Another fascinating Q&A session with one of the greatest post-war European boxers, Chris Eubank Sr. We delve into his early career and thoughts on his best fights and ring displays and just why he never crossed the pond. Be inspired!
NowBoxing: When did you first believe you could become world champion?
Eubank: At 20 years old.
What convinced you?
Would you care to elaborate?
For 1. Alex Ramos and Richard Burton put every New Yorker they ever sparred with down on the canvas, but not me.
For 2. Johnny Walker Banks and (Merqui) Sosa used to get the better of the world’s three best fighters, pound-for-pound, in the middle of the ring – namely Marvin Hagler, Michael Spinks and Mike McCallum, 55% of the time. I got the better of Banks and Sosa 45% of the time in the middle of the ring.
There are gym fighters who can be near-unbeatable but cannot replicate outside head-guards and under the bright lights.
For 3. I sparred more than any other fighter I’ve ever known and harder than any other fighter I’ve ever known, which gave me a right to be a success.
What fights early doors were important to your confidence?
I recall James Canty in Atlantic City was one, a fight findable on YouTube today, because I remember when we looked at the tape of his previous fight he looked to have defeated a fighter called (Rigoberto) Lopez who was rated the number-one of North America at the time. This James Canty fought as a right-handed southpaw against me, which threw me off, and so his right hook became very strong and effective and it was a hard fight, but I won deservedly.
Then Anthony Logan, who had very nearly stopped Nigel Benn a few months before, and Benn was becoming rated in the World top-five and looking invincible. I had 11 fights when I fought this Anthony Logan and won it convincingly.
Indirectly, Nigel Benn’s success was important to my confidence, because unlike Nigel, I wasn’t being fed ‘deers in head-lights’ on the way up for a house and a Porsche – I was having to scrape my way against hard-headed, hard-fisted and hungry men for tickets for public transport and rent for a bedsit. Fighters like Simon Collins and Denys Cronin threw left hooks every bit as dangerous as Henry Wharton, who put Benn down heavily many years later despite stage fright.
Benn would never have become a WBC world top-fifteen middleweight in his 12th fight, and before he fought Michael Watson, had never learned his trade against a gatekeeping trickster like Randy Smith, or (Sanderline) Williams, who he later went on to fight. He never fought a dangerman like (Hugo) Corti before he fought Watson, like I did before I fought Benn himself. And physically, Benn couldn’t even throw punches for six rounds, where I did constantly at full-power for 12 rounds under the lights and in front of the lens without even breaking a sweat before I fought Benn himself.
Did you believe you could compete with Hagler, Leonard, Hearns and Duran, known as the Fab Four, when you were coming up as a young fighter?
I chose middleweight as my division when I settled in Britain due to Nigel Benn being that weight, the biggest name in British boxing; a 100% knockout record. At that time, Michael Nunn, Doug DeWitt and Iran Barkley were the world champions and Herol Graham and Mike McCallum were contesting another world title.
Graham and Nunn – being elusive southpaws who specialized in using the outskirts of the ring and two of the three most talented pound-for-pound, along with Pernell Whitaker – I decided I only had a punching chance to defeat.
The others rejected fights with me until a king’s ransom got Benn in the ring and made me champion, after seven years straight of zero socializing, zero substances and seven-day training, which I doubt any other fighter in the world could match; giving me the right to be world champion, call the shots, strike the poses and cash the cheques.
What brought you back to the UK after spending your boxing youth in New York City?
My manager and mentor, Adonis Torres, passed away in October 1987 and Bob Arum already rejected me in March 1987 saying that he only managed or promoted potential world champions. Ironically, I beat Arum’s fighter Nigel Benn for the world title a few years later. In February 1986, a promoter called Mr Russell Peltz rejected me in telling me I couldn’t box on his shows again because he didn’t like my posturing or facial expressions!
So anyway, I traveled to London from New York and did the rounds of British promoters, dodging train fares as I looked for a new manager. Frank Maloney didn’t like my attitude, so rejected me. Mickey Duff said, ‘Find a job first,’ and Frank Warren said, ‘Find a flat first.’ They couldn’t guarantee me a fight a month or six-weekly. One man who could was a gentleman by the name of Keith Miles in Brighton, giving me somewhere to live and a wage as well as regular outings to get me going.
I bumped into Barry Hearn in May 1989 at the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield after two weeks of sparring with Herol Graham before he fought Mike McCallum, and Barry liked my attitude, rated me as a future champion and paid me my value. He was by far the wisest British promoter, a fact.
What kept me going during these hard times trying to find my way in the hardest game and hardest business was the strength given to me indirectly by my three elder brothers in childhood, because they always rejected me and bullied me, and it’s through suffering that one gains strength.
You never fought in the US when you were champion or near your prime, but were there possibilities to do so and do you regret not doing so?
If you look at big ‘Lennie’ (Lennox) Lewis, he had to fight absolutely everybody for 12, 13 years to finally gain acceptance in the United States. He was so big, so strong and so good that he beat everybody and the Americans had no choice in the end but to accept him.
I was wise enough to realize that a fighter out of the United Kingdom trying to gain acceptance in the United States, (meant) I would have to fight wars of attrition – which particular matches would evolve into through technical stalemates – with all the fellow big fishes in this big pond, and my particular weight divisions consisted of the best fighters, pound-for-pound, of the world; and my misfortune was that fact, but my fortune was the fact of Nigel Benn and Michael Watson being of my era, of my size, of my stature, of my stubbornness, of my land, of my location, of my Alpha Male-ness, of my abilities, of my ambition… and so the three of us became a world unto our own outside of the United States, and thoroughly chipped away at each other in our five great encounters against each other on this side of the Atlantic, with fight atmospheres arguably completely blowing away the fight atmospheres experienced Stateside.
Even after the fact, I was still standing across the four-cornered circle from the likes of Graciano Rocchigiani and Joe Calzaghe and Benn still standing across the four-cornered circle from the likes of Gerald McClellan, all fighters of which America’s very best were rumored to have apparently avoided for whatever reason.
That’s my take. If you wanted to take my position, you became #1 contender for my championship. That’s it. I was a professional, that’s my take.
What makes a great champion?
What makes a champion is 4am running in rain, wind and snow across roads and beaches and four hours a day of repeating a punch or move in trying to perfect it, as well as getting in the four-cornered circle and sparring as hard as possible against an animalistic masochist despite having a bruised forehead, bruised ribcage and bruised knuckles. It’s being consistent with that six or seven days a week for a decade or two.
What makes a great champion is one who shows integrity.
Did you have a motto in your career?
My motto is integrity. My mantra was: ‘Training first, health second.’
What was the greatest performance of your career?
Michael Watson II fight. I don’t think a fighter in world history at world level has improved so much in 12 weeks, as Michael did between our fights. He was superhuman and forced me to be supernatural. That’s why I believe it is arguably the greatest fight ever.
What was the best performance of your career?
Carl Thompson II fight. I don’t think a fighter in world history at world level has produced their best ever performance in their last ever fight, let alone two weights away from their weight division and with one good eye. Not to blow smoke at myself!