One of the finest European fighters ever (who started his boxing journey in America), Chris Eubank, kindly takes time to detail his career, from his days in the Bronx as an amateur and young pro, to his days trading blows with most of Britain’s and the World’s best. Enjoy.
Talk to us about your amateur career and what that meant for you. Any stand-out fights?
My amateur career ran from the summer of 1983 to the summer of 1985, going 26 fights; seven of which losses. I vaulted the top-rope for all of my amateur fights, a move I had practiced in the gymnasium as a means of standing out from the crowd. My manager Adonis Torres told me I should do it before each fight, to catch the eye of the crowd and judges. There were big crowds at New York City amateur tournaments back then and big television audiences, and I would get stopped in the streets of New York City, while plain-clothed, just going about my business, and would be told, ‘You’re the guy who jumps over the ropes at the boxing matches, man!’
As far as who did I fight, most of the guys I can’t remember their names. I lost my last fight in Empire Games to a Puerto Rican called Ray Rivera, who went on to win three or four Golden Gloves titles, and my second-last fight against a guy called Damien, who won two or three Golden Gloves titles.
I won the Spanish Golden Gloves in 1984, beating future professional prospects Richard Burton and Ricky Thomas en route to the title. One other fighter who beat me was (Mark) Breland, regarded at the time as the best amateur fighter, pound-for-pound, in world history. Some of the other fights I lost as an amateur were against fighters I could’ve beaten had I fought objectively, but I got dragged into subjectivity by them and wanted to hurt them instead, and so I lost.
You began boxing in New York City, what was the reason for this?
I was already living in New York with my mother, and my psychological scarring, of which I believe we all have to some degree, was caused by my brothers bullying me as a child back in the United Kingdom, and their thing was boxing – they had both turned professional, and one of them even beat Barry McGuigan in that discipline. So subconsciously, my thing was: ‘Start boxing over here, fight for their acceptance one day’. I knew I had to be better than they were to be accepted and respected by them, and with Peter having defeated Barry McGuigan, I knew I had to get exceptionally good.
Who were the fighters who influenced you most?
One, was a gymnasium fighter called Dennis Cruz, who you would not have heard of. He had perfect balance and it was beautiful to watch him go through his moves – not even Pernell Whitaker was as poetic. Another was Herol Graham, who punched me to pieces for two weeks in April 1989 in sparring without me landing once; I completely changed my boxing manner after that to a more patient, timed approach rather than my rush-rush style. And another was Michael Watson, who taught me in May 1989 how to cover up correctly from watching his victory over Nigel Benn, in that you had to open your gloves and cup your forehead with your fingers rather than the conventional clenched front style, which was one reason Herol Graham had been landing almost at will on me.
So I would pick out those in particular. Thomas Hearns, too, for a jabbing style that no other fighter possessed, as in breaking away from the conventional, rather than me actually adopting that technique, which I didn’t.
Your 2nd pro fight against Ken Cannido is up on YouTube, what do you remember about this?
I remember gambling some of my purse money at the Atlantis Hotel Casino where I was staying and where the fight took place, and learning about the law of averages through this, and knowing then that I would lose a pro boxing bout sooner or later. I was sharing a room at this hotel with another fighter on the bill called Dennis Milton, who went on to beat the phenomenal Gerald McClellan. I don’t remember the actual fight here, but looking at it I boxed very well, as limited as I was at the time; still a long way from the total article I later became.
What stand-out fights did you contest in your early career?
Anthony Logan. He was world-class and I was still a relative novice at the time. I beat him convincingly. I was about 21 at the time and still evolving. If you watch this fight, my arms and elbows are flared out in a novicey stance, and when I went on to spar with Herol Graham, because he did mostly ‘body sparring’ in that gym mostly, his body punches taught me to tuck my arms in closer to my ribs, which later benefited me greatly against Nigel Benn. Although I believed it at the time, I doubt I’d of beaten Benn at the time I fought Logan. But I was the one who did all the improving, whereas he just stayed the same, and so I beat him. However, the fact I punched him to pieces and he struggled to nail me, and that I stopped him, caused him to completely change his boxing style in our second fight.
And that moves us on nicely to Benn. You were a huge betting underdog before your first fight at the NEC in Birmingham, England. What were your thoughts strutting to the ring that night and entering it with that hostile atmosphere where everyone seemed to dislike you?
Of course I was petrified. This was one of the hardest punchers in world boxing and one of the most ferocious fighters ever witnessed. But the key is to not let the opponent know that you’re scared. Similarly if you get hurt, you don’t show the pain. You don’t give them a one-up. You control yourself, and in turn, that can control them. So my mind was on that philosophy, beyond being petrified while intensely focused.
