Remembering Chris Eubank Senior
By Lee Callan: Chris Eubank is not just a figure of public ridicule or a meme, he was a warrior of genuine worth and should be remembered as such.
Fighting out of Brighton via Peckham and the South Bronx, Eubank first came to prominence in November 1990 with a destruction of fellow Briton Nigel Benn, who was hyped as arguably the most destructive fighter in the division – or any division – in what is often referred to as one of the all-time epic middleweight contests: a genuine war of attrition. A throwback fight. It showed there was more to Eubank than met the eye. The sharp-dressing self-publicist with those clipped, upper-class tones could really fight!
Eubank took on the role of pantomime villain. He realized that the customer would pay top dollar at the ticket office or turnstiles in the hopes of seeing an arrogant unbeaten champ knocked off his perch. His WBO title defense against glamour boy Gary Stretch in London on a Thursday night in April 1991 drew 12,000,000 TV sets to ITV in the UK. His next defense against Michael Watson in London drew 14,000,000, and the defense following, a tragic return fight with the unfortunate Watson, also in London, drew 16,000,000.
Barry McGuigan’s title-winning fight and Frank Bruno facing Mike Tyson had drew similar attention, but only Muhammad Ali could grind the entire country to a halt fight by fight like Chris Eubank. No fighter since has come close to having the same impact.
Eubank wasn’t the very best fighter, by his own admission to the boxing scribes, even though he famously came into Tina Turner’s hit theme ‘Simply the Best’ before milking the crowd, vaulting the ropes and either tapping his gloves together or remaining completely still as the crowds of up to 45+K were whipped into a frenzy. There was an aura about Chris Eubank. He brought great family entertainment to a Saturday night – children would stay up to watch his leap into the ring, adults would laugh in hysteria at his lisp or his mannerisms in and out the ring.
15,000,000 TV’s in Great Britain tuned in to his first fight back after the Watson tragedy, his first time back to Birmingham since the by-that-time infamous Benn triumph – Sugar Boy Malinga was the first of 15 challenges in just three years to the king of poses’ super-middle crown; Eubank had rarely been off our screens on the chatshow circuits or out of the mass-flogged newspapers since the Benn fight. No sportsman has ever received the same amount of attention. He went on to sign a then-unprecedented TV deal – following a return draw with Benn – with SKY, which would earn him £10,000,000 in 1994.
Maybe Eubank was spoiled when you consider that when he finally lost his ‘0’ to Steve Collins in Ireland, it made the back page of every national newspaper in the pre-Internet, pre-social media era. Yet, Roy Jones – widely considered in boxing the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet and in the same division as Eubank and Collins – didn’t even get a mention despite fighting on the same night. Similarly, following his gallant effort to try to win the WBO cruiserweight world crown in 1998, Eubank was pictured on the front page of the News of the World – Jones, still, the pound-for-pound king of American boxing didn’t get a mention in the sports section after winning on the same night.
Commercially, with most of Eubank’s audience being beyond even the casual, James Toney and Roy Jones meant no more to his audience than John Jarvis and Ron Essett. Who would you rather face?
But how good really was Eubank the fighter? Ronnie Davies, who trained Eubank from 1988 (Eubank himself claims Davies was ’employed as an overseer’), maintained Eubank fell short of his potential. There was certainly no man born from his mother that you would rather be cornered alongside in a dark alley, he reckoned; but he was erratic with his weight-making, often going into a fight drained to the limit. Much of the posturing during a contest was actually Eubank conserving his energy. Brendan Ingle, following Eubank’s performances against Carl Thompson, said Eubank had ‘sold himself short all along when he could have been fighter of the decade.’
Starting at 154lb in 1985 in Atlantic City while still at High School in the USA and with an NY Spanish Golden Gloves title under his belt, Eubank’s well-liked manager Adonis Torres bought him brand new Adidas boxing boots and drove him the three-hour ride from New York. He awarded the teenaged Eubank with McDonald’s on the way home if he won. After four four-round wins against mostly former Pennsylvania/NJ Golden Gloves winners making their pro debuts, Eubank was told by Torres to concentrate on his graduation first and to enroll at college because it was never guaranteed one would make it in boxing.
