Thursday, 27 November 2014

BOXING; Can ring master's son steal spotlight from his father?


Chris Eubank Jr is sceptical. "Is this interview really only going to take 10 minutes?" Chris Eubank Sr is adamant. "I will be quick and I will be succinct."
Half an hour later, Eubank Sr is reciting Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If',  from start to finish. Eubank Jr has long since retreated to the en suite bathroom.
On a grim afternoon in Brighton, old man Eubank is in summer spirits - and looking quite magnificent. Three-quarter length jacket, jodhpurs, patent Chelsea boots you could pick a lock with. Compliment him on his outfit and he flashes his pearly veneers. "What was that you said?! I must insist that you repeat it."
When Eubank Sr is asked if he enjoys being back in the public eye, there is a looooong dramatic pause. "I adore the limelight," he finally says, sounding not unlike Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.  "It is a great privilege to be in the public eye. I consider it to be more powerful than money itself.
"But I am not a contestant, a cook or a dancer. I am not a celebrity. I was a pure fighter, I was a warrior. That's how I want to be remembered." Fat chance.
In winning world titles at two weights in the 1990s, and engaging in some of the most gut-wrenching encounters in British boxing history, Eubank Sr did indeed prove himself one of the sport's purest warriors.
But many will remember him as a man who drove a giant lorry. A man who wore a monocle and twirled a cane. A man who called boxing "pugilism" but also "a mug's game". A man who wanted to be an artist and a philosopher - anything but a boxer. Or so he said. And here's the killer twist: Eubank Sr is back in the public eye, and loving it, because his kid is in the mug's game.
Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank trade blows during their fight in 1993
Nigel Benn (left) and Chris Eubank traded blows in two vicious fights in the early 1990s
On Saturday, Eubank Jr, who is undefeated in 18 professional contests but has yet to fight anybody of note, challenges former Olympian Billy Joe Saunders for the British, European and Commonwealth middleweight titles at the Excel arena in London. It is fair to say that Eubank Jr and Saunders do not get on.
Indeed, the ill-tempered build-up has revived memories of Eubank Sr's breakthrough fight against bitter rival Nigel Benn, way back in 1990. Saunders, like Benn, despises Eubank. Eubank, like Eubank, projects dignified detachment. Eubank, like Eubank, is not expected to win, at least by most.
The words of Michael Watson, who almost died after a fight against Eubank Sr in 1991,  resonate: "Chris called boxing a mug's game and now he's helping to promote his own son. The man is all over the place."
But it is typical of Eubank Sr that where others see madness he is somehow able to make sense of it all.
Watching Eubank Sr listening to his offspring speak is compelling. Throughout Eubank Jr's interview, his old man leans forward in his chair and nods and beams. Occasionally, as when Eubank Jr says he is "made of pure British steel" or that his fight against Saunders will be "cool, calm, calculated mayhem", Eubank Sr breaks into a wide grin, puts two thumbs up and stamps his feet.
Eubank Sr is able to make sense of it all because he sees himself in his son and his son sees himself in him. For now, at least, it is a harmonious union.
"I recognise the focus and the determination in 'Junior'," says Eubank Sr. "I recognise the resolve. But he's got something in him which I didn't have: an aura, an edginess, a relentlessness. Something silent, something eerie.
"I don't fear for 'Junior' because he's the most dangerous young man I've ever come across in boxing. He's scary. I would say to referees in this country and around the world: 'Be mindful of his opponents because they are in danger.'
"But I'm still steering and protecting him. Only when he gets past my record will I say, 'OK, now do it by yourself'. Boxers end up with nothing, lose their health. I was misused, which is why I can see clearly and make sure he isn't. I'm managing not only the boxing - the art, the craft - but also the business.

Eubank Sr on his speech:

