By Leon Smith
The ever-intriguing Chris ‘English’ Eubank Sr. continues giving us his breathtaking insights and analysis on all things boxing, including intricacies in his own career.
Unknown facts about you?
Chris Eubank Sr: I’m actually a qualified secretary. I never really wanted to be a boxer. But 9 til 5, Monday to Friday for 50 years didn’t appeal to me either. And the long arm of the law will always catch up, if you go that route. It just so happened I was obsessed with the art form, so I got exceptionally good at it.
When I was 18, I preferred watching Eddie Murphy than watching boxing. My favorite sportsman was Carl Lewis, not a boxer. I ran the 400m dash in 50 seconds for Morris High, because I had high hips. I typed 60 words per minute at 100% accuracy on a buckle spring keyboard and had the equivalent of a black belt in karate and tai chi. I could also walk on my hands, like the top gymnasts.
Boxing was what I was best at though. I was a natural transcendentalist – I remember when I was sofa surfing at 15 in London I would catch taxis to libraries to read books on Gandhi, for instance, with the street cash I made from stealing and selling. Those same shelves would one day carry my autobiography, before autobiographies became a thing, so to speak.
So I boxed for a living because you’re self-employed and pleasing ones self, and so became hardcore extrinsic due to being at pains with what I was doing because I was doing too much of it, although I adored the actual craft. I began adoring the craft watching Mexican southpaw Dennis Cruz in the Bronx when I was 16, and I still do adore it.
You would not have heard of Dennis Cruz – he was a gym fighter, a super-featherweight. He had perfect balance and was poetry in motion.
I can only put a young Floyd Mayweather and Pernell Whitaker, right through Pernell’s career, alongside Dennis Cruz in terms of what I view as artistry and grace. Maybe Michael Nunn, at a push.
Describe your natural fighting style?
I don’t know about natural, I’m a thinker. I was a developed boxer-puncher with a chin, basically. I always believed in my movement, my ring craft. My natural gift was my jab, my speed and my accuracy. So I didn’t need pad work, pad work was window dressing to me.
Within minutes of my first boxing lesson in February 1983, the trainer who worked with novice amateurs – which was fighters with less than 10 fights – Andy Martinez, more of a fitness trainer, was flabbergasted at both the strength of my jab and the speed of which I pulled my right hand back to my chin after throwing it.
It just took me two years to learn how to throw the right hand correctly though, and three years to learn how to throw the left hook correctly, and five years to have the left hook mastered. Because I had high hips. By mastered I mean throwing them at full power from the first round.
But what I wasn’t was fluent and fluid and flowing, if you like, like a Pernell Whitaker who would dance in the middle of range and not be hit, while picking you to pieces.
I would change pace, I would change direction, I would move in and out of range from both sides, because what I needed was the opponent to be offset for me to actually set myself to pivot, you see.
I wasn’t very good, and so I just had to make the most of my movement in there. And I knew I worked on my dancing and moving more than any other fighter, so the opponent couldn’t telegraph me. I wouldn’t step or bounce like others, I would glide – due to the thousands of hours I put into moving around in the gym.
And the judges are right there by the ring, at near eye level with my feet, so if they are seeing my feet moving on what appears to be cushions rather than a hard canvas, that’s appealing to them, even if subconsciously. Then a posture at the end of a round could swing it.
Even if my opponent is more naturally talented than me and is outboxing me toe to toe, I’ve won the round on the scorecards.
Who could beat you in your young prime?
I studied all the world’s top ten middleweights throughout the summer of 1989, after winning every minute of every round against trickster Randy Smith and displaying perhaps the most perfect exhibition of dexterous foot movement and complex punching you’ll see against the hideously overmatched Les Wisinewski. If you want to see a skillster, you watch me against Wisinewski.
I came to the conclusion that only Herol Graham – the grandmaster of being evasive – could beat me, having sparred with him. And maybe Michael Nunn, at a push. The middleweight division was pound-for-pound the best, with only Pernell being more talented.
I felt my ring movement and jab would beat the gifted Mike McCallum, although in hindsight he’d of stopped me on body shots, late. I had about 2% bodyfat making 160 for title fights and fighting that evening, and McCallum was the master at finding the liver and solar plexus.
We had less knowledge of the nutrients and the minerals and biologics back in the 90s. I mean, for the last three or four rounds of any 12 round fight, my legs would be cramping.
And I wasn’t an arm puncher, so the punches would loosen and widen and look ungainly, and the mobility became a bouncing motion. I wouldn’t of been able to find the bite of a clutch on a vehicle for instance, in this state.
