Chris Eubank Jr.: ‘I respect what James DeGale’s done, I don’t admire him as a fighter’
Floyd Mayweather called it relevance. Chris Eubank Sr. called it popularity. Prince Naseem Hamed’s followers called it loving to hate. The important thing with all of the above was they polarised opinion. You were in one camp or another, loved or hated, admired or abhorred, cheered or booed. Most importantly, you had an opinion. You cared. They were good guys who played bad guys, or bad guys who played good guys depending upon your outlook.
Chris Eubank Jr. happily falls into that same category. Some people like self-confidence while others may perceive it as arrogance. Whatever you call it, it divides opinion and whatever your thoughts on what you see in his personality you have to agree that he can fight.
At what level he can fight remains to be scene. He wants it all, titles, big shows and everything that comes with it. He believes he is what has become commonly known as an elite-level fighter, but the problem has been that he has lost when he has moved up in class. He lost a narrow decision to Billy Joe Saunders, was outboxed and outfought by George Groves and now here is again, trying to kick down the door into big fights and world titles against James DeGale, the former world and Olympic champion. DeGale possesses the scalp Eubank needs to confirm that he has finally arrived at the top of the 168-pound table.
And he has instilled changes to make sure he does not slip up again.
“I made the decision to get a full-time trainer because at this stage of the game, at this elite level, I can’t give any kind of advantage to my opponent and that’s what I’ve been doing my entire career, not having a trainer and not having a specific and focused training camp,” Eubank begins. “For the George Groves fight I trained myself, my chief sparring partner was a 6-foot-7-inch cruiserweight because he was the only guy I could get to come down at the time. It just wasn’t professional. Obviously I was in great shape, I always am, I’m in the gym every day. But I guess I wasn’t working on the things I should have been working on to be as effective as I could have against a fighter like George Groves. I think this fight, this training camp, it’s completely different so I’m happy with my current situation.”
He has brought in Nate Vasquez to deliver “a tailored training camp.”
“I’ve never had a full-time trainer working with me day in and day out focusing on a particular opponent and their weaknesses, their strengths and the strategy to beat them,” Eubank goes on. “He’s bringing a solid regime. It’s not just me doing what I think I need to do to prepare for a fight. Now I’m taking guidance from a professional and we’re working on game plans and strategies and it’s definitely paying off. I’m definitely seeing a big difference in how I’m training and how I’m feeling and I can’t wait to put it all into action on February 23rd.”
Is it something he should have done earlier?
“I think everything happens for a reason,” he says pragmatically. “I can’t say I regret it because I’ve had so many great wins and so many great fights, but at this level I realise you have to have as much support, you have to have as much boxing knowledge around you as possible. Leaving it all to yourself, it’s too much pressure, too much responsibility. You need to be able to rely on other professionals to help you prepare.
“And I’m not saying I’m going to be a completely different fighter and I’m something completely new. I’m the same fighter. I’m 29 years old, I’m not going to change, but I think that having a full-time trainer in Nate Vasquez adds a dimension to my training and my boxing that I’ve never had before in terms of strategy, in terms of game plan, in terms of boxing smart and effectively for a fighter like James DeGale.”
Eubank may be aware he is running out of chances to prove he has championship pedigree, or maybe he just does not want to lose another grudge match. Regardless, he insists that he rates DeGale “very highly”.
“This is the biggest fight of my career,’ he agrees, echoing his rival’s sentiments. “He’s a former world champion, a former Olympic gold medallist, you can never underestimate a man like that. He’s got a lot of experience, he’s a hardened veteran in the game so I have to be the best Chris Eubank Jr. I can be. I can’t afford a loss. I can’t afford a flat performance let alone a loss. This is career making or breaking for me this fight, and James is in exactly the same situation and that’s what makes this fight so exciting. It’s two fighters that are at a point in their careers where a loss would be absolutely devastating and neither of us want to lose, so it’s going to make for a hell of a fight.”
Yet it is the manifested bad blood that makes this fight between two top 10 super middleweights must-see and Eubank knows that and is aware of his role in the story. He compliments DeGale on his achievements but the praise is grudging rather than gushing.
“I respect what he’s done, I don’t admire him as a fighter,” Eubank contends. “I’m not here to admire anyone, I’m here to focus on what I need to do to win. He’s done what he’s done. I respect that and I want to go in there and prove that I’m the better man on the night.