"I bettered my vocabulary, grammar and deliberation through the BBC World Service and a TV show that was on when I was a kid called Upstairs, Downstairs. That had a really big impact on me somehow. When I went to the United States I taught myself to speak better because everyone spoke incorrectly. They'd say: 'Where you at?' And I'd say: 'No, no, it's where are you?' If you're speaking to the British public, you have to be able to speak so that they understand. My childhood screen hero was Terry-Thomas. He did everything with finesse and charm, he was debonair, so a combination of all these things is why I speak the way I do."
"When I said boxing was a mug's game, I knew that it was, as could be seen through the lives of other boxers. But I was always in love with what I did. I couldn't have been as accomplished as I was had I not been."
Some believe the symbiosis between father and son will eventually prove detrimental, that 'Junior' will cave under the weight of the Eubank name.
They cite Eubank Jr's habit of vaulting the ropes, just like his dad used to do, and other apparent stylistic mimicry. They see Eubank Sr shouting instructions from ringside and conclude his presence must be a hindrance: the history of boxing is littered with tales of talented fighters estranged from pushy dads.
But Eubank Jr, who is trained by Ronnie Davies - in Eubank Sr's corner for most of his career - is different enough from his famous father to inspire confidence. He is his own man, he insists, not his daddy's little lad.
Chris Eubank Sr in riding boots with cane
Eubank Sr eventually became as well known for his dapper appearance as his success in the ring
Although proud of countenance, he lacks Eubank Sr's peacock swagger. Although well-spoken (while Eubank Sr grew up hard in London and New York, Eubank Jr was privately educated), he lacks Eubank Sr's studied refinement. Although lucid, he lacks Eubank Sr's purple pronouncements.
But while proclaiming autonomy and maintaining normality, Eubank Jr is wise enough to recognise his dad had it right in so many ways. And if being even a little bit like his dad means being lampooned and hated, then so be it.
"What I learned from my father is that to win is number one, but you've also got to have a flavour," says Eubank Jr, who is decked out in plain old jeans and a T-shirt, even if his trainers are veering towards the ostentatious.
"There are too many fighters these days who go in the ring, throw the punches, say thanks for coming and walk away. That's it. But you want to be either loved or hated, which is what I am at the moment. You don't want to be in the middle.
"When you're in the middle, no-one cares. Some people call me arrogant and boo me but I love it, because at least they're buying tickets. Meanwhile, other people are thinking, 'wow, this guy's different, I'll come and see him again'.
"Boxing is an entertainment business. The Eubank name is one of the most recognised in British boxing, which is why so many fans are craving another Eubank."
Eubank Jr is surely right. Whether you loved him or loathed him, British sport had never seen anything like Eubank Sr - and never will again. And while Eubank Jr says he has always viewed his dad as normal - "dad is just dad" - a few hours in Eubank Sr's company confirms he is still wonderfully unique.

Eubank Senior on pride for his son

"I'm incredibly proud because he doesn't speak back to me, he practises good manners and he listens. I believe he's going to dominate the middleweight and super-middleweight divisions, but that's another story. The most important thing for a young man is good manners - every father feels the same way."
One minute Eubank Sr is threatening to invoice the BBC for a make-up artist (he was joking, I think); the next he is giving tips on interviewing technique; the next he is suggesting Chris Jr "vaseline his arms to make them glisten"; the next he is talking about his love of a pair of ancient television dramas, Tales of the Unexpected  and Upstairs, Downstairs.  "You see, these things shaped me…"
There are also a couple of genuinely touching moments.
When Eubank Sr's interview is finished, he is asked whether he is happy with how it went. Gesturing to his daughter, Emily, who has been taking family snaps from the back of the room, Eubank Sr says: "I'm most excited she knows me a bit better now."
And when Eubank Jr describes how proud he is of his father's achievements, his dad is visibly moved. "It's beautiful to hear my son saying these things," he says.
To witness such reciprocal pride between a father and son - particularly between a father and son as tough as these two - is sweet.
Then there is the sudden burst of Kipling  ("If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…"), triggered by an inquiry as to how he dealt with hatred ("… or being hated, don't give way to hating…").
"What's Kipling?" says a bemused Eubank Jr, after he has returned from the en suite bathroom. "Kipling was a philosophy that I told you to commit to memory when you were a kid," says Eubank Sr, amused. "But you forgot…"
Chris Eubank Jnr in action during a training session at the Brighton and Hove Boxing Club watched by his dad Chris Eubank Snr
Eubank Jr prepares for Saturday's fight with Billy Joe Saunders under the watchful eye of his father
Later, looking out at the seafront from a room at The Grand Hotel, Eubank Sr comes over suddenly wistful. "Brighton is a wonderful place with a powerful energy. It has always attracted the artist - that's why I gravitated here.
"I had imagination and I was able to bring a different audience into this wonderful life of being a warrior. Imagination is a wonderful thing - if you don't have it you can't go further than the norm."
But while Eubank Sr wants to pour all of himself into his offspring, Eubank Jr has evidently developed a system of filtering his old man: sift out any unwanted material (the extraneous eccentricities) and hopefully assimilate the good stuff (showmanship, courage, heart).
Eubank Jr's fight against Saunders will go some way to telling us whether this assimilation has taken place. If it has, expect Eubank Sr to play it again: "Yours is the earth and everything that's in it. And - which is more - you'll be a man, my son!"
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