When Chris Eubank Jr made his debut as a professional boxer in 2011, there was huge interest.
But much of it – if not all of it – wasn’t down to the 21-year-old being a promising young prospect or an emerging talent; it was because he was the son of one of Britain’s greatest boxers.
Two-weight world champion Chris Eubank accompanied his son into the ring that night in Manchester and watched him sail to an early stoppage victory.
‘Junior’, as he was often called at the time, largely let his father do the talking. He was a serious young man, wary of the media and well aware of the contempt he attracted.
“When I started, I was so determined to prove people wrong, to show that I could fight,” he says.
Many doubted he had the appetite to fight, let alone hope to match his father’s accomplishments.
“I knew I had to make my own mark on history, on the boxing world, on life,” he says.
“I knew if I did whatever I wanted and didn’t take anything seriously, that’s all I would be. ‘Oh, that’s Chris Eubank’s son.’ That’s what I would be for the rest of my life.
“It scared me.”
“I learned to separate the two guys”
Eubank Jr reached an 18-0 record as a pro before his first loss – by Billy Joe Saunders in 2014. He went on to win eight on the front rebound fail against George Groves in his first world title fight.
Now he’s on an eight-fight winning streak in Saturday’s fight with Liverpool’s Liam Smith in Manchester.
Two losses in 34 fights would represent an admirable career by most standards. Eubank went far beyond what was expected of him and now, at 33, is a seasoned professional determined to add world honors to his record.
And he’s a changed man in front of the cameras – much more outgoing and playful than his often younger, surly self.
“At first I found it very difficult to separate the Chris Eubank Jr in the ring from the Chris Eubank Jr on the street,” he says. “It was the same guy.
“But you have to understand, you have to relax. People don’t really want to be with a guy who is super serious all the time.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t fun not being able to laugh and mess around and joke around because I wanted to give off that warrior vibe everywhere I went.
“I learned to separate the two guys.”
It’s also worth noting that, in recent years, his dad has taken a step back from being at every press conference, every fight night, around the corner, and among all the celebrations.
‘Junior’ had been happy for him to hold court, answer questions and take center stage. But over time, things changed.
“It’s become too much,” he says.
“I would see him. ‘He’s not going anywhere without his father.’ As a man, it touches you a little My dad was great, he’s great, but I’m great too.
“Let me show my personality. It’s very hard to do that when you have a huge personality like my old man right next to you talking.
“When I realized that, I said to him, ‘You’re going to have to make room for me in certain areas.’ He understood and we’re great. We’re still close.”
“I’ve done too much to be the son of…”
Eubank was scheduled to fight Conor Benn in October, but that fight had to be called off.
The rivalry with Benn – evoking memories of when their fathers met in the ring in the 1990s – catapulted the Eubank star even further.
And he became an unlikely hero after Conor failed two drug tests, causing the fight to be canceled the day before it was supposed to take place.
Eubank thinks he’s been the ‘bad boy’ for most of his career, but thinks the tide may have turned – although he appreciates he’ll never convert everyone.
And even if he says he doesn’t need the money that would come with winning a world title, if he never claimed one, there would be a void.
“Would it keep me awake at night if I retired without winning a world middleweight title?” he asks. “Yes. I can do it. I can beat these guys.”
Retirement is not on his mind, he says, and he disagrees with the suggestion that he needs silverware to truly step out of his father’s considerable shadow.
He considers it a job already done.
“I’ve done too much to be ‘son of’,” he says.
“I’m still the son and I always will be. But people don’t come to me because I’m Chris Eubank’s son, they come to me because of what I’ve done and who I am.
“And that’s really all I wanted from the start.”