The saddest of circumstances, separated by 25 years, have cemented an alliance between Chris Eubank and his fighting son, Chris Jr, that even they struggle to properly characterise but which they wholeheartedly agree is their joint destiny.
In shared concern for a stricken foe – Michael Watson, who was cut down in 1991, and Nick Blackwell on Saturday night – the Eubanks on Tuesday presented a coherent defence of their calling, couched in terms of heartfelt sympathy for Blackwell, who, at that moment, remained in an induced coma in a London hospital.
Later, after a welter of interviews, they revealed more of themselves than they probably ever have done. What they both said at times sounded harsh, given the circumstances, but it was as honest as it was occasionally chilling.
When it was put to Eubank Sr that his own hunger for boxing dissipated the night he left Watson helpless on the canvas at White Hart Lane on 21 September 1991 (two years after his son was born), he replied sharply: “No. My finishing instinct had left – but I didn’t know it until I was in the 10th round of my first fight against Steve Collins.” Four years and 14 fights later; Eubank was felled in the eighth, but failed to close it out after having the Irishman down two rounds later. “Fortunately,” he added, “I was technically skilled, so I didn’t have to bludgeon people, I didn’t have to batter them. If I didn’t take them out cleanly [with a single punch], then I could beat them on points. Junior is a different animal, because his punches are concussive. If he took them out cleanly, it would be better for them. But the concussive punchers are dangerous.”
Would it be a problem, we asked Junior, to maintain this ferocity now, given he has been through the same experience as his father. “Not only will it be maintained, it will be intensified,” he says. “I have now been involved first-hand in a situation where a fighter has been seriously injured. I now know it can happen; it’s not a movie, it’s not something I read in a book. I’ve been involved in it, and I can’t let it happen to me. I’ve got a big career ahead of me, with many achievements I want to fulfil. Now I’m stepping into that ring even more ferociously.”
His father nodded. “It can happen to him, but I haven’t brought him up to be like I was. I was sensitive, I was emotionally intelligent. I don’t want him to be that way, because I want him protected in there. To be unforgiving, as he is, to be brutal, as he is, to be cold, as he is. You’ve got to be cold, calculated, cunning. And you cover it with manners and decorum and class and easement. I need him to be hard, because it is the only way I can protect him.
“This is what I have become. I am obsessed. I am obsessed. We have one mind. One mind means obsession. Obsession is a synonym for magic. Magic is a synonym for genius. It’s a knack. It’s an aptitude.”
They might well be “one mind” but there were moments during an earlier media grilling when the pact between father and son looked like an uneasy marriage of public confidence and private doubt. At one point, Junior – as Chris Sr calls him – pauses to search for a word to adequately describe the feelings that swept over him in the closing stages of the last fight of Blackwell’s career, one which it was his duty to end as clinically as good taste would allow. His father leans over and whispers “reservations”, and Junior dutifully repeats “reservations” for the gathered hacks, news representatives outnumbering sport by at least 10 to one. Boxing was back in the dock. The Eubanks were the sport’s chief witnesses for the defence. They had their work cut out.
Blackwell lost not just the fight, his British middleweight title and his livelihood on Saturday night, but his consciousness and the last vestiges of the extraordinary fitness his sport demands. The Eubanks are genuinely sympathetic, and will visit him only when the family invite them.
For the elder Eubank, the trauma and the anxiety resonate with depth that will not leave him. He says the image of Watson lying inert on the canvas a quarter of a century ago returned after eight rounds of unremitting one-sidedness on Saturday night, as Blackwell absorbed punishment from his son. He told Junior to hit the body, not the head. The TV microphone picked it up, social media spread the message. This was compassion ruling cynicism. “I am not a meathead,” he says. “If you can understand these perceptions of [hardness], then you can also understand compassion.”
Junior tried to oblige his father, but found it difficult to deliver until the fading seconds about six minutes later, when the referee Victor Loughlin, advised by the ringside doctor, finally judged the bruising around Blackwell’s left eye to be so hideous and debilitating, there was no point in allowing the battle to continue. The relief was palpable everywhere except among a small knot of bloodthirsty fans who wanted more – before being reminded of the folly of their booing.
They had come for a spectacle, and they got one. They probably knew little about the fighters in front of them, especially the winner, the seemingly unemotional offspring of a complicated man. Eubank Sr later recalls the excellent former world champion Mike McCallum, who briefly trained Junior in the United States, telling him: “Your boy, he’s a bad boy.”
The father knew what he was saying. “I know the street language, know what it means. The next person to talk to me about Junior was Mike Tyson. He said to me, ‘Your boy is dangerous ... likes the girls, but he’s dangerous.’ I understood. Junior is a stallion, he’s wild. All we are trying to do is steer him until he learns from his own experience. Now he’s seen what can happen.”
Junior says the comparison between Watson and Blackwell did not (understandably) occur to him in the heat of an intense ending to a demanding fight. “I knew it was a brutal fight but then when you see a man lying on the ground with an oxygen mask and medics around him, it really brings it home. That was a war.”
He did not agree boxing was overly romanticised, either. It was “inspirational”, he said. “When there are two warriors on a pedestal, trying to do great things with their careers, when movies are being made about sport, it’s always going to be romanticised. You can’t tell people they shouldn’t do it.”
Would he have been a paid fighter had his father not fought? “I grew up in a nice house, no hardship, had everything I wanted. A lot of people think that to be successful in boxing you have to come from nothing. For most fighters that is the truth. For me it is just in me, the love of the sport, the love of competition. I believe it is in my DNA. I believe I have that warrior soul, that essence. Was I born to fight? I believe so.
“You can train a fighter to a certain extent, but there are some things you just have to have inside you. I believe I have that. I believe that it was passed down from my father.”
The son glances at the father and adds: “The last word is that we hope and pray that Nick Blackwell makes a speedy recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. That’s all you can say...”
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