What got you started?
I was working as a janitor at a gym in New York when I was 16 and started sparring. I had already been a street fighter in London, practicing Kung Fu moves I had seen from Kung Fu movies on Caucasian skinheads.
At Jerome gym in New York, a Puerto Rican fighter nicknamed ‘Horse’ couldn’t find anybody to spar with. It was a rude awakening, but made me give up smoking and drinking and made me spar daily to get better. I had already mastered the speed ball to a tee and could throw 500 consecutive one-two’s at full power on a heavy bag. But getting in that ring and sparring is a totally different ball game, my dear friend.
How good were you as an amateur?
Good enough to win an official New York title and win an unofficial fight against American’s best, (Dennis) Milton. The title I won was the Spanish Golden Gloves and I was an 18-year-old junior in my first year taking on seasoned seniors in their 20s. I did lose seven fights in my amateur career, though; so I was far from the finished article.
What were your best qualities?
Timing and will. Timing is your base; if you release too early or too late, you’ll be hit with a counter or lead. You must have that will, no matter what pain you have to endure, no matter what the risk of being knocked out may be if you have to move in for the kill on an opponent when trying to climb the ladder or take a title. You must know when to slow down, when to speed up. You only get all that from sparring and ring experience.
My technical skill was a major strength because I never missed the second jab when doubling it over, I never dropped my arm before unleashing an uppercut and I never spread my elbow when executing the left hook to the body. This made it mighty difficult for all opponents to read when or where punches were coming. You had to take punches against Eubank, you just had to.
What would you consider your ‘off’ and ‘on’ nights in your career?
‘Off’ is negative. So let’s deal with the positive – I was on my game about 30% of my professional fights. And when I say on my game, I mean poetry in motion or like a flawless diamond.
What about injuries and illness?
You’re never not injured – it’s boxing, you’re supposed to be injured. Enduring pain is the name of the game. That’s really all it is. Training through pain barriers to develop technique, reflexes and most of all immunity; that’s what boxing is.
I felt nausea or influenza every time I fought on foreign soil or in open air. I’m not sure why.
What would you say was your greatest victory?
Michael Watson II fight.
How far can Chris Jr go?
He’s better than I was when I was 6-0. I believe he will be special, not just champion of the world, but very special. How can I measure my sons potential in accordance to the fact he is better than I was at 6-0? I don’t know if what I managed to do will be replicated by anybody in my lifetime. Beating the world’s hardest puncher in Benn I without covering up and finding my hardest ever punch when I was completely spent in Watson II was the start of a reign that saw 20 world championships in four years and four months and the longest unbeaten record in boxing, followed by four multimillion pound world title fights off of losses, which is unheard of.
But Christopher, my son, can be even more special in his own way, his own right.
Do you regret not fighting Roy Jones Jr or Mike McCallum?
McCallum wouldn’t give me a shot when I was earning £8,000 a fight, so I didn’t give him a shot when I was earning £800,000 a fight. Fairs fair but we didn’t officially dodge each other because we weren’t mandated to fight each other. Same with Roy Jones. Some fighters, like Steve Collins and Roy Jones, would dodge the mandated contender if he was a big southpaw with an unbeaten record or skill and speed.
Nobody can accuse me of doing such a thing, as I took on the likes of Graciano Rocchigiani and Joe Calzaghe when nobody else would, and every time a contender was mandated I fought them.
Would you say you were a better super-middleweight than your American peers?
That’s not for me to say. That’s for boxing aficionados to discuss for hundreds of years to come. It’s not for me to say, what can I say? I know I had some of the best victories of my time, such as Graciano Rocchigiani who you look at in his fights and you see that unofficially he defeated the best light-heavies out there after he fought me, you look and you see this was a 35 and 0 operator and former world champion. And you see me dominate the man for six rounds. You see me dominate Michael Watson for six rounds, dominate the cruiserweight world champion for six rounds twice when I was still a super-middle to light-heavy, dominate Thornton for six rounds who was James Toney’s equal for six rounds if I remember correctly; you tell me. Bagging all these fights in my mind at the halfway stage…
Not even Roy Jones was dominant like that in his light-heavyweight title reign until the light-heavies evaporated, and he had dominated in the super-middleweight largely due to the fact that that division had already evaporated. What we can’t obviously take away from Roy Jones was his outrageous punching ability – unorthodox technique, lightning speed and stinging strength could devastate pretty much anybody he fought.
Regarding your question – It’s for you to tell me these things!
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