You beat Benn by TKO in the 9th round and then you meet an unbeaten young Canadian managed by Ray Leonard called Dan Sherry. Many people feel you were lucky in this fight to get the decision at the end with two points deducted from you for a headbutt, what are your recollections of the Sherry fight, or debacle shall we say?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve beat this man. I’ve got his bettering. He’s on the verge of being stopped, I can feel his strength vanishing in the clinches, and I’ve got him. And it was an immature impulse, is what I will describe it as, namely this backwards headbutt. He wasn’t scoring with shots, he was no way level with me, sure he was fast on his feet and made me miss, but he wasn’t scoring with his own shots, I was defending them, and bare in mind I had a two-point lead after the opening stanza, right?
Leading onto the equally controversial Watson fights. The first one, there was national outcry that you had lost. Did you really believe you deserved that one?
Yes, and upon close inspection, yes. We can all agree that I took the first five rounds by miles, probably eating only one of two shots in all those rounds, and landing dozens of scorchers. From there, it was a case of my legs knotting up on me through dehydration, and concentrating on continuing to slip his shots and showing some aggression here and there, which he wasn’t showing. And upon close inspection, I’m not even getting clipped with punches hardly, and he is being caught cleanly in the face or out-aggressioned. So yes, I won that fight.
The second fight with Watson was a tragic event that we don’t have to go into. However a string of much-criticised 12-rounders followed, who was your toughest opponent inbetween Watson and Benn?
Tony Thornton was the toughest, in that he kept coming forward with slow, inaccurate jabs or fast, accurate rights behind a difficult guard and all my shots just seemed to bounce off of this bald head. Lindell Holmes had top technical proficiency, was naturally gifted and highly experienced; he hit extremely hard, harder than Tony Thornton, and he was the only fighter ever to win the first three rounds straight against me. The others, Sugar Boy Malinga, John Jarvis, Ron Essett, (Juan Carlos) Giminez and Ray Close, were very average operators and so I produced very average performances, by my standards.
Did you believe a draw was a fair result, despite public outcry yet again that Benn had beaten you in your return? And what was it like walking out at Old Trafford in front of more than 40,000?
It was just a seething mass of faces out there, it was unbelievable. I came back to the United Kingdom in 1988 and was fighting in front of 40 or 50 people, and five years later here were 45,000 coming to see me perform. I had built that up with 30 televised fights all over the United Kingdom, 15 public training camps all over the United Kingdom, and never was pictured in social situations using substances, because I never was in social situations or ever using substances. I earned this astronomical attention, yet I still felt in awe of it. It was reported that one billion people watched this fight live worldwide, whereas back when I fought Anthony Logan, that Logan fight was on tape delay and only screened in the United Kingdom. Phenomenal, that’s all I can say. And you know what? I still didn’t have the respect of my brothers.
And the final verdict, with it being a draw…
Yes, a draw, fair enough. Nigel clawed his way into the fight and leveled it up by about the 10th. And I probably stole the 11th, with the 12th going either way. And Nigel had that point taken off for foul play. So yes, a draw was about right. I believe we had too much to live up to, because that first encounter between us in 1990, when I beat him for the world championship of course, was such an epic clash and one savage enough that the combatants would not want to experience that again.
Two fights of yours in 1994, around the time you had the £10MILLION deal with Sky TV, were perhaps your two finest performances in the ring. They were against Graciano Rocchigiani in his backyard of Germany, and the fight with Henry Wharton. Would you go along with that assessment?
Possibly. Rocchigiani was a case of soaking up his supporters hate and disdain thrown towards me and unleashing that back out on him, their gladiator who was seemingly unbeatable. Wharton, again, he had his fans filling the arena, and he was up for this fight a million times more than he was up for his Benn fight. And his manager insulted me. The German crowd back in Germany, they had insulted me. When I’m insulted like that, with a lack of integrity, the code I lived my whole life by, it only intensifies my focus on the job, meaning less likelihood of putting a foot wrong, and the negative energy is used to damage the opposing fighter. Stylistically, it must be said, neither of these guys – Wharton or Rocchigiani – could beat me because they were coming in or stationary and that allowed me free-flowing combinations of punches. But they were decent performances, yes, I’ll go along with that.
Your infamous loss to Steve Collins, in which he hired a hypnotist for himself to ‘spook’ your mind, is yet another Eubank fight that was surrounded by controversy. What was your take on that episode?
The Steve Collins episode, my take on that is that for the first time in my professional career I went out to hurt my opponent, and so I lost, and for the second fight it was the first time in my career I had come against a fighter of such resolve to cause tears of anger on his way to the ring, which unnerved me, and also the first time in my career I came against a fighter fighting more unconventionally than myself. That’s why I lost two fights to Steve Collins and prematurely retired.
And the last three fights of your career, incredibly, began to win over many fans due to the heart you showed in defeat. How different it was at the beginning!
Yes, that’s correct. The Joe Calzaghe fight that I took on a few days notice, and the two Carl Thompson fights two weights higher, when I fought mostly with one eye in them. The fans need to see that you can lose as well as win, get beat up as well as beat others up, and accept defeat with dignity and grace, before they truly take you into their hearts.
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