I had not eaten any food or drank any fluid for days on end to make the weight. But this was actually of benefit when the weigh-ins became 24 to 28 hours prior to the contest, after the Michael Watson tragedy, because I could balloon up to 182lb and land a couple of body shots per round, thrown with my weight into them, to slow the opponent enough come those last few rounds.
That was my title reign at super-middle, basically. And after the Saturday fight night, I’d be back in the gym on the Monday morning in full training – that’s proof that I didn’t believe I was very good. If I did it part-time, I’d of lost, because I wasn’t gifted with it.
What was your best punch?
I can see your jab, unless you’re Thomas Hearns or my sparring partner Dean Francis. I can see yours, can you see mine?
You are standing still, and so raising your elbow or twitching your shoulder to initiate… It’s easy to catch or slip – for me at least, because my reflexes are on point from hard sparring right up until the day before the fight.
I’m stepping in with my jab, so my shoulder is stooped and still and I’m not raising my elbow until the glove is approaching your eyes. You’re more gifted than me, but I’m clever.
And if you can touch your opponents head with your left hand, you can also land a damaging jab. That’s a fact.
More regarding jab/tactics:
If I’m not stepping in, I’m trebling or quadrupling it. Even when I’m stepping, I’m mostly doubling it.
So my jab alone, coupled with my multi-directional foot movement and my cast-iron chin, just those three attributes alone would take some beating, for any human who has lived near my size.
I may not of been all that good in my own view, but I had those and all the eye catching shots in my arsenal to sway judges with one shot if opportunity presented. I might not be good but I can beat you because you’re not perfect.
Be it the picturesque torque of the left uppercut or right uppercut, the shortness of the pivoted left hook or the shortness of the right hand disguised by a jab feint with all my weight behind.
I’m not actually that good, but I can beat you. You’re going to give me one opportunity every other round, I’m going to move my feet, jab stiff and posture to not lose most rounds. And I am going to strut between the rounds – are you?
Did you train harder than me? Did you stay teetotal? For 10, 12 years? That gives me the right to pose, strut and win, or keep my championship.
All of them. Almost all of those I beat in 19 world title wins were better than me.
More regarding beating more talented fighters:
There were fighters who had the beating of me if they were tougher or cleverer.
Ron Essett for instance, give him my conviction or resolve and he beats me. He had faster hands than me, a master ring general and his jabs from the hip I couldn’t see coming when he decided to throw them. He was too scared to throw.
And Henry Wharton, I couldn’t double or treble the left hook like Mr Wharton or switch from body to head or head to body like him. That’s mega talent. But he didn’t strategize or play chess in any way.
I won 11 out of 12 against them, and they were better than me.
Favorite boxing movie?
Raging Bull or Rocky I. When I watch the Rocky movies today, or indeed Raging Bull, it’s almost like my story being told on screen. It’s incredible.
Apollo Creed? That was Nigel Benn. Mick dying was my manager, Adonis Torres, passing on and Lang I was my fight with Greg George, Lang II being the Benn-Watson fight which I was ringside for. Ivan Drago was Graciano Rocchigiani in Germany. And Tommy Morrison was Naseem!
Jake LaMotta’s wife left him. My wife left me when I was at Lennox Lewis’s wedding in Jamaica. The tax man caught up with Rocky, so he auctioned his motorbike as I did my famous Harley, and so be.
Were you Simply the Best?
Yes, but not in boxing in my view at the time. As a boxer, I was simply one of the best. As a person, I was quite simply the best – no vices, changing the dirtiest business in the world, with the possible exception of prostitution, and not saying swear words or having malice.
See this anthem, or gimmick, that was picked by Susan – my managers wife, Edward’s mother. It wasn’t my choice. I told Barry I didn’t want a slogan. I wanted plain white shorts, plain white boots and no ring music. I was for truth and integrity, not gimmicks.
It was a terrific selling point though. Muhammad Ali was ‘The Greatest’ and Chris Eubank was ‘Simply The Best’. Barry was a genius businessman.
Did you believe a draw was fair in Benn II?
It was fair enough, but Benn won really because 75-80% of my punches hit O2. He bobbed and weaved in a manner that wasn’t rhythmic like Joe Frazier. Imagine the Grandfather Clock but the oscillation of the pendulum changing pace and changing direction at different rates and times.
Benn was impossible to read or nail down in the open air that night, and caught me with a leaping left hook in the 10th that would’ve dropped most heavyweights.
