By Ryan Tackie
Chris ‘Simply The Best’ Eubank Senior, the former WBO 160 & 168lb kingpin from 1990 to 1995, kindly takes time to discuss insights into his personal life during his early career and some never before published views on his peers.
Eubank became somewhat of a celebrity figure in the UK during his hey day but proved himself about as tough as they come in the squared circle if the going ever got rough, and at times it did just that.
It was a pleasure to hear some of these surprising insights.
How did you first get into boxing?
Chris Eubank: I trained at a boxing gym in South Bronx to occupy my time outside school and keep me out of trouble. I worked as janitor to pay my fees and one day in February 1983 one of the fighters had nobody to spar with and asked me to step in – the rest is history.
Did you always believe you’d become a champion?
CE: No, I had a trainer who didn’t have the ability to teach me how to pivot with a left hook, how to fight inside or how to side step or bob and weave correctly.
I taught myself all these skills by mimicking Maximo Pierret teaching the professionals at the gym. It took me years and years to become a skilled fighter.
Were you considered a good prospect?
CE: I was unaware but SportsChannel America spoke to my mentor Adonis Torres regarding signing me up and Adonis took me off TV instead.
He advised me against stepping up to six-rounders after a hard fight with one Eric Holland. I had only been boxing three years so had a lot of skills to learn in the gym before I stepped up. He wanted the best for me.
I did beat Dennis Milton, an aggressive body puncher, in one of my last amateur fights with just a jab, a right hand and foot movement, which was all I really had.
Only in the summer of 1988 did Dennis tell me that he had already beaten all the reigning World middleweight champions in the amateur ranks – Iran Barkley and (Frank) Tate and Michael Nunn. That’s when I believed I could be a World champion.
We sparred all that summer in the Bronx and watched Roy Jones Jr robbed in the Olympics final, before I went back to Brighton in time for Nigel Benn fighting Anthony Logan.
I managed to beat Logan on a Nigel Benn undercard for a WBC number-15 ranking, so now I had made a name for myself. The one thing missing was a promoter and manager – nobody wanted to touch me.
On the strength of my performance in the Logan fight, I sparred with Herol Graham for a negotiated £1,000 for his fight with McCallum, so now I had some money! While in Sheffield, I attended the 1989 World Snooker Championships and introduced myself to Barry Hearn, and the rest is history!
When was this in your career?
CE: My first fight with Matchroom was against the slippery journeyman Randy Smith. I had acquired VHS tapes of Smith’s fights with reigning World middleweight champions McCallum and Nunn, and saw that I was just as dominant as either of them against him. This convinced me I was on that level.
Then suddenly I was top of the bill on a big Essex card in the summer of ’89 and boxed out of my skin, showing the whole repertoire I had learned and mastered from a distance watching Maximo Pierret teach others and Bronx gym fighter Dennis Cruz dance and shadow box.
Also, the Matchroom Gym in Romford had much better facilities than the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove. Barry Hearn paid me enough that I was able to buy a car and rent a flat. I had been living in a box room on a sofa-bed with my then-future wife Karron before meeting Barry Hearn.
So the stars aligned and that secured my self-belief. But let’s have it correct here – I was always willing to give my life, and I knew nobody trained harder, because it wasn’t possible!
So, the fact I had integrity, the fact I gave myself up to loneliness – substance-free – and the fact I had never been down in the gym despite tens of thousands of rounds with killers in New York City: I always had this unshakeable self-belief I could rise to the top given the opportunity.
To answer the question, in short, I don’t think many thought I was a particularly good prospect until the Logan fight – apart from Ronnie Davies, who thought I was the best he’d seen since Sugar Ray Robinson in the gym.
How did the famous Nigel Benn first fight come about?
CE: I called him out, at every opportunity, that’s how. I was calling for Benn back in ’88 in my first ever publicised interview for Boxing News, it was December 1988 just after my Logan fight was made. Benn was massive at the time and I needed a break.
I was just an ordinary guy. Very humble, but proud. Poor, but proud.
How can I say? I lived with my mother in the South Bronx who was a live-in nurse, and I was on a mattress on the floor in a box room. Yet I’m going to Madison Square Gardens in the Golden Gloves in front of 17,000 all of a sudden, as an 18-year-old who had been boxing two years total. Okay?
