By Samuel Lee
British boxing legend and former WBO middleweight and super middleweight champion Chris Eubank Sr. has been long retired from the sport of boxing and is busy helping guide the boxing career of his son, Chris Jr.
The London native, is known for his eccentric style in and out of the ring and shared a few of his thoughts on his early boxing career, memorable fights and opponents such as Nigel Benn, Joe Calzaghe, Steve Collins and Carl Thompson in this interview.
What got you into boxing?
My brothers were pro boxers and had always bullied me. So I tried to get so good at boxing that they would accept me. It occurred in the Bronx, New York where I was sent for being unruly in London.
I got my backside handed to me for two years by world class fighters in sparring in Davey Moore, Alex Ramos, Mark Breland and Dennis Milton. Until one day I started getting the better of them and other world class fighters like Jose Quinones.
I ran before school, trained for 5 or 6 hours after school and 10 or 12 hours a day on weekends. I taped every Pernell Whitaker, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson fight, and studied Dennis Cruz sparring Hector Camacho at the Jerome boxing gym.
I also had old tapes of Jack Johnson and Jersey Joe Walcott. I would say my style was a cross between Cruz, Johnson and Walcott but with my own quirks and movement consistent with that of a martial artist. I practiced martial arts heavily from 1986 to 1989 whenever I was in New York.
Did you have any amateur fights?
I had 26 amateur fights. My first was against someone named Patrick Frazier who Teddy Atlas looked after, insisting he was the same weight and experience level as me. He turned out to be a seasoned open class guy 10 or 12 pounds heavier and beat me in 30 seconds.
I took it upon myself to pay Atlas back in a gym fight many months later when I was now very skilled, and he resorted to biting my ear because his shots weren’t troubling me.
I won the open class 154lb Spanish Golden Gloves, beating guys in their 20s when I had just turned 18. I progressed quicker through the ranks than just about anyone, because I trained more than everyone.
What do you remember of your first five professional fights in Atlantic City?
The first four were all Philadelphia or New Jersey Golden Gloves Champions, so I was matched hard in four-rounders which suited them too. I was used to 15-rounders in the gym. The fourth fight was hard against Eric Holland, I dropped him for the only time in his long career with a perfect left hook that I had been working on mastering.
The fifth fight was also hard against an undefeated southpaw, fellow young prospect. Bob Arum was the promoter and said he wasn’t interested in me because I could ‘never in a million years’ win the world title as I claimed. Three and a half years, I beat Arum’s fighter Nigel Benn for the world title.
You didn’t sign with Barry Hearn for another two years. How hard were those times?
I went to London in 1987 to see all the top British promoters and none of them wanted to know. I was sparring with Rod Douglas and Keith Bristol at this time. I took fights on a few hours notice against light heavies and cruisers and still came through. The Anthony Logan fight put me on the map and Barry Hearn was the one who paid me what I was worth.
You beat Benn in an all-time epic, and you had become bitter rivals that caught the imagination of the entire British public. Did you ever consider a unifying bout with the likes of Michael Nunn or James Toney or even Mike McCallum?
I didn’t want another Watson II, which a Toney or Roy Jones fight would’ve been. Nunn was a tall southpaw, so there was no urgency to fight him unless I had to. Remember, I am a young father and young husband at this point, so the idea is to feed the family above all else.
I had that fire in my belly when I was younger, so much so that I slept on the concrete steps outside Gleasons Gym because I wanted to spar with McCallum. That was a few years before.
Mike wouldn’t give me a shot when I was coming up, and when I was on top if you look at Watson I fight I am so badly weight-starved at 160lb that after nine rounds I can’t even stand up straight after taking no punches. McCallum would’ve probably come on strong and stopped me late on body shots, you see, and where would I go from there?
That’s incredibly honest, Chris! Who was your toughest title defense against?
Watson II fight.
What about the challengers after that?
All easy until the second Benn fight, I couldn’t catch him clean often because of his frequent head movement and ducking down low. I took my foot off the gas in many of those title defenses and allowed opponents to steal rounds.
Henry Wharton was the next tough one, I knew I had to be in the kind of shape I was in for the Benn I and Watson II fights but box intellectually instead of let adrenal hypertension cause a toe to toe throwdown. He could take a punch and he could punch, and he had spirit and hunger and youth.
I also fought a German, 6ft3in and a southpaw who was unbeaten in 35 fights. He was former and future world champion and I fought him in Berlin in the first ever PPV fight held in Europe, held on the Premiere network. I beat him on points in his backyard.
The rematch with Nigel was the first time US subscription TV had aired a fight from the UK or between two British fighters.
When I signed for Sky, that was the first time a boxer had cut out the middle men and signed for a TV company itself.
What was your take on the first fight with Steve Collins?
Steve beat me, not fair and square but he actually beat me in the ring, yes. The underhand tactics in the build-up actually don’t take away the victory for him and most people’s perspective even, but those few people – including myself – who have integrity, they know Steve Collins couldn’t outmaneuver Chris Eubank fair and square in a game of physical chess, not in a million years. He wasn’t in my league!
In the second fight however, he beat me fair and square by fighting like a maniac from a high security asylum at his illest. That totally threw me off. He did everything wrong that night, everything awfully poor and outrageously wild, and I had only ever trained to out-score competent, well schooled professional boxers. So he won and I retired.
I retired because I had nowhere to go. In my day it wasn’t like today where you can just give it up and fight for another one, give that one up and fight for another, and so on, or even headline events without a belt! You had to work your way back into a #1 contender position, which could take years of toil, and I was already the highest-earning non-heavyweight since Hagler and Leonard and had broke so many records and set so many standards – global viewing figures, 20 million on ITV, 50,000 fans, 20 world title wins, 10 years and 45 fights unbeaten and so on and so forth.
When I got the call to fight Joe Calzaghe for my old world title on about a weeks notice, I thought I had won the lottery!
How did you rate Calzaghe after sharing a ring with him?
I lost 20lbs in a week, got in there and expected an easy night’s work. Bang I’m on my back in no time! I thought he was a hyped Sam Storey or another Gary Stretch. How wrong was I! He went on to become perhaps the #1 fighter there’s been in boxing.
What possessed you jump two weights up and face a big puncher in Carl Thompson?
Opportunity. It was another world title shot for nothing, like winning the Jackpot on a scratch card you find on the floor. I knew I could outbox him even with bad knees, because he was a big lean muscled cruiserweight who filled out like a heavyweight come fight night which would just make him slower.
I thought I breezed the first six rounds of both fights before my eye closed up, then I couldn’t see these big right hands coming and started missing. But that valiance in defeat, that dignity and integrity in not quitting or complaining: that is what people need to see to embrace and accept, all the winning in the world can’t match that, believe me.