He weaved his head in and out of and around a rapid-fire five- or six- punch combination from myself in the 8th that I’ve never seen another fighter in history able to do.
Also Benn’s fitness to move his head and torso side to side in every second of 12 rounds I’ve never seen another fighter able to do above the lighter weights.
I guess running 15 miles uphill in high altitude in his training camp while shadow boxing with wrist weights made Benn, by far, the fittest athlete in the world around that body mass.
The judges must’ve appreciated my infighting that night – closing the gap to tie him up and landing the uppercut inside out of the clinch, or covering and countering with hooks and uppercuts.
There are two.
My mother worked as a house attendant in Yorkville, Manhattan. We lived in the Bronx so I was often home alone. Anyway, when I fought in the semi-final of the Golden Gloves at MSG, I actually bit my opponents shoulder because I felt I couldn’t win.
I remember the panic and despair after when I realized my mother might of seen it on TV. For all I knew, they may of been showing replays of it and suggesting how disgusting an act it was. Above all, I didn’t want to see disappointment on my mother’s face.
I went to see her right after up the road in Yorkville and there was no disappointment, only pride on her face. The TV coverage hadn’t detected me biting my opponent. My integrity however wasn’t okay with this, so I told her what I did. I was so ashamed.
What it taught me was to take your beating like a man, if a beating is coming your way, and to lose with grace and humility with your head held high and not like a boy. Have dignity.
In the quarter-final of the Golden Gloves, I had beat the guy who was the favorite to win the tournament. A guy called Terminator Coles. I was so excited.
I rang my mother and said ‘Mum, I won, I won! I won the fight!’ And her response was this: ‘What about the other boy?’ I couldn’t believe it! I had told her all about it for weeks that I would go to the MSG if I could win. I said ‘What do you mean? I won!’ and she said ‘He has a mother too.’ Wow. Sunday school. That taught me consideration. Be considerate.
What happens when you go into a clinch is this: you put your head over your opponents shoulder. When you do that, your jaw bone automatically opens. I decided in that position to bring my head back but keep my jaw open and sink my teeth into his deltoid.
Now, the reason I believe in Karma is this: in the 4th round against Benn in 1990, I put my head over his shoulder in a clinch – same position, jawbone opens automatically, flashback to the Golden Gloves, only this time I slit my tongue between my teeth to prevent me even being tempted to bite.
At this moment, he leans back and hits me with a huge uppercut before I can remove my tongue from between my teeth. It gave me a one inch long, half inch deep laceration that caused me to swallow pints of blood. Karma is beautiful.
What age were you at your peak?
It’s not about that really, I mean…. [long pause] much was made in the press about Lindell Holmes being 35 years old. I was chastised for defending my title against a 35-year-old man. Yet this was the age Joe Calzaghe was when he beat Jeff Lacy and (Mikkel) Kessler. Bernard Hopkins was 40 when he beat Howard Eastman and 45 when he beat these light-heavies in their 20s!
I am for the old school. Hopkins had those old school Philadelphian skills that the new guys, with P.E teachers as coaches, couldn’t contend with. Lindell Holmes had those old school Detroit tricks in there. I had been taught by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York City.
If you watch me against Lindell Holmes, you don’t see a two-way exhibition of boxing skill like that today. You see Mr Holmes stand in front of this young stallion, in myself – he had seen it all at Kronk and Michigan gyms in the 60s, 70s and 80s – and so he would parry my shots or roll his shoulders and throw the right hand counter or double hook.
Experience is king. He knew I was catching his jab with the palm of my rear glove when trying to find range, so he doubled all the jabs and stepped in. He’d switch from body to head at rapid-fire speed, which was 20 years of muscle memory.
I would then show my ring craft, get up on my toes, throw the double hook or hook off the jab. You don’t see these champions today hook off the jab, like Joe Calzaghe did, you see them jump onto these boxes with a 40lb vest!
Favorite fighter today?
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is the last one trained of the old school, the only one today I truly respect. Saul learned his trade in sparring, and against tough journeymen from a young age away from the spotlight, not in the Olympics or the weights room.
He is a beautiful combination puncher. He punches from the foot from the first bell. He punches to the liver and solar plexus, to the chin, temple or behind the ear. He is a wonderful fighter. The best of the last 10 years. And he can absorb punches.
The only way to beat him now is with the ability to absorb and the ability to out-land him by three or four to one, like Joe Calzaghe did against me, when I had become flat footed due to bad knees. Only my son could do that, if we boiled him down to middle.