“Simply the best”- a brief look at Chris Eubanks’ career

chris eubank11.07.07 - By Andy Olsen: Recent press has not been kind to Chris Eubank. Stories of his arrest for an anti war protest, and his dire financial situation have taken precedence over ones of his career. A discussion I had with some of the kids, at the school I teach at confirmed this. They had only heard of him from these stories. When I was their age, Eubank was known, for a variety of reasons, by pretty much everyone in Britain. I thought I’d take this time to share my memories of one of the most charismatic personalities British boxing has ever produced. Oh, and one of our better fighters to boost.

Born in Dulwich, England, in 1966, Christopher Livingstone Eubank had a somewhat troublesome youth. Run-ins with the law led to his father sending him over to America, where he launched his pro career. Eubank made his debut in 1985, with points wins over fellow inexperienced fighters. By 1988, he returned to Britain. The wins continued to pile up, albeit against modest opposition. But the opposition wasn’t the main reason why people had begun to watch.

The more financially successful fighters give us a reason to tune in. We didn’t watch prime Tyson to see how he’d fair versus the likes of Tubbs, Holmes, and Williams. It was because the inevitable demolition job had a certain appeal to it. With Eubank, it was because of how he conducted himself, both in and out of the ring. His personality was entirely unique. The designer clothes complete with monocle and cane, the strut, the swagger, the ring entrance to “simply the best”, and the lisp, all came as part of the package. People had no clue what to make of all this, but the perceived arrogance made him the “bad guy” in his contests. People attended in the hope of witnessing this young upstart being put in his place.

Such appeal made his 1990 WBO middleweight world title fight with Nigel Benn a huge occasion. Benn’s demeanour was the total opposite to Eubank’s. No airs, no graces. He simply went in there looking to take his opponent out. The personality clash was evident in the pre-fight hype. Benn couldn’t hide his distain for his adversary; the genuine animosity was present for all to see. He was motivated by the fact that he simply couldn’t lose to this man. The media, and British boxing public, felt that Eubank was about to get his come-uppance. Benn had proven himself as a fighter on numerous occasions. There was of course the outside chance that Eubank really was as good as he made himself out to be, yet another reason to tune in.

Tune in we did, in record numbers. As amazing as it sounds, the fight surpassed the hype. Eubank and Benn went to war. Benn threw everything he had at Eubank, but Eubank showed incredible heart and stamina, absorbing Benn’s best and wearing him down in the process. By round 9, Benn had nothing left, and Eubank prevailed with a stoppage win. The effort both put in led to Eubank being respected, if not yet liked. I fondly recall Eubank going onto the pitch of Tottenham Hotspurs’ White Heart Lane ground. He seemed to be enjoying every second of the crowd chanting Benn’s name. The crowd jeered, yet loved every second of this spectacle.

The pair clashed again, at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground in 1993. Whilst entertaining throughout, the fight wasn’t the epic that their first one was. Benn had a point deducted for a borderline low shot. That point was to cost him the victory, at least according to the judges. The drawn verdict was unsatisfactory to say the least. Most believe Benn was unlucky not to have edged it anyway. There were also plans for the winner of the fight to go to America, and engage in a super fight series with Roy Jones Junior and James “lights out” Toney. Space, and the risk of going off-topic forbids me to list the many reasons why this series never took place, but it cost the British pair many a lucrative pay-day.

After the first Benn fight, Eubank hardly strained himself with wins against overmatched Dan Sherry and Gary Stretch, before Michael Watson challenged him for the title. Sadly, the tragic aftermath will forever overshadow the two fights they contested. Eubank prevailed in the first contest with a majority decision (one judge scored a draw), with most feeling the wrong man had been given the nod. The closeness of the fight, and the huge gate and viewing figures which it brought, meant that an immediate rematch would follow, this time for the vacant WBO super middleweight crown. Watson was ahead on all cards going into the final round. However the fast pace of the fight had taken its toll. Watson collapsed, and fell into a coma. Whilst his recovery is nothing short of miraculous, the brain damage he suffered remains today.

