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The Could Have Been: Chris Eubank Jr

Image: The Could Have Been: Chris Eubank Jr

By Kieran O’Sullivan: At some point in life, we all get an opportunity to look in the mirror and say, ‘I could have been a contender.’ If you haven’t already, try it. Look in the mirror. Say it. See how it feels.

Bitter? Salutary? Cruel?

Just look in the mirror.

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Today, I imagine Chris Eubank Jr is having a hard look in that mirror, both real and metaphorical. What does he see staring back at him? A thirty-three-year-old man, a little shopworn from the night’s battle, a welt marinating below his right eye? Does he see himself poleaxed in the corner, climbing up the ring’s dark well, dizzy under arch lights, willing but unable to get a purchase on his body? Does he see the last few punches too late, the ref waving him off too early – because it’s always too early for a warrior to be told ‘enough’? Is that what he sees in the mirror?

The German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, ‘if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.’

A mirror is a dangerous thing.

Could Have Been

Chris Eubank Jr is a ‘could have been.’ And last night at Manchester’s AO Arena, he endured a brutal close encounter with the past tense:

could have…could have…could have been…

A Tough Kid

But there was a time when this kid had something special. He was tough. Hardened boxing pros admired him. The former super middleweight champion Carl Froch often recalls the somber kid who turned up at his gym said little, got in the ring, and sparred him several hellacious rounds, and then, without ceremony, wordless and inward, just walked away. Froch liked that. He liked Eubank’s cold and steely resolve.

Something about this gruff stoicism appeals to all of us. It’s the part of our spirit that acts and does without pomp and grandstanding speeches. The doer. The one who gets it done. No fuss. No excuses. Unstoppable.

Old School

And the kid had talent. Check out early Ronnie Davies interviews – ‘this kid is special.’ Davies – the former trainer of Eubank Sr – is old school; if he says it, you listen because people like Ronnie Davies know enough.

Enough to know.

And he could see what Jr had. What he could have been.

Where Did It All Go?

Was it mismanagement, an outsize ego, or an inability to learn ring craft from root to branch? Did this undo all that natural talent?

Perhaps Jr’s father, the great Eubank Sr, perhaps he has to take some blame for this. Did he allow Jr’s natural talent to outgrow sound foundations, to disengage from the basic maths of boxing? The basic maths? Learn, learn and learn again. Because that’s what it takes. The great fighters are great learners; they have the humility to humble themselves at the sport’s bloody alter. Did Jr neglect this, and when he finally sobered up, did he turn to his trainer Roy Jones too late?

You Take Your Beating

In the movie Goodfellas the protagonist Henry Hill remarks, ‘everybody takes a beating at some point.’

We’ve all taken a beating at some point. Heartbreak, loss, the one that got away. The metaphorical beatings. Real as any other. All the bruises and scars of the workaday world.

Cos everybody takes a beating sometime.

Last night Eubank Jr took his. For the third time, he was beaten.

And sadly, it could be argued that his humiliation at the fists of Liam Smith – and it was a humiliation- is a culmination of missed opportunities, of missed chances, of a natural talent gone awry.

Could have been.

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