By Samuel Lee
England’s former world champion Chris Eubank Sr will never be forgotten around the world for his one-off showmanship in the ring. A true pioneer in the sport, Chris’ views are always fascinating and enlightening.
How did you begin boxing?
I was working as a janitor at a gym in New York and started sparring.
What made you so different?
I succeeded because I gave myself up to loneliness. No nightclubs, no parties, no girls. That’s how I became a 19-time world champion by just turned 28, an all-time world record.
Where did that drive to succeed come from?
My brothers were boxers and bullied me, beat me and dismissed me all my childhood. So I needed their acceptance. They couldn’t fulfill their dreams, so I did it.
What would you say was your best attribute as a fighter?
Persistence was my best asset. (Nigel) Benn and (Michael) Watson were stronger than me, Benn was the best puncher out there and Watson covered up better than any I’ve seen. But nobody practiced foot movement as much as I or sparred more, so it allowed me to make up for what I lacked in natural ability.
Who were your favorite fighters to watch?
Dennis Cruz and Pernell Whitaker. Both poetry in motion with their dipping, slipping and moving. Dennis Cruz was a gym fighter in New York.
Were you a dedicated trainer?
Seven days a week without fail, no substances. You know, I watched movies after my career like Rocky movies and Kickboxer, and it was like watching myself.
That had been me in the mid-80s: drinking raw eggs, the gyms in Rocky and then the martial art teaching once I had mastered the basics of boxing. The training scenes, which I hadn’t seen, were like seeing me coming up.
What was the purpose of practicing martial arts?
The idea with the martial arts was to integrate stances and angles. If you can make the opposing boxer think, you have time to punch him while he is thinking. Plus the flexibility allowed me to reach you from out of range, so you couldn’t judge distance.
Would you say your out of ring conduct was influenced by you wanting respect?
My dress sense, dignity and yearning for respect all stems back to me asking a girl in a public house in 78 or 79 if I could talk to her sister. She looked me up and down with a complete disdain on her face.
What was your secret?
The reason I was able to keep winning a world championship four or five times a year for four or five years straight is because I treated the gym like a church – I went there to worship. I didn’t go there to talk or laugh.
What was your toughest fight?
My hardest fight was Watson II. If ever there was supernatural in the boxing ring, it was that night. Watson defied the laws of physics in keeping up the pace of a lightweight while possessing the strength of a heavyweight.
At the end of the penultimate round, I have absolutely nothing left. I’ve been beaten into a state of controlled madness. Yet I produce a punch so powerful, with nothing left, that it lifts Michael off his feet and causes severe brain injury when it lands.
The supernatural was still at work in preserving Michael’s life, because the medical experts say he should’ve died. The mans unmeasured determination and positivity in the face of adversity has been a great inspiration in my life in any testing times, trials or tribulations.
Barry Hearn claimed recently that you didn’t go in to stop an opponent when hurt because you feared what happened to Michael Watson happening to you, do you agree?
Incorrect. I was willing to give my life as a boxer, that’s why I was the fighter I was. I lost my finishing instinct. If I couldn’t take them cleanly with one punch, I wouldn’t move forward without hesitation or with full focus when they arose.
It doesn’t matter who creates the killing time, meaning either man nearly has the other man out. If you can move forward with resolve and conviction and are of sound mind then you will take the fight; irregardless of who creates this time. It’s the one who recognizes it.
Why did you make a comeback following the double loss to Steve Collins?
To get that lasting respect you have to show that you can take a beating and leave that impression. I didn’t need to come out of retirement financially; having retired in 95, I didn’t need to take the Calzaghe fight on 11 days notice; giving him the hardest fight of his career, or move up and face a 220-pound puncher in Thompson; having him beat a few times and staying on my feet.
I went to war in my last three fights because I wanted the respect. Have you ever seen the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest where Jack Nicholson’s character tries to pull that heavy, bolted-down sink out of the floor and throw it out the window so he can escape the asylum and go watch the World Series? You want him to succeed so badly, but as hard as he tries, he simply can’t. That was the scene that made him.
What is your best advise to aspiring fighters?
To be a good fighter you have to spar. I don’t say forget the bag work or road work, I say do all of that but most important is sparring.
Let me put it another way: If you did all the skipping (jumping rope), speed ball and pads, and the bag work and running but didn’t spar, you would get nowhere in boxing. You would be tore up.
However if you only sparred and did nothing else but spar, I believe you could still reach great heights. Put most of your focus into sparring.
And if you never spar hard, it means you’re not getting hurt. In old Jamaican households the saying to unruly children was this: ‘If you cannot hear, you must FEEL!’ Most single parent households with no father figure result in unruly adults and imprisonment.
Ok, the point is this: If you’re tapped to the side of the head, you’re less likely to bring your hand up next time to block the left hook than if you were hit with full force.