A monocle, a sheriff badge, a huge truck, an unmistakable penchant for all things English and a love to dance….especially in a stupendous summer breeze….It can only be Christopher Livingston Eubank, one of the British boxing greats, a divisive figure that seems to have increased in popularity among the hardcore and casual fans since his ring retirement.
In this piece Russell Bedford looks at the exciting career of a true British boxing legend.
Much has been documented about the extravagant side of this cultural icon. Much of the time it seems to fall on the side of ridicule but scrape away the headlines and eccentricities and you find a true fighter, a gentleman and an inspiration.
Born in 1966 in Dulwich, London, Eubank spent a large part of his youth in Jamaica, returning to the UK at the age of six, it wasn’t long until he was on his travels again though after his Father sent him to live with his Mother in New York. It was here that he started to put his energies into the dark trade. Spending time in the gym, this new found passion helped divert him from the shoplifting and alcohol that had become distracting factors in his life.
Facing American foe in his new homeland Eubank made an unbeaten start to his career winning 5 from 5 via decision. It was from his 6th fight that he fought out of the UK and found his unbeaten run stretch even further and catapult him into the mainstream. Moving on to 24-0 after an explosive first round KO against Reginaldo Dos Santos a world title fight against fellow Brit and hard hitter Nigel Benn-Benn having just come off a first round win himself against Iran Barkley-was set up. Mentored by the legendary Ronnie Davies the fuse was lit for an explosive encounter.
In a fight that goes down as an all-time classic Eubank realised his dream and took the title from Benn with a performance that had many realising just how much heart and determination Eubank had. Benn was up on the scorecards and going into the fight was easily the favourite. Come the 9th round though it was the Dulwich man that had his arm raised and the strap around his waist.
Retaining the title with victories against Sherry and Stretch, it was the next fight that helped the Eubank hype train motor along at an even more intense speed. People didn’t like his assured, often portrayed as arrogant or cocky manner and when the likeable Michael Watson signed the contract for his fight against Eubank, many believed the wheels were about to come off and Eubank would find his career seriously derailed. It wasn’t to be though as the unbeaten run was extended to 28-0 with a narrow points win for the champion.
Fresh from this victory a step up to super middleweight was next and with it, a rematch with Watson. Again, Eubank was vilified, and many were hoping to see the previous outcome reversed with Watson taking the victory this time around. In what goes down as a legendary fight for many reasons Eubank found himself struggling against a dogged Watson. Many thought this the end of the brash and eccentric Eubank, a defeat would finally silence him and boxing would have a new World Champion they could warm to. Hitting the canvas near the end of the 10th, the anti Eubank brigade were on their feet. A new Champion to shortly be crowned, but as Eubank mentions in the excellent sports life stories, “I threw a shot” That shot rocked Watson severely, it changed the fight and by the 12th, with Watson still stunned, Eubank unloaded a barrage of punches that caused the fight to end and see the Super middleweight title added to Eubanks collection. Tragedy followed though as Watson collapsed in his corner-life was never to be the same for the popular Londoner, nor for Eubank, as the brain damage suffered had a long lasting effect and curtailed the popular Watson’s career.
For many this was the end of the explosive, heavy hitting, knockout power of Eubank, he himself admitted that he felt he lost a certain part of his fight after that incident and blamed himself for what happened to Watson.
Claiming decision wins after the Watson fight soon became the norm and it was after six victories and one draw that former adversary Nigel Benn stepped up to super middle to put a stern test in front of Eubank. Billed with as much hype as we would see today for a PPV event, the excitement stayed largely out of the ring as the two fought to a draw. Neither fighter particularly happy with the result. The TV networks and promoters had the last laugh as the fight enjoyed incredible TV viewing figures and excellent ticket sales.
With victories following on from the Benn draw it wasn’t until Steve Collins entered the ring-hypnotised-that Eubank had finally tasted defeat. Shutting himself off from the self belief that Eubank held, muting the comments from the belt holders camp, Collins was a different type of foe for the Champion. Barry Hearn mentions that Collins really got into Eubanks head, this was unchartered water for him. Normally it was the other way around. The eccentric, controversial, outspoken man having won the fight sometimes before a punch was thrown.
On a March evening in Ireland, the fight went the distance and a new World Champion was crowned. Two more warm up fights followed before the Collins rematch. In another fight that enhanced Eubanks reputation as a warrior, he fell short on the scorecards as Collins retained the title.
Eubank planned to retire after this fight but found himself back in the ring fighting two bouts abroad and claiming victories before a fight against Joe Calzaghe-a fight that was actually scheduled for Collins until he announced his shock retirement.
Eubank-ever the gallant fighter, took the bout and despite hitting the floor twice (once in the first round) left the ring with even more respect than he entered it. Having provided us with some of the best performances in boxing, many found his character off putting yet that night he left the ring with honour, pride and a soaring reputation. Those that previously dismissed him were now cheering his name.
It wasn’t over yet though and a step up to cruiserweight saw two battles against Carl Thompson, both of which ended in defeat but again, with defeat came the plaudits. The second Thompson fight saw Eubank stopped for the first time in his career and it was with this that the love for him grew even more.
Following on from this, Eubank stepped away from the ring and retired.
In our second piece we look at Eubank out of the ring.