Boxing comment: In 1988 a novice British professional middleweight fighter by the name of Chris Eubank gave an interview in which he spoke of his teenage years in New York, where he had been sent to live with his mother.
“If you want the truth, I started boxing because the South Bronx was a place of nightmares. I hid away in the gymnasium because I hated it out there. I trained like a maniac to get out of that place and here I am, a world-class professional athlete in my opinion and looking for a good promoter.”
Five years later, the same fighter’s fortunes and success in the sport had improved to the point where he felt able to boast that “I used to nick suits for a living, now I pay a grand for them.”
It was no idle boast, for by then Eubank had elevated himself to being the most talked about, controversial and exciting fighter in British boxing, and perhaps the most exciting athlete in the country of any sport.
Indeed by this point not only was he a regular fixture on the back pages of the nation’s newspaper, he regularly featured on the front page as well.
In the early to mid part of his career Eubank also held the distinction of being perhaps the most hated athlete in all of British sport, his ring entrances booed by thousands of fans who’d parted with their hard-earned cash hoping to see him knocked out.
The two fights that Eubank fought against Nigel Benn have never been equalled in British boxing when it comes to excitement, drama and courage. Only the rivalry between Ali and Frazier eclipses the Eubank-Benn rivalry, one in which no quarter was asked or given.
Eubank emerged victorious after their first fight, held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre in 1990, when veteran US referee Richard Steele stepped in during the ninth round to save Benn from taking any more punishment in what had been a ring war.
During the customary post-fight interview Eubank could hardly speak, he was in so much pain, having suffered a broken rib.
Between that epic battle and the next one against his arch-rival in 1993 at Manchester United’s Old Trafford, this time ending in a draw in front of 40,000 in the stadium and 16 million watching at home, Eubank enhanced his reputation with a series of wins against the likes of Gary Stretch, Michael Watson (twice), Thulani Malinga, Tony Thornton and Ray Close.
By now his ring walk to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best had become part of his legend, as had the way he jumped over the ropes to arrive in the ring, before strutting and preening like a gladiator, soaking up the energy of sell-out crowds wherever and whenever fought.
Meanwhile outside the ring eccentricity was his stock-in-trade. Eubank adopted the mannerisms and demeanour of an English country gent, complete with jodhpurs, monocle and cane.
In this he was a throwback to Jack Johnson, another boxing dandy, who by turns confounded, shocked, and entertained the public with his refusal to act and behave in the manner expected of a black world champion.
It made Eubank a sportswriter’s dream, not to mention extremely rich, reflected in the unprecedented eight-fight £10 million contract he signed with Sky Sports in the mid-1990s. It was money the Brighton-based champion used to finance an exorbitant lifestyle.
Mansions, top-of-the-range cars, an expensive wardrobe, motorcycles, and even the biggest truck in Europe at the time — Eubank embarked on a spending spree and a spate of dodgy investments that ended in him going bankrupt in 2009.
But even without the toys and money, one thing no one could ever take from him is his legacy as one of the most courageous, exciting and proud champions ever to grace a boxing ring.
The names of some of the opponents on his considerable record comprise a who’s who of the most illustrious British middleweights and super-middleweights ever produced in this country, not to mention the world.
Benn and Watson have already been mentioned, but Eubank also shared a ring with Stevie Collins and Joe Calzaghe. Moreover at a time when it’s hard to get the best to face one another in the ring, it will never be forgotten that Eubank fought the first three of the aforementioned fighters not just once but twice.
His last meaningful contest was against Carl Thompson in 1998 in the second of two challenges he mounted that year against the formidable Manchester-born champion for his WBO cruiserweight title.
The first contest Eubank lost in a 12-round unanimous decision, while the second saw him go out on his shield in the ninth. His performance that night still ranks as one of the most extraordinary displays of courage ever witnessed in the ring.
The standing ovation from the crowd afterwards he received was proof that finally, after a long career suffused with controversy, excitement and memorable nights, Eubank had won over the British boxing public.
After a long period out of the public eye, Eubank has returned to prominence as mentor and the very public inspiration behind his son, Chris Eubank Jnr, as he sets out on the long road to emulate his father inside the ring.
He’ll be a success if he achieves half as much.
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