By Dee Boulton
As Chris Eubank Sr, the star of 90s boxing, approaches his 54th birthday, we catch up with the man known as ‘Simply the Best’ as he relaxes in Dubai to discuss the hardships it took to reach the pinnacle of the sport and just why he never faced James Toney or the like!
From humble beginnings
The stars aligned. This was never supposed to happen. I wasn’t pushed into boxing by a father, I wasn’t a follower or fanatic of boxing. I did it all off my own back because I wanted respect.
I walked in Jerome Boxing Club on 1st December 1982 and Alex ‘The Bronx Bomber’ Ramos – who has a foundation set up for retired fighters – was punching his sparring partner through the ropes and exchanging punches that sounded like shotguns going off. 9 in 10 youngsters wouldn’t have come back the next day. I came back every day.
I trained for three months before I plucked up the courage to get in the ring on Monday February 28th 1983. Back on that first day, I came out of the changing room in corduroy trousers, a vest and barefeet. Andy Martinez taught me how to stand – lead foot toe and rear foot heel on the line taped on the gym floor. How to throw straight lefts and straight rights, from the chin from internal rotation to pronation outwards and vice-versa back inwards.
Then how to slip and counter, how to catch and counter and how to side-step. After three months I was 147lb at 5’10” and so he didn’t even bother teaching me the other four punches, and body punches weren’t scored in the amateurs. When I progressed from novice to open level, I progressed to having Luis Camacho and Lenny DeJesus in my corner, who had trained Mr Ramos; who was four times Golden Gloves champion.
Overcoming early adversity
When I decided on April 4th 1985 that I wanted to be a professional world champion, Pat Versace looked after me and overlooked the sparring between myself and Milton Guest. I taught myself by watching the most beautiful exponent of the art in Dennis Cruz from across the gym, and observing Maximo Pierret teaching pivots, weaves, selection and ringmanship to great Dominican boxers by the names of Solano and Sanchez.
After Mr Guest left the gym, there weren’t any professionals to spar around my weight. So matchmaker Ron Katz was told to pick me debutants. I graduated from Morris High in June 1986 and qualified as a secretary in January 1987. I was going to learn shorthand typing and business admin while continuing boxing, but a wise man told me that if you don’t put all your eggs into one basket then you risk being mediocre at both.
It made perfect sense and I put all my eggs into boxing. The matchmaker Johnny Bos pulled the strings for me to fight on a Top Rank card. The idea was to impress Bob Arum and get signed by him. However, my opponent was converted to southpaw for this fight and I had never been in the ring facing southpaw.
You see, in America back then, the common practice was that when a left-hander walked into the gym you immediately converted him to orthodox. The southpaws were in Europe. You can type in Eubank vs Canty on YouTube.
The only fight Mr Arum ever offered me was Thomas Hearns in America after I beat Nigel Benn in 1990, and I turned it down because I felt it was disrespectful to his deserved legend.
Coming up the hard way
In June 1987 Jack Pook arranged me to spar with Rod Douglas at Thomas A Becket with the hope of being signed by Mickey Duff based on sparring reports. I spent my purse from my fifth pro fight on the plane fares.
I met Duff at a seafood restaurant in South London, and he told me to get a job! I walked out, but not before giving my number to the waitress; Nathaniel Wilson’s mother. I had disdain for Duff.
I had had jet lag, so Rod Douglas had tore me to pieces really – if you type Eubank vs Douglas on YouTube you can see this. Still, I knew how good he was because I knew how determined I was.
We sparred 13 months later and he was three or four days out from a fight and so was razor sharp and tore me up again. The next time we sparred, I had my sharpness back and outboxed him.
I hadn’t evolved into the skillster I became yet, that wasn’t until Darkie Smith noticed in sparring with Errol Christie in Romford that I didn’t need to actually slip, catch, pull or move before countering. I could time them with razor sharp reflexes in the heat of sparring after consecutive weeks.