All the neighbours and my aunties are watching on ABC Wide World of Sports. I’m just a kid who’s not too long started boxing!
A few years later, dismissed from two day jobs, I was sleeping on my brothers sofa in Brighton – surviving off a piece of toast a day – when Ronnie gets me on a huge bill at Wembley Arena on about three and a half hours notice in front of a big crowd and BBC cameras.
I am a nobody. This is abnormal stuff, you know? I tell someone at the petrol station, buying a Lucozade that Ronnie – who drove us to London – leant me the money for, that I am on my way to Wembley to box in a professional boxing fight and they are blown away.
I’m just an ordinary guy, you understand? I always was, I still am!
But Nigel – I saw through him. He had it all on a plate and lacked integrity back then. The law of the universe suggested to me that I should beat him because I was true. I followed the guy – I was intensely jealous!
What might of occurred had you fought Mike McCallum to unify or defend against?
CE: He’d of probably stopped me on body shots. I was still a novice back then in some ways, because all I did to absorb body shots was sit ups and medicine ball.
It wasn’t until I brought in Maximo Pierret from New York before the second Benn fight that I was taught how to absorb body shots correctly, which was breathing through the nose with ones mouth closed and keeping tense, and to urge sparring partners to try to slice me in two to practice the method.
I was also extremely tight at 11st6lb in 1991 and we were weighing in the day of the fight. It wasn’t until after the second Michael Watson fight that the rule for the weigh-ins was changed to the day prior to prevent fighting dehydrated.
Did you believe you deserved the decision against Watson in the highly controversial first fight at London’s famous Earls Court?
CE: Watch the fight, it’s blatantly clear but the public opinion was marred by jealousy. Here is a guy who has brand new Range Rovers at 24 – paid in cash, a big house with no mortgage and big garden, has just been voted the best-dressed man in the United Kingdom and probably speaks as eloquently and well-mannered as anyone on Television. And he’s earned whatever he has the hard way and never misbehaves.
‘We are not like this man’, ‘How can he be like that’ – it’s marred, marred. But watch the fight objectively. Michael hurts me with a body shot in the tenth round, his first bit of success in the fight. But he doesn’t press the fight when I am there for the taking. The strength in my legs is gone because I’m so weak at the weight, so I wouldn’t of been able to keep him off had he gone for it.
To win the title from the champion you actually have to take it off him.
Give me time and I’m going to catch your shots at breakneck speed because I spar hard all year round with no breaks and was the only fighter to spar hard up until the day before the fight itself, which is how I could counter so sharply without even needing to catch or slip or block or move prior to doing so!
In the rematch, Michael didn’t give me a second to even draw a breath.
Who was your best title challenger during your super middleweight reign?
CE: I would say Dan Schommer. Well, I led off you see due to believing he was an easy nights work based on his appearance, which fooled me – I mean, he didn’t even look like a fighter – yet he countered me and picked up the rounds, and so I had to continue leading off because I’m now chasing the fight.
He was always just slightly out of range, which was usually my forte. He had fast hands, he hit hard, and he was southpaw. And he could take a punch. Had it been a non-title fight or had he been the champion, he’d of got the decision.
I won because I was more aggressive than him and because I was the champion.
Another very good boxer was Ray Close. Light hands and light feet always bothered me because I was too correct for my own good – I had to set myself to pivot to punch, due to OCD, and so I could be outboxed.
However, when Ray was on my chest on the ropes late on in Glasgow, that uppercut inside was so correct that it couldn’t of traveled more than three inches, and so dropped him very heavily.
The very best mechanics were the late Tony Thornton and Lindell Holmes – I wasn’t gifted enough in technique to do what they did. They were better than me!
For instance, Thornton could pull his shots back mid-flight when he felt they wouldn’t land – I couldn’t do this, very few fighters are that skilled.
Lindell Holmes wouldn’t just catch your punches, he would actually deflect them in another direction which meant it took longer for you to pull it back into place.
It was like Mr Thornton and Lindell were a level above me in mechanical skill, but they couldn’t move their feet as well as I could. Nobody could. When I shadow boxed for 12 rounds, seven days a week, I always used my feet as well as my fists.