It is worth questioning what the experience had on Eubank himself. He could barely disguise how upset he was at a press conference. He recalled how a woman spotted Eubank, and wound down her car window, shouting “that should have been you, you bastard”. After signing a multi-million pound contract with Sky Sports, he claimed he would do “just enough to win”. Perhaps this was a clever comment, with people tuning in to see if no-hopers like Sam Storey would find themselves in with an under-motivated fighter, ready for the taking. Indeed, many felt Eubank hadn’t done enough versus the unfancied American Dan Schommer in South Africa. Personally, I felt it was an underlying fear of going through what he had in the aftermath of the second Watson fight. Only Chris Eubank would be able to tell us for sure.

Eubank’s compassion was there for all to see, in what I felt was his last truly great performance. Henry Wharton, the teak tough Yorkshireman was fancied by some to break Eubank’s undefeated streak. Yet Eubank boxed superbly. In the 12th Wharton was on the ropes with left eye swollen shut. Eubank invited the referee to stop the fight, waving the referee in to rescue his opponent from further punishment. The referee declined, and Eubank was awarded a deserved wide decision.

Eubanks’ 41 fight winning streak was ended in Cork, Ireland. “The Celtic Warrior” Steve Collins was super motivated, and, unlike many of Eubanks’ opponents, truly believed he would prevail. In yet another war, with both men hitting the canvas, the Irishman remained true to his word. The upset had occurred, with Collins savouring the win in front of his ecstatic following. Eubank answered the question of how he would be in defeat. He was gracious, with kind words offered to his conqueror in the aftermath.

Before the rematch, Eubank would make an appearance in the glamour and splendour of the local ice rink, in my home town of Whitley Bay. The one round blow out of Jose Ignacio Barruetabena was predictable enough, but Eubank gracing us with his presence will be long remembered round here. His rematch with Collins was a more scientific affair, with Collins again getting his hand raised at the end. It will go down as a split decision, but the reality is that Collins won fairly decisively according to most.

Many felt Eubank was on the slide. He had trouble making the 168lbs limit for a while, and the decision to come back as a light heavy-weight seemed like one which would prolong his career somewhat. Yet in October 1997 Steve Collins was stripped of the title for pulling out of a defence at short notice, Eubank was offered the chance to regain his belt against the untested Joe Calzaghe. The Welshman had looked the part in previous contests, but these were against overmatched opposition. This would be seen as a true test of Calzaghe’s metal. Calzaghe proved himself as a classy operator, putting Eubank down in the first, and outclassing his accomplished opponent. Calzaghe’s brilliance didn’t entirely overshadow Eubanks’ contribution to the fight. He was lauded for his efforts afterwards as well.

In what many saw as suicidal, Eubank moved up two weight divisions, to present an unlikely challenge to WBO cruiser champ Carl Thompson. Most thought Thompson would have far too much for his naturally lighter opponent, and that it could be an embarrassing end to a wonderful career. In the end, Thompson did have too much. But what an effort Eubank put in. He had Thompson down in the forth round, and the impossible looked like it was about to happen. In the seventh, a combination from Eubank backed Thompson up against the ropes. Yet he decided against following up with a further flurry. This perhaps was the opportunity lost. Eubank’s left eye had swollen almost shut, and Thompson came on strong to retain the title with a narrow but deserved verdict.

The rematch was inevitable, with the unanticipated close call leading to huge interest. The first fight firmly entrenched him as the fan favourite, and Eubank once again put in a stellar performance. Yet it wasn’t to be. The left eye was swollen to the point where Eubank couldn’t see, and the fight was stopped on advice from the doctor.

The second Thompson fight was to be the last of his career. And what a career it was. It was aided by the feud with Benn, hindered somewhat by the Watson tragedy, and elevated the careers of Calzaghe and Collins to a higher level. People may choose to remember the outlandish personality, the mismatches, the showmanship, the total disregard for convention, or his current financial plight. Personally, I prefer to fondly look back at the early 1990’s; to a time where Chris Eubank may well have been “simply the best."

Article posted on 11.07.2007

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