By Matthew Mellan: Chris Eubank Sr, from the fighting Eubank family – that includes elder twin brothers Peter and Simon, cousins Bobbie Joe Edwards and Frank, and sons Chris Jr and Sebastian – was one of the most successful non-U.S. fighters in the history of the sport of boxing.
The first time I remember watching Eubank fight was as a teenaged, Bronx-based Englishman taking on teak-tough Eric Holland on SportsChannel America in what was the pro debut for ‘The Rock’ Holland and also the first and last time he would ever go down – in the gym, amateurs or 59 pro outings; Eubank knocked him down in the 4th round of a four-round boxing masterclass in which he jabbed his opponents face off (not literally), moved nicely and flurried nicely.
From there, Eubank mysteriously disappeared off my radar for nearly five years until I switched on FoxSports one Sunday afternoon to find a build-up of a U.K-based ‘World’ WBO middleweight title fight, between home favourite Nigel Benn and this ‘brash upstart’, Eubank! He had won 20 straight fights since the Holland match, and noted was his previous outing which lasted only 20 seconds! Benn, however, was one of the most explosive middleweights on the planet, a wild banger, and I worried for Eubank, as would have for any fighter in the division.
What took place before my eyes was a British war of attrition, Eubank deciding to abandon his hit-and-move policy as early as the 2nd round to stand with Benn and slug it out, all over the ring, and this continued for a number of rounds before Eubank adjusted himself to counter-punch. Eubank had taken hellacious right hands, right uppercuts and body shots, but Benn’s eye was swelled nearly shut and he was rocked on more occasions than – and worser than – Eubank. Chris proved to have a granite jaw and fighting heart, he plugged away, dug deep, countered well, and as the rounds went by, Benn was looking cumbersome and there for the taking. Eubank took him in the ninth in a dramatic finish to an intriguing battle and I was an instant fan! He showed a great ‘killer instinct’.
The next time I saw him was against future Hollywood star Gary Stretch, like Benn a British rival, again in Britain. He again showed a great killer instinct, knowing instantly when Stretch was truly hurt and ready to be taken, unleashing a vicious combo of hard fast punches as he had against Benn, stopping Stretch in the sixth.
A pair of fights against smooth, textbook Michael Watson, yet another Brit rival, completed an incredible 10 months for Eubank who apparently reached ‘celebrity status’ in his native England during this period. The fans cheered Watson just as they cheered Benn and Stretch, but Eubank sweeped the early rounds of the original Eubank-v-Watson bout, only to run out of steam and allow Watson to rack up the mid and late rounds. An MD verdict for Eubank drew boos allaround the arena and a rematch was set.
Now competing for the vacant ‘World’ Super-middleweight WBO title, Eubank filled an outdoor London soccer stadium for this one and was boo’d more heavily than ever. In a truly thrilling fight in which KO Magazine acknowledged as ‘Fight of the Year’, both men stood toe-to-toe from the opening bell, but Watson appeared to be a weight-class bigger than Eubank and began to bully the ‘braggart’ come the middle rounds of an even fight. Watson took over and racked up the rounds, looking likely to win a UD decision come the 10th. What took place in a stunning 11th round goes down in U.K. folklore, as Eubank mounted a desperate violent comeback only for Watson to come back at him and drop him for the first time in his boxing life. Eubank somehow rose before the referee even began his count, walked in and unleased a picture perfect right uppercut shot to the jaw of Watson, lifting him off his feet and causing him to fall back heavily with his head bouncing viciously off the lower strand ropes. That punch effectively ended the fight, continued Eubank’s streak, and sadly left Watson paralysed; as I read in the Philadelphia Daily News on the Monday after.
Every time I watched Chris Eubank fight post Watson, that killer instinct to end the fight was clearly missing. He simply wasn’t the same man again. However, what he did go back to was his former beautiful boxing behind the left hand and ring movement/generalship style, looking particularly good against teak-tough former U.S. champ and very respected/respectable Tony Thornton, who went on to give LB4LB No. 1. James Toney an equally close-ish fight. Looking at his record, he also beat former IBF champ Lindell Holmes via wide UD, Holmes being an avoided boxerpuncher of the late 80s. An underrated result, though I’ve not seen the fight.
