, chunks of an extended entourage of Fury’s friends and family were so animated it felt like they wanted to hop in the ring and help their man.

Plenty of them carried the party on from the back of a rowdy post-fight press conference with disaster averted. Midway through, Eubank Sr. swanned in to hold court in an impeccably tailored coat alongside his son. He does incongruous better than pretty much any other human and relished an audience hanging off his every word.

“I cannot find any faults or flaws,” he said of Chris Jr., who ringwalked alongside his father to the older man’s old theme of ‘Simply the Best’ by Tina Turner before mimicking his jump over the top rope to enter the ring.

“He is far more advanced than he should be for the experience,” Eubank added. “Any father wants his son to be better than he was. This is something I truly pray for.”

In the decade since, by any reasonable measure, such a passing of the family torch has not occurred. Chris Eubank Jr. has surpassed his father in age as a professional fighter and very little else.

MORE: Chris Eubank Jr. professional record, titles, knockout ratio and best wins

Has Chris Eubank Jr. won a world title?

Aside from some knowingly shared mannerisms, Eubank Jr. shares other traits with his father the fighter. He has a very good chin, is happy to guts things out in the trenches and does so with an insatiable work rate. Chris Sr.’s rambling about a shared “Warrior’s Code” are not entirely misplaced.

They’ve also both been known to coast and underwhelm when the opposition is not the most challenging. When the man in the other corner was a step up in class, like Nigel Benn, or the adversity looked insurmountable, as in his tragic second fight with Michael Watson, Eubank the elder tended to find extra reserves to prevail.

His son has lost the two most challenging fights of his career, battling to the final bell against Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, having been outclassed for too long in both contests.

The showdown with bitter rival Saunders was for the British, Commonwealth and European middleweight titles in November 2014, coming before the Beijing Olympian went on to become a two-weight world champion. A slow start undermined a courageous finish, with one judge surprisingly scoring it 116-113 for Eubank Jr. in a split-decision defeat.

He lost to WBA champion Groves up at super-middleweight in the World Boxing Super Series semi-finals in February 2018, looking painfully rudimentary at times. By that point, Eubank Jr. was at least advertising himself as a world champion as he brought the lightly regarded IBO belt to the table against Groves. It should be pointed out that the WBO titles his father won at 160lbs and 168lbs did not hold the cache then that they do now, but the modern consensus of four major sanctioning bodies — the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF — does not include the IBO.

Similarly, Eubank Jr. has twice won the WBA’s ‘interim’ middleweight but never converted that into a full title, perhaps a symbol of a career that has come to feel fitful and wasteful every bit as much as it has excited.

What happened in Chris Eubank Jr. vs Nick Blackwell?

Eubank’s limited amateur career, having been sent by his father to sink or swim as a teenager in some of Las Vegas’ most unforgiving gyms, concluded with a 24-2 record before he turned over as a 22-year-old.

He moved to 18-0 over the first three years of his career against fairly unremarkable foes before running into Saunders. Until that point, allowing for his father’s eccentric sideshow, Eubank Jr.’s career path made conventional sense.

The second act, which he began following the trade-off of earning a box-office reputation but losing undefeated status, has sometimes been maddening. Changes of weight class, promoters, paths towards world titles, trainers and broadcasters have understandably added up to the whole thing feeling unfocused. Impressive wins have not been capitalised upon and progress has stagnated, while Eubank Jr. has also been a victim of circumstance.

A win over Dmitry Chudinov, the less-accomplished sibling to Russia’s former world champion Fedor Chudinov, won him the WBA interim belt in February 2015 and stoppage wins over Tony Jeter and Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan rounded off a solid year.

The Jeter and O’Sullivan fights came after signing a deal with Matchroom at a time when Eddie Hearn’s promotional outfit was riding the crest of a wave. Eubank Jr. was starting to put together some impressive work under David Haye’s former trainer Adam Booth.

In early 2016, his former promoter Mick Hennessy won a purse bid for Eubank Jr. to face Nick Blackwell for the British title back on Channel 5. Father and son duly decided to go ahead with the fight as Booth left camp.

There was a febrile atmosphere, with Saunders and Fury both cheering Blackwell on from ringside and goading Eubank Jr. A brutal encounter ensued, with Blackwell battered to a 10th-round loss with a grotesquely swollen face. After the fight, the beaten boxer was taken to hospital with a bleed on the brain and placed in an induced coma. Mercifully, Blackwell survived.

Inflicting such injuries before a terrestrial television audience meant Eubank Jr. shared a part of his dad’s story he would never have wished for. In unpalatably cold boxing terms, it was a very credible win that he built upon, back on Matchroom’s Sky platform, by dominating the previously undefeated Tom Doran in a fourth-round stoppage.

Did Chris Eubank Jr. fight Gennadiy Golovkin?

