A Q&A with the European fight legend Chris Eubank.
Chris, you started boxing in the South Bronx in the early 80s, why was this?
I was living there. I decided to quit smoking, drinking and drugs and go to school, gym and church. The idea was to improve mind, body and soul.
From one extreme to the other is the way I’m made and the only way I know. From living with no furniture or television and off eggs and bread in the late seventies, in 1981 I was making £1,000 a week when the average wage packet was £60, through shoplifting and trading.
All or nothing, black or white, hot or cold. That’s the way Chris Eubank is. So I put it all into boxing. I had the keys to the gym being the caretaker, and I was always in there, morning, noon and night, sometimes even in the early hours when I couldn’t sleep – every Christmas Day, every New Years Day, every Thanksgiving. It was training, training, training.
I didn’t have two pennies to scratch my backside with, I was living in a terrifying burnt-out neighborhood on foreign land without access to a firearm – so it’s not like I had much choice but to lock myself away in the gym and just train, train.
Do you feel you would’ve had a better schooling in England through the ABA system?
Absolutely not. I would never have made it as a boxer starting out in the United Kingdom. The English style was that of high chin, high hands, straight shots, basic moves and tap-tap sparring. Never was that enough to prepare a fighter of little natural ability and limited body structure. No.
It was a great education to get beaten up every day in the sparring ring. The more violent, the better. You learn on the job, on the hoof. You learn much better that way, because when you make mistakes you get physically punished, not tapped or told off.
I studied world-class fighters in the flesh every day, watching them spar – Alex Ramos, Wilfredo Gomez, Hector Camacho, Dennis Cruz, Milton Guest, Richard Burton.
Who taught you your unique style?
I picked the brains of trainers like Luis Camacho and Lenny DeJesus, who had worked with Benitez and Duran, and who had learned from the great trainer of Joe Louis, (Eddie) Futch, and the trainer of Ali, Angelo Dundee.
I picked the brains of the fledgling trainer Patrick Ford, who had fought some of the best pound-for-pound fighters and had learned from Futch and the trainer of Tyson, Cus D’Amato.
The great Floyd Patterson would bring his fighters down to spar and they were in the Tyson mold, so I learned to deal with that style. I learned to deal with the Philadelphian style in my early pro career, the wild left hooks and wild overhand rights.
The slugging style was the most common in New York, the running style the least common – that probably showed in my pro career, how easy I dealt with slugging compared to tap-and-go.
My foot movement originally was a mirror copy of the aesthetically pleasing southpaw Dennis Cruz. And Maximo Pierret, who trained Cruz, Pedro Villela and Milton Guest to the top of the world ranks, taught me how to move and punch like Tyson. Maximo was later in my corner at world title fights towards the end of my title reign.
So I was well-coached in the basics and all the tricks. I started bringing martial arts theories into my training in the period 1986/87 under the guidance of a martial arts expert Walter Johnson, known to me as ‘Doctor’.
I developed a footwork of every dimension, which had never been seen before in boxing. I wanted to be the complete fighter, and to me it was common sense that if you only move left or right, or forward or back, you are limited.
I learned to move both ways, both directions, then diagonally to attack at angles. I never wanted to be one-dimensional, two-dimensional, (or) three-dimensional. It was all or nothing. The only way.
The idea with my footwork was to be persistently non-rhythmic, which I taught myself to get ahead, because it puts you in a position where you’re actually controlling your opponent without throwing a punch, because he has to constantly re-set himself.
Since myself, we have seen Roy Jones and Floyd Mayweather adopt similar styles of movement with great success.
When did you first become aware of Nigel Benn?
I was in London from June 1987 to October 1987 living with a girlfriend in Croydon, and Benn would be on ITV under Frank Warren scoring one-round knockouts. He was a cross between the Tyson style and the Philadelphian style, so stylistically I was his master. However, his punch was the most devastating I had ever seen – so the entire question was: He either knocks me out or I beat him, will he knock me out?
Do you remember when the fight was first talked about?
I brought it up myself in 1988. I’d just withstood heavy blows from two cruiserweights in the space of two weeks on two hours notice and a summer of sparring with cruiserweight Keith Bristol and heavy-punching Rod Douglas. I was never even hurt so my chin had to be good.
Then Nigel confirmed he was a mindless fighter against Anthony Logan. I was very confident that the fight was mine if it happened so called him out.
Benn went to America after his loss to Michael Watson, was he still on your radar and did you ever consider returning to the States yourself?
It was too typical for an English-trained fighter to aim to get to America to fight. I wanted to be different. I was in fact an American-trained fighter aiming to get to England to fight Nigel Benn, because I detected that that’s where the money was – and my detections proved correct!
As champion I enjoyed weekend shopping trips to Manhattan far too much to risk not enjoying them because of paparazzi or what not. I was living my dream. These days I go to Vegas for flutters and I mostly don’t get noticed, which makes it far more relaxing and enjoyable.
When did the Benn fight first become a reality?
When Barry Hearn offered him a million to defend the world title against me. It was an all-time great investment.
Did it remain your toughest and greatest ever fight?
One of them. To me, it’s about truth, and the truth is that glory is for God. I was ecstatic with ecstasy at the point of triumph over Benn only because I had honored 10,000 hours of constant repetition and supposedly gained respect from my elder siblings, which had shaped my mind-set from an early age, something they had never yet to show me.
The fight that tested my truth even more than Benn, was the Michael Watson II fight. That was my greatest fight, and it was my greatest fight because it was the toughest fight, and because I got up to carry on in a fight I seemingly had no chance of winning. It’s why I respected Jeff Lacy so much more after his fight with Calzaghe, not when he was lifting Robin Reid off his feet with uppercuts.
Who would you say was your best challenger out of Malinga, Thornton, Holmes, Rocchigiani, Amaral, Schommer or Wharton?
They each had different qualities but none were complete fighters. For tightness and long-range boxing, Rocchigiani or Malinga. For compact explosion, Holmes or Thornton. For chess-playing, Schommer. For robustness, Wharton or Amaral. For persistence, Wharton or Thornton.
They all had their own qualities. But with me being a complete fighter, was why I kept winning. I could play chess with and out-move Rocchigiani, Malinga, Holmes, Thornton and Wharton. Amaral wasn’t easy because he kept moving out of range, but he wasn’t well-schooled or strategic. Schommer was the strategic thinker but couldn’t withstand my robustness and persistence.
The key is to have all the tricks, all the styles and attributes. Don’t specialize in one area.
Who do you believe would’ve won had the fight between Steve Collins and Joe Calzaghe took place?
I know who’d have won. I know who was better in most areas and sharper. But it’s unfair of me to say, because it didn’t happen.
Did you avoid Roy Jones, James Toney and Michael Nunn?
Absolutely. Only when the time was right would I have contested them, and the same goes for their side towards me as well. They avoided me just as much because I was an awkward match, as did their teams.
Boxing is business. You want financial security before you risk losing or you’ll end up in the gutter. Naseem, Joe and Ricky all followed my lead. Naz didn’t fight Barrera, Calzaghe didn’t fight Hopkins and Hatton didn’t Tszyu or Mayweather until they were already secure financially.
I actually signed a stipulation to fight Nunn and a stipulation to fight Toney – if I beat Benn and if I remained unbeaten during the Sky TV deal. But me and Benn drew and Toney lost to Jones, and I lost to Collins.
Jones refused to fight me in the period 1996/97, and said in about ’93 that the one fighter he would have problems with was me.