He made his Showtime debut in 1993 against archrival Benn, a rematch of that 1990 coming of age fight for Chris. This being the first time Showtime ever came to Europe, and it filled the Manchester United stadium. It didn’t live up to the intensity of their original, but it was a wonderful, intriguing match-up nonetheless, with Benn’s WBC crown on the line along with Eubank’s WBO, the winner to fight remaining champions Michael Nunn and Toney! Benn held back a lot more than expected, using a lot of head and body movements to make Eubank miss more than usual, but Eubank still landed more shots than Benn and did a lot more work. The Showtime team of Ferdie Pacheco and Bobby Czyz both scored the fight for Eubank. Though the British crowd seem to think their favourite, Benn, had it won, as did Benn himself. When the decision was announced as a draw, there was an air of uncertainty about where each fighter would go next.
For Eubank, Germany called, the lions den of lions dens, the place you wanted to avoid at all costs! Much must be admired for Eubank taking on 35-0-0 Graciano ‘Rocky’ Rocchigiani in his own yard. Eubank broke ground as this was the first fight ever screened on PPV in Europe, with Premiere buying the fight. Let’s not forget that Graciano was 6 feet 3 inches tall, a southpaw, a natural lightheavy, and possessed perhaps the tightest guard in boxing. He proved too much for Henry Maske and Dariusz Michalczewski down the road, only to be cheated out of wins. He also proved too much for Nunn. Eubank threw some of the best body punches I’ve seen in this fight, accurately landing with pace and power tightly behind the elbows in bodyshot flurries before slipping the Germans straight, retaliation arm punches from that high hand position. The timing was impeccable and Eubank racked up the rounds, though Rocchigiani picked up some later rounds it was too little too late. A hugely underrated win of the 90s.
Eubank continued to break ground as he signed a TV deal with a British TV company that would later be emulated by Maske and Michalczewski in Germany and by Hamed and Roy Jones Jr in the U.S. It saw him fight every six weeks or so on a kind of personal roadshow, racking up the wins on his record and the millions in his bank, though none of these matches I actually had access to in the USA. The stand-out ones being his 20th WBO title fight in a row against teak-tough Irishman Steve Collins, in what was Eubank’s first ever career defeat in 44 matches, and the rematch with Collins, both matches won by Collins and both available to view on YouTube today. I do recall seeing highlights of the Collins-v-Eubank rematch in an outdoor stadium on NBC, and remember Eubank looking a shadow of his former self. Simply put, his legs had gone. Fighting every 6-7 weeks for the previous year and having 5-6 career-shortening fights with the likes of Watson, Benn and Collins had all caught up with the ground-breaking ex-champ as Collins appeared to dominate; rushing him and landing.
Eubank made a comeback on FoxSports however a few years later when we saw him fighting in Dubai, which had never been done before. He continued to ground-break but never had the same legs of 86-94 or killer instinct of 90-91, losing to a certain novice named Joe Calzaghe in a toe-to-toe battle and two fights a couple of weights up at cruiserweight to hard-hitting Carl Thompson, who failed to put a dent in Eubank’s amazing chin, despite having free shots with the right hand when Eubank’s left eye had closed from a Thompson left thumb. After being stopped for the first time in his exceptionally notable career by the ringside doctor between rounds, in the Thompson-v-Eubank rematch due to reoccuring swelling of the eye that didn’t have chance to heal, Chris never did fight again.
But how is remembered and how will go down in history? In the U.K., he’s adored and respected as one of the toughest men and best boxers of his era. I believe on a worldwide scale, Chris Eubank will be looked upon in years to come as one of the most underrated fighters there has been in boxing, as the success he achieved without stepping foot on U.S. soil had never been heard of before.