The stage was set for the blockbuster superfight Eubank Jr. desired. But negotiations for a showdown against middleweight superstar Gennadiy Golovkin stalled, with Matchroom and Team Eubank pointing fingers at one another as Kell Brook stepped up from welterweight for one of the most daunting tasks in boxing.

Another relationship was beyond repair and Eubank Jr. next emerged at super-middleweight, beating Renold Quinlan for the IBO’s 168lbs title on ITV’s predictably short-lived pay-per-view platform. A landslide points win over former world champion Arthur Abraham preceded his entry into the super-middleweight WBSS.

An impressively destructive three-round win on the road against future Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez opponent Avni Yildirim got his campaign underway before Groves proved that the flaws highlighted by Saunders remained. Participating in the tournament did bring about his union with Sauerland Promotions, something that remains a welcome constant.

There was still a big payday to be had at super-middleweight as Eubank Jr. became reacquainted with the IBO belt, this time prevailing on points against a fighter of pedigree and guided by American trainer Nate Vasquez. He floored former Olympic and world champion James DeGale twice en route to the best win of his career, although the fact his faded opponent never boxed again plants an asterisk alongside it.

Is Roy Jones Jr. still training Chris Eubank Jr.?

“I’m back where I need to be: at the top of the food chain, and now I’m coming for all the other belts in the super-middleweight division,” Eubank Jr. said after the DeGale fight.

He then didn’t box for 287 days before returning back down at middleweight against Matvey Korobov, who won the opening round of Eubank Jr.’s American debut in New York before suffering an injured rotator cuff and withdrawing in the second.

An unsatisfactory victory left the Briton to again promise increased activity and a renewed hunger for world titles — ambitions that did not reckon for the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, plenty of world-level boxers had been able to make their return by the time Eubank Jr. deigned to re-emerge against Marcus Morrison in May 2021. He’d spent a long time in camp with all-time great Roy Jones Jr. and the fruits of their union could be seen at the start of this year.

Liam Williams was dropped repeatedly after Eubank Jr. did his usual fine job of whipping up discord ahead of their meeting in front of a partisan Cardiff crowd. At the same time, a failure to press home a stoppage after dropping Williams in three of the first four rounds showed a lack of finishing expertise that should have been addressed by now.

Overall, Eubank Jr.’s extra seasoning under Jones felt like a much-needed boost for a career threatening to become a story of unfulfilled potential. But ahead of the aborted Benn bout, he took what looked like another self-defeating turn.

Citing the historical weight of their meeting, Eubank Jr. forwent his partnership with Jones because he felt his father should be in the corner on fight night. However, in a departure from his son’s pre-pandemic career, Eubank Sr. has neglected to have any involvement, save for expressing grave concerns over Chris Jr. boiling down to the 157lbs catchweight. Redoubtable veteran trainer Ronnie Davies has once again picked up the pieces, as he has so often for father and son.

The latest manifestation of Eubank Sr.’s erratic tendencies came not from pantomime but genuine tragedy, after his son Sebastian died suddenly from a heart attack in Dubai in 2021. Another aspiring boxer from the clan, Eubank Jr. spoke of boxing in his later brother’s honour against Benn. The same will undoubtedly be true this weekend.

Against the backdrop of such a profound loss, and with a division between father and son still seemingly yet to be repaired, what does it matter if Eubank Jr. the boxer is deemed a success or a failure in his clash with Smith and beyond?

In monetary terms, he has succeeded several times over. He has eased to the sort of financial security most boxers can only dream of. Should he enjoy the long and full life so heartbreakingly denied his brother, he will do so in a position of comfort. That is an accomplishment not to be sniffed at.

But a proud and fierce competitor will also want to burnish a sporting legacy that comes up short and is probably the reason why, at 33, he is pledging to box on extensively.

WATCH: Chris Eubank Jr. vs. Liam Smith on DAZN (only in US, CA, JP and DACH)

“I’m 33 years old but I can tell you how good I feel, I can’t tell you how much energy I still have left,” he said when facing down Smith on Sky Sports’ The Gloves Are Off promo. “My father retired at 32 but I’ve still got at least four or five years in the game, minimum.

“I’m not coming to the end of my career. The exciting thing is that there are so many big names out there for me to test myself against. I’m excited.”

The Golovkin fight remains possible, with the Kazakh hero preparing to box on at his natural weight after losing his trilogy showdown with Canelo. At 41, GGG’s retirement should not be far away and the ever-glamorous middleweight division will need a new defining face.

Those in the Benn business understandably view the fight that bit the dust last year as having mileage. Eubank Jr. might agree but in reality must commit to a weight division, a trainer and a clear plan and fritter away no more of his time or gifts.

Jones being back aboard for the Smith fight is a welcome development for Eubank Jr.’s prospects of claiming a genuine world title. Only then will he be able to make good on his father’s wish of becoming the better prizefighter.

If the tough and savvy Smith hands Eubank a third career loss, a legacy as a fighter who entertained in flashes but flattered to deceive will be closer to being cemented.

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