You wonder whether, as children, Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn were more afraid of the dark than the other kids. Because even in daylight – even once the creeping tendrils of the night had lurched back under the bed – the darkness persisted, lingering in the form of the longest shadows.
Those shadows were cast by Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, and they have endured across decades, colouring the careers of the fighters’ sons. Eubank Jr and Benn have tried to outrun those shadows, even outbox them, but the boxing ring is the last place to find refuge from needling comparisons to the icons who raised these younger combatants.
“He has walked the same path as I have,” the 32-year-old Eubank Jr said of Benn, 25, this week. “I know his struggle. Living in the shadow of a legend and trying to break out of that shadow and make his own name.”
Then came the kicker.
“If he can beat me, his name will be made, and he will never walk in his father’s shadow again.”
The irony, of course, is that when Eubank Jr vs Benn was announced this week, it was essentially confirmed that London’s O2 Arena will be cloaked in the shadows of Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn on 8 October. Their sons, regardless of the result of their upcoming clash, will not be unshackling themselves of their fathers’ legacies this autumn; they will be profiting from those legacies, with direct inheritance not an option in this field or any.
Twenty-eight years and 364 days after Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn last collided in the ring, their sons – “born rivals” as the fight’s tagline reads – will renew that rivalry, apparently.
It is unclear how the result of this catchweight contest, between welterweight Benn and former IBO super-middleweight champion Eubank Jr, will influence Chris Eubank’s 1990 stoppage win over Nigel Benn, or the pair’s split draw three years later. Perhaps those results will be declared null and void, replaced in each instance by the judges’ scorecards or time of stoppage from Eubank Jr and Benn’s impending bout.
That is to say that, as surreal as these circumstances are, they have also clearly been manufactured. There is no intense dislike between Eubank Jr and Benn, unlike that which simmered between their fathers, and they compete two weight classes apart, whereas their dads fought in the same two divisions and in fact squared off once in each – their rivalry going down as one of the greatest in British boxing history.
This fight will be promoted by Matchroom, whose chief Eddie Hearn seems genuinely ecstatic about this in-ring meeting. There is a subtext here that this is a kind of endgame for each fighter, though Benn in particular has many years ahead of him. In any case, Hearn has hailed the bout as one of the biggest he has ever been involved in.
It certainly carries a degree of intrigue. Remove the two-weight world title accolades that apply to both Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn; Eubank Jr (32-2, 23 knockouts) and Conor Benn (21-0, 14 KOs) are fine, fine boxers. Benn may be the slightly more talented fighter, but Eubank Jr is the bigger man and has the greater experience. Both impressed last time out, with Eubank Jr dropping Liam Williams four times en route to a decision win over the Welshman in hostile territory, while Benn showed a much sharper killer instinct to stop Chris van Heerden in the second round. Benn is unbeaten, while Eubank Jr’s only defeats have come on points against the tricky former world champion Billy Joe Saunders in 2014 and wily veteran George Groves in 2018.
Eubank Jr vs Benn should provide enthralling exchanges, both when the gloves are on and when the microphones are plugged in, and the O2 Arena will barely be able to contain a buoyant atmosphere on fight night.
If the arena lights can expel the shadows cast over Eubank Jr and Benn in the ring, the fight should be a spectacle. But these fighters know better than anyone that those shadows tend to linger.
Eubank Jr and Benn will have never looked more like their fathers than they will on 8 October. That is not necessarily a good thing.