So the truth is, I just outworked everyone. Not in the ring, in the gym.
Readers will be amazed you didn’t mention Nigel Benn, Graciano Rocchigiani or Steve Collins!
CE: These are what you call strong fighters, great fighters. Yeah. Strong, great. Intangibles…. Intangibles, Google it.
Well, Steve Collins actually had no talent whatsoever. The 20 challengers for the title before him were better than Collins.
The first one (loss) doesn’t count because he got in my head. But the second fight, he beat me fair and square and he beat me the only way he could – fight like you should be in a padded cell. That’s it. Fight like you should be in a padded cell.
To his credit, he fractured my ribs in maybe the first minute of that second fight and this affected my breathing throughout, and he charged at me nonstop for 12 rounds basically – with zero technical skill, which made him impossible to read or time.
You come out of retirement and you face Joe Calzaghe for the vacant title, what were your thoughts going into that?
CE: Well I wasn’t training for Calzaghe, I was training for a light-heavyweight fight. Steve Collins decided to duck Joe, the mandatory challenger – something I would never of done as world champion – and so I stepped in to save the day.
Based on appearance and resume, I thought he wouldn’t be much problem. Maybe for a few rounds, being a southpaw. My mind was changed in 15 seconds! I was on my back for the first time in my entire life!
This was a serious, serious fighter, I am thinking. And in my mind I am thinking I’m probably not going to get a look-in now until the championship rounds because he is coming at me with blistering combinations, I haven’t had southpaw sparring and I can’t actually move much because my knees are so bad they’re requiring cortisol.
In the dying seconds of the fight, I finally have him going but he holds on for the bell.
You closed your career with heroic performances against Carl Thompson at cruiserweight, rocking him many times in two close fights despite a swelled eye for most of the fights.
Who do you rank as the best you fought in your glittering 52-fight career?
CE: Benn was the best puncher by a long way, Schommer was the best boxer-puncher, Collins in the rematch was the only guy to officially beat me fair and square in my prime, Joe Calzaghe had the fastest hands by a long way, but the only fighter to ever beat me up and break me down was Michael Watson in our second fight.
In three months, Michael became three times the fighter he was first time around and I don’t know how. It was almost supernatural, and driven by a certain hate, which was a lot darker and deeper than the hate Nigel had for me.
He took everything and kept coming. I believe truth caused almost a divine intervention as that was all that could stop him, but truth was required.
Do you regret not facing Roy Jones or James Toney?
CE: James Toney is the greatest middleweight in history, and one of the greatest fighters in history, period. Roy Jones, on a head to head basis, is arguably the best fighter we’ll ever see.
Put it this way – I would be walking around on my heels now had I taken those fights. You would be fighting for your life against these men, as they would against me.
That’s a huge statement regarding Toney! Care to elaborate?
CE: Michael Nunn was the pound-for-pound best fighter at the time. He was like a taller, more active, more conventional Herol Graham and with this sublime natural ability. Nobody made it look as easy as Nunn, not even my man Pernell Whitaker. James Toney came from behind and knocked Nunn out in Nunn’s hometown.
You don’t see slick fighters today like these southpaws and the other one was this Reggie Johnson. Toney got off the canvas in the first round and actually won the fight on points. Then he drew with the legendary McCallum. He’s what, 21, 22? This is all in six months.
I used to watch these bouts live in Romford with the Matchroom boys who lived in a house together there, but thanks to YouTube and Boxrec you can go back and see just how great this was.
He rematched McCallum and beat the man. McCallum was a man that was avoided by the Fabulous Four of the eighties in Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and the amazing Thomas Hearns.
James Toney would’ve fought anyone. Even Iran Barkley, who was from South Bronx, and would not stop coming if you had actual bricks in your gloves and (if) he had no arms. Even Roy Jones. Even heavyweights, even cruiserweights. I was begrudgingly very proud of him!
You can’t beat speed and Roy Jones had more of it than any fighter I’ve ever laid eyes on. His unconventional punching ability was off the page. Interestingly, Roy said he felt the only fighter who would’ve troubled him was me.
I stand by those statements.