“This is prizefighting,” declared Barry Jones. The Boxnation co-commentator’s thirst was clearly unquenchable. Chris Eubank Jr. had left him, and many others, wanting more. Much more.
The 25-year-old had engaged in a rugged, 12 round fight with Russian middleweight Dimitry Chudinov. And while at times one-sided, the battle was also gladiatorial, thrilling and violent. Equally important, it heralded the arrival of young Eubank at the world middleweight title party, albeit with a seat at the back of the room, though that could change.
Chudinov’s WBA Interim title was at stake inside London’s O2 Arena, a belt that, like so many these days, is mentioned with accompanying sighs and tuts from the boxing community. Eubank seized his first professional title after the Russian iron man finally succumbed with under a minute left in the final round, though the brutality should have been stopped sooner by referee Mikael Hook (a late replacement for Terry O’Connor after the Chudinov camp had insisted on a foreign official).
Afterwards, there the younger Eubank stood, with a prize around his waist and the Union Jack draped over his punished body. But with this victory he had in fact gained so much more.
From his professional debut on November 12, 2011 against Kiril Psonko, to his eighteenth contest in October against Omar Siala, the 25-year-old son of a former world champion was the subject of debate, ridicule and wonder. He was ruthless, awkward, and reckless, but with his father, Chris Eubank Sr., posturing and staring at his son, all the while seemingly outranking ‘trainer’ Ronnie Davies, it had all become something of a circus act, with most of Eubank’s opponents little more than human punching bags. The kid had talent but his career was in danger of being lost altogether under the combined weight of his father’s ego, the frustration of fight fans, and the skepticism of the boxing media. At times it looked like Eubank Jr. was bound for the bottomless pit of unearned notoriety, culminating somewhere inside the Celebrity Big Brother house.
Then came his fight with a truly bitter rival, one Billy Joe Saunders. November 29, 2014 saw two young British men and fierce combatants finally lock horns after months of media attention, when words such as “insult” and “hatred” and “antagonize” kept cropping up in many a Saunders vs Eubank Jr. news story.
Thankfully what followed all this build-up was 12 rounds of riveting drama. Saunders took an early lead over the first six rounds, using brains and skill, not brawn. Then, in the second half of the battle, his challenger, using brawn and an uppercut primed to decapitate the British, Commonwalth and European middleweight champion, came on strong. The onslaught was valiant but too little, too late. Team Eubank had screwed up. But in defeat the son of a champion had become a fighting man. While he didn’t get the win, he demonstrated in the later rounds that he was world class. Some of us even began to believe in him.
Chudinov, nicknamed ‘Night Wolf’ (incidentally also the nickname of a biker gang in Russia with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin), was seen as a stern test, if for no other reason than the questions lingering around Eubank Jr. What had been the mental effect of losing to Saunders? Will his father again pose in the corner rather than offer sound advice? Will young Christopher get his tactics wrong again? Does he really have what it takes to be a top-shelf prizefighter, or was what we saw in the Saunders fight an apparition, something briefly glimpsed but never to return?
Soon enough, we had answers. From the first bell the challenger took the fight to the Russian. Whether it be with combinations, hard jabs or that fearsome uppercut, there was no messing about from the Brit. It wasn’t long before the fans got on side. And between rounds, his suited and booted father drummed forceful instructions into his charge. He overruled Ronnie Davies, on one particular occasion, but it wasn’t for the cameras; it was for the good of his son.
Boxing crowds, minus some of the hardcore element, are a bloodthirsty bunch and insist on being entertained and “The Sweet Science” this contest was not. It was a fight: raw, wild and thrilling. Eubank Jr. tried to punch holes in Chudinov who was happy to oblige in kind. It was a terrific action battle and the fans loved it, journalists loved it, and social media – an important corner of present-day boxing – loved it too. In the end, Eubank prevailed, thanks to a performance that wasn’t for the purists, but instead for one’s inner caveman. But guess what? Cavemen and their ilk buy tickets.
Eubank Jr. has flaws, no doubt, but on Saturday night he proved he has guts and a warrior’s heart. Equally important, he showed he’s pure box office gold, as even after twelve action-packed rounds, he left us wanting more.
— Shaun Brown