Bumping into none of other than former WBO middle/super-middle champ of the 90s (and comical English icon) Chris Eubank in the lobby of the Mayfair Hotel in London was a pleasure in itself.
But the former champ agreeing to discuss his career and boxing opinions with me while sipping warm water with peels of lemon and lime was my wildest expectation for the day!
Q: Right, Chris! When did you first start boxing?
A: In February 1983 in Jerome Boxing Club in New York City.
What were you doing in New York?
I had lots of Jamaican relatives over there and was living in the apartment of the elderly German lady that my mother worked for as a live-in nurse, having jumped bail from England with prison on the horizon.
My mother put me on the straight and narrow by advising me to attend church, enrol at school and join the local gymnasium – the Jerome Boxing Club.
I quit all forms of smoking, all alcohol, all stealing, all street fighting, all law breaking – wanting nothing other than to please my mother and her Jamaican friends and be ‘the good boy.’
What do you remember about your early teaching of the fistic art form?
(Laughs slowly) I like that – The Fistic Arm Form! (Laughs slowly) Frustration!
In what way?
Failure to grasp the techniques. Even the little things that most boxers take for granted, when a trainer would say move right or move left the typical boxer would just move left or right, pushing off their furthest foot from the destination.
I had to stop and think. The idea when you move forward is to push off the back leg, and vice versa. Move right, push off the left leg, and vice versa. If you get caught while dragging your feet, you’re going down.
I would have to stop and think, as in it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t efficient at first. That’s just an example.
It took me more than 1,500 sessions to learn how to throw the right hand. Most boxers would just throw it reasonably correctly without thinking within a day or two. Although to be fair I did want it picture-perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, I naturally had the speed, accuracy and timing – I mastered the speed ball to a tee within a few weeks and my jab was as solid as my right hand as well as doubled and trebled within a few sessions – it just took a lot of repetition and practice to get the footwork and power.
Was it always an ambition to be a future world champion?
At first, you want glory. In the amateur ranks, I fought for glory and pride. I was young and naïve. It was all about the belts, trophies, medals and bragging rights. I was 17. You grow up.
I took on the very best New York had to offer, and they happened to be the best in the United States and the World as well. Mark Breland as a substitute in which my jab lived with his jab, and Dennis Milton in a four-round gym fight which was declared a draw.
The guys who trained at the Jerome gym included Vince Phillips, who was a future world professional champion who fought Ricky Hatton, and Rey Rivera who was a future Olympian who fought Richie Woodhall.
You become a professional when you have bills to pay and families to feed. You grow up. I was never the very best of the best at the amateur level, so at the professional level why aim to be higher than only equal to the very best out there, which I was.
Why do you believe yourself and Nigel Benn became such big household stars so early on whereas the likes of Steve Collins, Joe Calzaghe and Carl Froch had to wait until the end of their careers to gain similar attention?
Myself and Nigel would fight about 12 to 15 fights in a period of about 12 months and change managers and promoters to get more exposure. It’s called effort, it’s called an earning of what you get. It’s quite simple.
Talk to us about your six legendary fights with Nigel Benn, Michael Watson and Steve Collins…
Here were four warriors who had an inner animal. I have a philosophy that if you actually have a superior boxing ability to your opponent, you must be very careful not to humiliate the man, because you then risk bringing out the animal within him, which can be very dangerous.
Michael Watson in our second fight beat me so bad he was actually physically holding me up and humiliating me. You hear about mothers being able to lift cars and hold them up to free their trapped children. There’s a fight or flight response. Tragically, it occurred in one particular punch for me against Michael in September 1991.
For Michael, for Nigel and for Steve it occurred upon viewing their first fights against me in study for the second fights, from where I humiliated them with my boxing ability. Schooled them in many rounds. That gave these men their animalistic prowess to train like mad men and then fight out of their skin with not just different techniques and tactics but legendary resolve in the second fights, of which were all extremely difficult rematches for me.
Do you consider yourself a great fighter?
That’s not for me to say. I won’t blow my own trumpet, so to speak. One must have humility if one wants respect. So I may dodge that question, if I may?
What makes a great champion in your view?
You can win the title once, but if you win it twice, that surely makes you a great champion. If I leave you with the objective facts, nothing subjective, you understand? I fought seven multiple-time world champions in my career in less than seven years with none of which in their forties. To my knowledge, no fighter in the history of boxing up to today can claim the same.
Another theory which is correct is that you can win the world championship, but twice as hard is to defend it. If you defend it successfully against former or future world champions and mandatory challengers, you must be a great champion. You are fighting fighters of ilk, pedigree and objective standing and winning world title matches against these men. You’re a great champion.
To become a legend of your own time is another matter. There are legends, myths and tales. But there is a thing called adversity, and to overcome that is a greatness I believe that’s in a rank above.
If there is a fight in which 99.9% of people would bet against one fighter winning, and that fighter with the supposedly 0.1% chance of winning wins, that is what I mean by legend of your own time – what hundreds of millions of people witnessed as it happened, not told through hundreds or thousands of years. It’s what Nigel Benn achieved in his career, when Gerald McClellan had him down and he went on to win.
What are your thoughts on Joe Calzaghe. What might be overrated about him and what underrated?
Well, obviously it’s a lot easier to defend the world championship once every six or seven months as he did than once every six or seven weeks as I did. But take nothing away from him, he never lost.
One thing people overlooked about Mr Calzaghe was his physical strength. Every fighter I fought, I had them into the ropes, apart from Joe.
How would you have beaten Roy Jones Jr?
Would I have beaten Roy Jones Jr? The answer is unlikely although depends on the strength of his chin to some extent.
It really doesn’t matter now, but what would I have done? This guy wasn’t a complete fighter, yet dominated all opponents with his unusual speed and unusual technique. He always had a bounce in his step, never looked tired and threw a lot of power shots and flurries. How do you beat a guy like this in his prime?
When I say he wasn’t a complete fighter, he couldn’t jab or fight off the ropes. Whereas Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard could. But the point being is he didn’t need to, whereas they did.
I would’ve fought him like this: I would’ve looked at his feet, not his hands. Roy Jones would always lengthen his stance when he was about to throw a power shot or shorten his stance when he was about to throw a flurry. Upon stance readjustment I would’ve covered up and timed my offensive response accordingly.
I believe either he or I or both would out of frustration have turned it into more of a violent tangle, if my approach wasn’t working for me I would’ve needed to get him to the ropes and take punches to do so. If he was struggling with my approach, he would’ve started throwing more than one power shot at a time meaning we would be throwing at the same time in ring centre, a battle of wills, power and durability.
He was gifted with more power and I was gifted with a strong constitution. Who knows? It would’ve been a frightening war, that’s for sure.
Who out there can beat Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward, the sports two pound-for-pound best right now?
The law of averages suggests you’re going to lose. I did, Muhammad Ali did, Tyson did, Naseem did. We all lose, and so will too be the case for Mayweather Jr.
As for Ward, his talent is not far off the likes of Michael Nunn and James Toney but they lost fights and so will he, unless he retires first obviously, which makes a peculiar situation and leaves more question marks than stamps in the scheme of things.