Torres died in 1987, and Eubank moved back home to Britain. He did the rounds of London promoters, sitting in lobbies waiting to be seen. They all had either rejected or been rejected by Eubank. He was forced to take fights on a few hour’s notice in order to feed himself and to find work as a sparring partner. Until in 1989, he upset the applecart when defeating one Anthony Logan, who had given fan-favorite Benn a torrid time a few months before, destroying plans of a money-spinning Benn-Logan II fight. He then bumped into snooker impresario Barry Hearn at the 1989 World Snooker Championships while serving as a sparring partner for Herol Graham and was signed almost on the spot when Hearn noticed ‘something very special about his aura.’
Fighting often out of crouches with peculiar footwork, Eubank was a snake-like counter-puncher with pouncing attacks, rarely wasted a punch, kept those shots short and crisp, and displayed a vicious killer instinct to stop a foe when on the way up. He seemed to lose that instinct to finish after the fatal injury to Watson, and Benn forced him to fight more conventionally. By the time he fought Malinga, Eubank was much more of an out-fighter behind a very impressive double jab, excellent ring generalship and lateral movement both ways, preferring to pile up six rounds in the bank and then stay out of the way – strutting his stuff or turning his back and going for a walk or run.
‘The master of brinkmanship’ he once described himself, as fighters of less ability often pushed him to the wire numerically. One exception being an excellent victory over Graciano ‘Rocky’ Rocchigiani in Berlin, with Eubank throwing double the punches of the German as he out-boxed and out-maneuvered him all night in front of as hostile a crowd as one could imagine.
Eubank had quite breathtaking individual punches in his locker – picture-perfect uppercuts with either hand, the perfectly timed coiled right-hand counter, the leaping lead right hand-stiff left combination, and so on. However, he failed to put them together consistently. One or two times over 12 rounds, he might throw the flashiest of flurry, but oftentimes he would simply take a walk for a breather, so his opponent had to reset, and then throw one body shot and out again! Apart from the return with Benn, where Benn’s ducking, weaving, and sliding caused Chris to throw mostly 12 rounds of inaccurate shoeshiners.
What he possessed without question was a phenomenal chin, and great general fitness, natural strength, and mental fortitude to keep up such an immense schedule under the scrutiny of the mass media in England. He also showed a really good defensive ‘radar’ in the ring, seeming to have this knack of moving his head just a fraction of an inch to avoid punches. And he could pull out a great punch in the championship rounds of a very hard fight – a rare ability. Who can forget Ronnie Davies slapping him before the 10th round against Collins, and then him coming right out and flooring Steve right away (before holding back with Collins clearly there to be taken) or the right hand at the brink against Calzaghe (causing Eubank to seemingly hold Calzaghe up before the final bell)? There are other instances, one in particular, that most certainly scarred him (21st September 1991). He held back against Thompson at the MEN a few times.
All in all, for his 45-5-2 record against such a high caliber of opposition as former, future or reigning world champions Nigel Benn (x2), Sugar Boy Malinga, Lindell Holmes, Graciano Rocchigiani, Steve Collins (x2), Joe Calzaghe and Carl Thompson (x2) and very highly regarded contenders in the industry in Michael Watson and Tony Thornton, as well as facing the most slippery avoided Americans in Ron Essett (defeated Frank Tate as an amateur in 1984) and Dan Schommer (defeated Virgil Hill as an amateur in 1984) to big audiences overseas (on different continents) and European champion Ray Close x2 (in his cauldron backyard), and also battering unbeaten former amateur stars Dan Sherry and Gary Stretch in early defenses (Sherry defeated world number-one, Orestes Solano, Stretch beat 67-0 George Collins in one round), I believe Chris ‘Simply the Best’ Eubank deserves a sporting accolade in the IBHOF!
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