“In general I try to keep my emotions out of boxing. It’s a business. It’s nothing personal. I just happened to have faced many fighters who didn’t seem to like me and that makes it a more exciting fight for the public I guess. And I’m definitely not the one to back down. Mind games and trash talk, that’s all part of the game. I understand that. Me and James DeGale, we don’t get along; we’ve had a beef for many many years. This is a true rivalry, a true grudge match. We both cannot wait to get our hands on each other so this is a dream fight for the fans, and a fight that we’ve been asking for years and a fight that James has been running from for years. I’m just finally happy I’ve got him in the position now we can get in the ring and settle everything once and for all.
“He really doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like being around me. There’s a lot of bravado, a lot of mind games, a lot of trash talk. He’s saying a lot of things that I just don’t believe. He’s lying a lot. You guys won’t know that, but I know it. And I like it when fighters lie because it shows weakness. If you’re not being true to yourself, you’re not going to be true to anyone so I’m very confident going into the fight.”
Some believe Eubank’s best chance will come if DeGale has declined. DeGale says the Achilles and shoulder injuries that have blighted him in recent years have gone and he said the lack of motivation for the Caleb Truax fights is not an issue here. Eubank is preparing for the best version of DeGale.
“I think that James is the type of fighter that rises to the occasion,” opines the Brighton maestro. “I think that he didn’t respect his last few opponents, he underestimated them, he probably didn’t really prepare accordingly. With me, he knows that I’m a livewire. He knows that I’m dangerous. He knows that if he’s not 100 percent, he’s going to get hurt so I believe we’re going to see the best James DeGale we’ve seen in a long time.”
His claims about DeGale’s life away from the ring have forced the Harlesden man to defend his lifestyle, but Eubank remains unconvinced.
“James is a party guy,” he maintains. “I’m not saying I’ve never been to a club before, of course I have. I don’t drink, I know that. Never. James has got a reputation and I think that will show in the fight.”
And what if he wins? What does Eubank want to go on to achieve?
“Everything,” he beams. “I want to achieve everything. Titles, massive pay-per-view fights, I want to make my mark on the sport. I already have but I want to do more. I want to achieve the maximum and these are my prime years. I’ve got a good few years ahead of me so winning this fight puts me back on top and in a position to challenge for these titles and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Whoever he fights next he will happily accept his evil role in the battle against good. He will revel in the boos, jeers and catcalls. When asked why he finds himself in that position, he chuckles wryly.
“I don’t know,” he says, pausing briefly. “I think I’m a pretty cool guy. You know, when you’re in the public eye and you have a lot of people showing you a lot of attention, people get jealous, but you’d have to ask them. But I’m a big name in the game and people like to target me. They like to paint me as the bad guy and as arrogant and he [DeGale] said I’m deluded, I’m a fake. You can’t fake your way to 27 victories in the professional boxing game. It doesn’t matter what your second name is, if you can’t fight you can’t fight and nobody is going to respect you and nobody is going to follow you. I’ve got a huge following. I’ve got a huge following of people who love me and a huge following of people who hate me but the people who don’t like me, they still respect me. So for him to say some of the things he’s said, it’s lies, it’s bravado, it’s a front, he’s trying to build himself up, hype himself up and give himself self-confidence but deep down he knows what’s coming.
“I don’t mind being the bad guy, you know. All I care about is that people watch me fight. If I’ve got to be the bad guy to tune in, then I’ll be the bad guy. I know in myself that I’m a good person. I’m a likeable guy. I don’t believe James is the same. I think he is genuinely not a good guy, not a likeable guy. There’s very few people that I don’t like, that I will say I don’t like, but James is one of those few people. But this is the entertainment business. There has to be a good guy and a bad guy in a fight, otherwise people don’t care. You’ve got to be loved and you’ve got to be hated and I think I’m both. One thing you don’t want to be is the man in the middle. The man in the middle, people don’t tune in. If they love you, they’re tuning in, they’re watching on TV or they’re at the fight buying a ticket. If they hate you, they’re tuning in hoping to see you lose, they’re at the fight or they’re watching on TV. So that’s what you want. You don’t want to be the middle man and I’m definitely not that.”
Relevance, popularity, being an attraction… It can take you only so far, but the truth is revealed in the ring and whether Eubank Jr. is the good guy or the bad, if he does not burst through the glass ceiling into the highest level now he may not get another opportunity. And if that happens he will run the risk of becoming what he has no intention of being, the man in the middle.
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