Chris Eubank Jr on growing up in his dad's shadow
After a bruising loss and stinging criticism from his father, Chris Eubank Jr talks to Samuel Fishwick about growing up in his dad's shadow and how he copes with the thought that he could kill someone in the ring
In a plush, red-walled room in Victoria's Grosvenor Hotel, Chris Eubank Jr is flicking though his iPhone pictures - his 11st 13lb frame wedged into a tiny, winged armchair - showing me the perks of life as one of Britain's most promising boxers. There's the gleaming silver Bentley GT and the ultra-modern, white-walled, four-bedroom £1.75m 'ultimate bachelor pad' he's just completed on in Brighton, with heated pool, while his Instagram is full of pictures of him driving custom motorbikes, jet skiing and with stars such as 'my girl' Rita Ora (just friends).
"I've never wanted to be your average Joe," says the 28-year-old, wearing his own brand Next Gen tracksuit, a gold-trimmed Moncler jacket and Nike Air Force 1 trainers. "I've always wanted to stand out from the crowd - to be someone looked at and admired, and scrutinised. I'd much rather be scrutinised or criticised than have no one look at me at all."
But, as his bloodshot right eye shows, this lifestyle comes at a price. It's a fortnight since Eubank Jr, one of Britain's brightest boxing hopes with 26 wins in 28 bouts, heir to the Eubank legacy, lost cruelly on points to Londoner George Groves (29) in the World Boxing Super Series semi-final in Manchester.
A behind the scenes video from the dressing room after the fight shows boxing legend Chris Eubank telling his son he deserved to lose. How does it feel to go all that way and have your own dad tell you that you weren't good enough? Was it awkward? "That was his opinion," he says, cagily. "My father's opinion is important to me, but it is what it is."
His father forbade him from boxing until he was 14. "I think he didn't think I had it in me," says Eubank Jr. "He said do anything else. Kick a ball around, play tennis, be a doctor, do anything where you're not getting punched in the head. I was a child of privilege, I was living in a mansion going to private school. So he thought, where's this kid going to get his hunger from? How's he going to be able to deal with the pain and hardship that comes from being a fighter?"
But he had his own battles to face. At school he was "boisterous but got decent grades" - though he was expelled from two schools for "scuffles", including prestigious Brighton College, and completed his GCSEs at nearby Shoreham College.
"I started to understand how important it was for me to make my own name pretty early on after years of noticing people treating me a certain way because of who my dad was. Some people wanted to be friends, others wanted to test me because I was Chris Eubank's son - inside schools, outside of school, on the streets. They learned pretty quickly that testing me was a very serious mistake."
At 15, a total stranger confronted him outside Brighton town centre following one of his dad's losses. "He said, 'I bet two grand on your father, give me the money back'. He was a grown man - average size - against a teenager. He pushed me, I think he was drunk, so I said, 'Listen, I don't have two grand on me and if I did I wouldn't give it to you - you made a bet, get out my face'. He went to push me again and made an effort to grab me, and I knocked him out."
Later, he graduated from high school in Las Vegas, after his father sent him to Nevada to complete his boxing schooling. When he turned pro, the boxing world "thought it was a gimmick", he says. "It was Eubank Jr, just in the ring to make a quick buck, then he's gonna go and do something else. I've had a lot of doubters, haters, a lot of negative comments online - I still do, to this very day. I could go online now and say, 'I wish everyone a great weekend and God bless'. One of the first comments will be: 'F*** off'."
It's hard to square the man in the ring - about whom he speaks in the third person - with today's Eubank Jr, a boy done good, and a new face of Fendi. Occasionally his knuckles clench when he's tense about a question - like warning signs. But on the big day he's a different person. "I don't have my mum with me or around me on fight nights because of him. He's a warrior, he's a trained assassin. He's going in there to take another man out." Is he in control? "If we were sitting down five minutes before a fight, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You wouldn't want to get anywhere near me."
Does he have someone special to share his big, empty bachelor pad with? "Anyone who's on TV, making money, being successful, or got verified accounts on social media, females gravitate towards that." He's not on Tinder - instead, he's on exclusive dating app Raya, used by the likes of Cara Delevingne and Elijah Wood. "You're scrolling through and it's just celebrities, models, fitness instructors - top tier people," he says, before adding: "I don't kiss and tell." The Fendi contract is a "privilege and an honour. The fashion industry's moving towards people who are successful - not just people who look good, but people who are doing things with their lives, inspiring people."
Last month sport was rocked by the news of professional boxer Scott Westgarth's death hours after a fight in Doncaster. Does Eubank Jr put his life on the line? "You have to think it'll all be okay - 99.9 per cent of the time everything is. Guys get hurt, they get knocked out, they get cut, but they live to fight another day. Every now and again you get these tragic situations where a fighter doesn't make it and people call for the sport to be banned, but I don't think that's right.
"With great risk comes great reward. That's why some of us are making so much money."
And what about others' lives? In 2016, he beat the boxer Nick Blackwell at the Wembley SSE Arena, hurting him so badly that he ended his career.
"I still think about it. Nick at one point did die - he was brought back to life with an adrenaline shot to his heart. When you think about that it is surreal - it's hard to wrap your head around. You were the guy that did that to another person. That's not the objective - no one is going out there to…" Kill? "It's do or die," he says, grimly.
"The situation made me more ferocious. I understand now that this stuff really can happen - it wasn't a film, it wasn't a book or a story. I was involved in a fight where a guy's career has just gone.
"So I know how easily it could have been me, I know how easy it is to happen. I have so much more that I want to achieve in the sport. I've got to go full steam ahead to keep myself safe."