By Terence Dooley
Sussex’s Chris Eubank Junior took the third step of his professional journey on Saturday night when halting Scotland’s Paul Allison, now 5-1-1 (1), in four on the undercard of Tyson Fury’s Irish heavyweight title clash with Martin Rogan at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena. Eubank is following in the footsteps of his father and namesake, who won the WBO middleweight and super middleweight titles during an electrifying, if often enigmatic, career.
Unlike his father, who fought in relative obscurity over in the U.S.A. during his early career, although some of his bouts were broadcast locally, Eubank Junior’s three fights have taken place before the glare of the Channel 5 cameras.
In just five-months, Eubank has notched up more appearances on terrestrial TV than most British fighters get in a lifetime. His every move, every punch and every word comes under intense scrutiny and although a comfortable winner on Saturday night, Eubank shipped enough return fire to draw the sting of one or two critics.
Boxing fans aren’t just examining his fighting ability, either – they have paid close attention to his behaviour before, during and after his fights in the hope of witnessing the emergence of a fighter who can bring boxing back to the masses by hearkening back to Britain’s golden 1990s boxing scene.
Eubank tipped the scales at 163lb for Saturday’s contest, he is a great physical specimen for a middleweight and, one or two return shots aside, dispatched his opponent with aplomb. However, the 22-year-old blotted his copybook by making a throat slitting gesture to the camera after the fight and acting dismissively towards his trainer Ronnie Davies, who also worked with Eubank Senior, between rounds.
All part of the unique Eubank charm, right? Maybe, but while there is a distinct sense that Eubank Junior has tapped into his father’s appeal by utilizing the same ring walk music, Tina Turner’s power ballad Simply The Best, and swagger there is also the worry that the pressure of following a world title winning father, who is a formidable presence at ringside when his son fights, and everything that this entails could prove to the prospect’s biggest challenging as he moves forward with his career.
There were one or two welcome flashes of arrogance on Saturday, a few moments that veered into pastiche and a worrying feeling that the boxer is starting to fight like a guy who knows he is on TV and carrying a lot of expectation rather than a young pro with a relatively short amateur career finding his feet in the ring and fleshing out his style.
Of course, every boxer who appears on national television is aware of the cameras etc., but many do not get their big break until they are experienced pros or champions, when they step under the bright lights they have their own style, pedigree and have learned not to play to the crowd, both in the arena and on TV.
This awareness of the cameras has led to a little showing out from Eubank Junior. His father’s habit of coming to the corner to give advice must also be extremely distracting. It could be time to mix Eubank’s TV slots with off-air fights on smaller bills in order to enhance the learning process.
A brief step away from the spotlight would present the youngster with the chance to work on his style away from millions of viewers and allow him to develop it organically rather than feeling obligated to present viewers and fans with a parody of his father’s persona. For the first time, there was a bit of the circus about Eubank Junior on Saturday night – with his father the ringmaster.
Compare this to Tyson Fury’s performance. Fury, 18-0 (13), has played the clown at times in his career and from his early fights he has boxed under the glare of the TV headlights, but on Saturday night the 23-year-old came of age.
Sure, Martin Rogan, 40 and with his better days behind him, was not a world level test of Fury’s ability yet in coming out, and staying, southpaw in the fight, not getting carried away by the partisan crowd and sticking to a game plan, the heavyweight contender produced one of the most promising performances of his unbeaten 18-fight career.
Prior to his last outing, an up-and-down third-round TKO over Neven Pajkic in November, Fury told boxing writer Don McRae that he had been suffering from depression. Fury’s father, John Fury, was imprisoned last year for his part in an assault and Fury also spoke of a hard life in which a younger sister died just a few days after her birth.
This chaotic frame of mind was replicated in the fight itself, Pajkic floored the 2008 Super heavyweight ABA titlist heavily in the second and raised a lot of question marks over Fury’s defence, concentration and future. Questions that the fighter went a long way towards answering on Saturday night.
Indeed, the build up to the Rogan clash saw both men dish out a few insults, purely to sell the fight of course, and featured a bit of last minute controversy after Rogan, now 14-3 (7), objected to the scheduled distance of 12-rounds as Irish title fights are supposed to take place over 10, but Fury put outside concerns to one side to execute his plan, and as a southpaw to boot. A promising sign that his latest training team, which consists of his uncle Peter and former pro Paul “Silky” Jones, are honing the 6’ 9’’ former British title-holder’s latent talent. And he came in a relatively svelte 245¾lbs. Nice.
Fury also displayed a wealth of media savvy after stopping Rogan; he led a cheer of “Rogan, Rogan!” and endeared himself to the fans and viewers – a clear sign that he is a fighter who is increasingly the master of himself both in and out of the ring.
Putting aside the hype, the crowd and the TV cameras is tough, especially if they are on you from fight one and Fury, like Eubank Junior, was televised on British TV in his debut and throughout most of his early fights.
Tyson famously spent most of his September 2009 English title fight with John McDermott, his first major test, clearing his fringe from his face and acted out more than he fought at times. It almost led to his first defeat, although referee and sole judge Terry O’Connor turned in a wide 98-92 scorecard for Fury despite a close fight. Since then, the odd blip aside, not to mention far too many changes to his training situation, Fury has settled into his role.
However, maybe one or two more off-air fights earlier in his career would have helped Fury adjust to the pro ranks far more quickly. It would be nice if Eubank Junior was given a less public platform on which to perform. If this is not to his taste, and doesn’t help, then fine – we know the guy is a TV fighter and that is it. If this is the case he may want to look up to Fury to see how you deal with growing up in public in the business of boxing.
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