The first fight that I finished sparring prior to the fight itself was a fight you can find on YouTube called Eubank vs Cronin, and note the sharp counter punching.
Anyway, when I went back to New York in June 1987, because all of the many rammed gyms of The Bronx were amateur clubs, I used to run over Brooklyn Bridge to spar at the new Gleasons Gym and sleep on the concrete steps because I couldn’t afford subway fares.
So when I’m criticised for not fighting unifying bouts with the best pound-for-pound fighters before I had built up material trappings and lived the dream, its a lack of common sense.
Why take a fight you only have a 50% of winning after denying yourself a social life for 10 years, running at 4am in snow in six winters of New York and fighting in front of 100 people in 1989 against one Randy Smith?
My passion, besides the art and craft of boxing, was getting my message over to the grass roots. So I needed to keep winning because boxing was my medium or conduit in teaching youngsters morals and conduct.
I beat Watson twice, the nations golden boy. I beat Nigel Benn, the nations hero. I beat a German in Germany and an Irishman in Ireland in atmospheres that made American venues seem like churches. Nobody expected any of this from me but I’ve never seen a man to this day with as much focus as I had or who trained harder. Steve Collins beating me was the biggest upset of the 90s.
I was the first fighter to come out of nowhere and control the establishment, rather than vice-versa. I dealt with the TV stations on a direct basis and picked my own opponents pretty much. This is a good thing, the goal was to teach fighters to know their worth and their rights.
Don King came to me and I got one over on him both times. The highest paid fighter below heavyweight from 1990 to 1995 was me.
Who actually put Sky on the map and who actually put Matchroom on the map? But my legacy is none of that. My legacy is getting up to carry on in a fight that I could not win. The universe awarded me the win and one man nearly lost his life, but winning and losing are merely imposters.
The boxing fanatics cannot see past words, letters and number it seems, in the keyboard world. Can you take a beating? Where’s your integrity? It would of been mindless to of taken the Watson II fight had I known he was going to be four times the man he had been before, I would’ve stayed making 11st 6lb as champion of the whole wide world.
For the fanatic, the lineage was Hagler, but nobody really won conclusively – like Leonard with Hagler, Leonard and Hearns, Graham and McCallum, and Duran or Nunn with Barkley. What was conclusive was Barkley beating Hearns and Benn beating Barkley.
But anyway, when I came out of retirement to fight a heavy punching Calzaghe on a week’s notice and a 220lb Carl Thompson, I wasn’t coming back for money. I was coming back for respect.
The training routine of one of the most awesomely conditioned fighters of his day:
The meticulous training program in my prime was a 30-minute stretching routine that included full splits, a 30-minute shadow boxing routine that included a lot lateral movement and combination work, then 50 to 100 decline sit-ups before my 7.6 miles of running on the large stones of Brighton beach and uphill through rain and wind; followed by rope climbing to the top of my tallest tree with thick rope with just my hands. That was 5am to 7:30am.
At 2pm or 4pm was gym time, depending how I felt. That regime was 30 minutes of warming up precisely, 12 rounds of either heavy bag and pads or sparring and pads, then 12 minutes of speed ball, 24 minutes of jumping rope, another 50 to 100 decline sit-ups, and finish with medicine ball hits if not sparring. I trained at my home gym and brought sparring partners in accordingly.
Sparring was Monday to Friday being one week of three rounds, two weeks of six rounds, a peak week of 12 rounds Monday, Wednesday and Friday, another week of six rounds and a final week of hard three-rounders with the last spar being the day prior to the fight itself. The final two weeks I was also performing push hands and performing back bends with my martial arts tutor Walter as a partner.
About 85% of any new sparring partners would be sent home after one day. They weren’t hard enough. Nothing personal, it’s just business – as it’s said in The Godfather. It’s how I won. The first time I went into a fight being subjective rather than objective was my first loss to Collins. Isn’t that something? Don’t hate. I beat Benn with love.