The professional debut of young boxing aspirant Chris Eubank Jr. lived up to its dull expectations yesterday and showed that nostalgia remains the most popular commodity when it comes to marketing sports. While most of the nation tuned into ITV to watch what had become of the footballing genius-cum- human train wreck that was Paul Gascoigne, those looking for a different type of nostalgia sat and watched Channel 5 hoping to see something that would remind of the former glory of the once noble art.
It was hard not to get swept along with it at first. Has it really been so long since the British middleweight division was full of talent it attracted more interest than the heavyweight bouts? It feels like another lifetime but for the briefest of moments it did feel alive again. The fighter looking lean and mean, dare it be suggested in better shape than his father, came out to the same Tina Turner theme tune. He had the same swagger as he came to the ring, held the same poses… At any given moment you felt he could pop in a monocle and start lisping about his superiority. Either way, the crowd lapped it up.
Then the predictability kicked in. You remembered just why boxing had fallen so far in the sporting hierarchy, why you stopped being interested in it in the first place. Within moments of the fight starting it was clear that, as with all fledgling British fighters, he had been put up against a bum, the sort of athlete that would be known as a “jobber” if this was professional wrestling. They exist only to make the slightly more talented look better than they truly are happy to be a human stepping stone for men they have already conceded are destined for better things than they are.
The big clue to this was the fact that they referred to Kirilis Psonko as “experienced” throughout the bout. There was nothing else more to say about this fighter other than he had been around the block a bit and the Lithuanian didn’t even seem interested in throwing punches. The heavy bag that Eubank Jr. trained on in the build up to this fight would have offered more resistance and thrown more punches in return.
Despite some stylistic similarities Eubank Jr. ultimately looked nothing like the second coming of his father
It was dreadful to watch and it was apparent to all who was clearly manufactured to win within moments of the fight starting. Even when the fight was stopped in ludicrous fashion in the fourth, the referee suddenly deciding that not throwing any return punches was an indication of being in trouble as opposed to the consistent application of the losing strategy Psonko had embraced from the beginning, it was never exciting.
Despite some stylistic similarities Eubank Jr. ultimately looked nothing like the second coming of his father as he failed to penetrate the guard of a fighter who looked hopelessly outclassed even at this level. He seemed to want to only throw that knockout punch, couldn’t apply the basic principles of working the body to open up the head for that winning blow. Without having a test of the chin there was little to be said about the purported prodigy other than he can hit a slowly moving target.
Still, that isn’t the saddest part. It is incredibly hard to be critical about the youngster who, despite being the talent, was only talked about in terms of the heir apparent. All through the fight there were constant close ups of the original Eubank, waving to the crowd in that bizarre regal way he has always adopted, even when most of the British public despised him for being that most hated of creatures – a successful British athlete.
He liberally walked to and from the corner, giving his son advice, while the cameras followed him and not the fighter. They interviewed him between rounds and the commentators, with a lack of action in the ring to talk about, took to talking about the qualities of vintage Eubank before adding that this event was “all very much about the son”. It’s a statement that would have had a lot more resonance if they weren’t pushing a microphone in his father’s face every two minutes.
He liberally walked to and from the corner, giving his son advice, while the cameras followed him and not the fighter
That’s the blessing and the curse for the boy. He gets a head start because he has the name. He will have instant adoration as the masses go cross eyed and chant his surname without ever really being sure which fighter they mean, or even caring just so long as someone is getting punched in front of them. Yet it’s clear that he’s never going to be free of that, that he will always be held up in comparison to his father and that his father, still clearly hungry for the spotlight, will happily detract from his own son’s achievements to remain fresh in the public memory.
That may well be the curse of following in the footsteps of such a successful father. For every Johann it seems there’s a Jordi, for every Kenny there’s a Paul. Unlike some sports though, where someone will always be willing to take a punt on someone with a famous surname, boxing is so individual and requires such strength of character that anything that dilutes it can not be seen as a positive. No doors it can open are worth the willing relinquishing of identity that is emulating your father’s ring entrance.
To be clear, in case this all sounds too maudlin, the kid has undoubtedly got talent, the product of hard work as opposed to good breeding stock. Fast hands, good head movement and polished technique all point to a fighter that could be something out of the ordinary if allowed to mature and develop without the side show. Boxing is at its worst when it becomes a circus of showboating, which was one of the sides of the Eubank era that many will not remember fondly. In the ring, imperious. Outside of it, impudent.
It’s not likely to be a factor for too long. Like so many British fighters before him he’ll be built up before being torn down, sold to the public as a hero and then used to line the pockets of the promoters, managers and the broadcasters. For all the face of boxing has changed there are some things that remain the same, the most unwelcome kind of nostalgia.
There was lots of talk about the future in the build up to this match, about looking forward, yet once underway the whole affair spent most of its time looking back and not even involving the fighter who was in the ring. It was proof, as if any were needed, that boxing’s best days remain firmly behind it and everyone involved seemed only too happy to publicly acknowledge that fact. The spectacle leading up to this potentially exciting undercard opener seemed like little more than a celebration of days gone by in the midst of mediocrity. If better days are to come for the young fighter one feels that they might arrive sooner if people, famous father included, accept that while it might be a Eubank in the ring it will never be Eubank in the ring again.
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