Big Interview: Chris Eubank still picking his shots with care
His world title contests against fellow Britons Nigel Benn and Michael Watson are the stuff of legend.
He was described by the unbeaten Joe Calzaghe as being the toughest man he ever faced. His chin was made of granite and he was credited for his bravery in the ring.
But two-weight world champion Chris Eubank became as well known for his career beyond boxing as he did for his exploits in the ring. He was voted the second most eccentric star – after Bjork – by Homes and Antiques and he took to wearing jodphurs, a bowler hat and monocle, as you do.
Eubank bought a huge American Peterbilt 379 truck – the largest lorry in Europe – and a tank. He was a guest presenter on Top Of The Pops, appeared in the first series of Celebrity Big Brother, was sacked by his own PR adviser for being too left-field and featured in the 2015 series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here.
He was declared bankrupt in 2009, with tax debts of £1.3 million, and felt the long arm of the law after protesting against Tony Blair’s decision to send Prince Harry to Iraq. And he’s taken the advertising shilling of Nescafe, Royal Mail, Jaffa Cakes and McDonald’s, while also modelling for Vivienne Westwood and Versace.
These days, he’s ever present in the corner of his son, Chris Eubank Jr, who has been mentored by Floyd Mayweather and spends his downtime partying in LA with Kourtney Kardashian, Snoop and P Diddy. He’s charting his son’s rise to the top of the super middleweight division, teaching him how to roll with the punches.
Eubank’s been married twice – most recently, he decided to divorce his second wife, former manager Claire Geary, in an amicable, no-fault split because they were living in different countries and hadn’t spoken to one another for a year. They’d married quickly in Las Vegas, on the final day of a nine-day holiday.
Self-promoting and self-glorifying, arrogant and disdainful, or sensitive and compassionate, philosophical and respectful? The question is simple: who the hell is Chris Eubank?
Boxing fans can find out soon when the legendary 51-year-old from Dulwich brings Chris Eubank’s One Man Show to Wolverhampton’s Wulfrun Hall on Tursday night. He’ll be talking about his life and career, about holding the world super-middleweight and WBO middleweight titles during a career that spanned 1985-1998 and finished with a 45-5 record, with two draws.
Elegantly-dressed, dignified and honest, Eubank will tell it like it is. He won’t be drawn into trash talk or dumbed-down answers: he’ll articulate intelligently and thoughtfully, taking his time to find the right words before delivering knock-out answers.
“They can expect honesty and insight,” he says. “Insight into celebrity and insight into boxing. That insight into boxing will be proper: it won’t be the views disseminated by promoters, managers and journalists. In my view, they are just spectators. It’s very rare that a fighter comes along who can articulate the perceptions of what happens in the ring.
“I am able to do that from a financial point of view, from a physical point of view, from an emotional point of view and from many other standpoints. So there will be many truths, insights and stories. The stories will be stuff of legend. They are real and they are mine.”
Eubank in interview is as courteous and astute, as obliging and as chivalrous as he is on the screen. He deliberates before answering, taking his time, showing caution and offering thoughtful responses. He doesn’t want to be misquoted or misrepresented. He wants to use the opportunity of this interview – and of any others – to be represented honestly and accurately.
He talks about what it’s like being in the ring, when 12st of muscle has tried to smash his face in, when he has been enclosed with some of the world’s toughest men.
“There are no emotional responses when I am in the ring. I know my opponent is trying to hit me in the face: that’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to hit me. I respect and admire the man who wants to hit me because that’s a difficult thing to do,” he muses.
“I know how difficult it is because of the years I spent learning this craft. I learned it by practice, not just by sparring. I didn’t have people showing me what to do. You get hit and then you learn by trial and error. Being able to pass over the perceptions of what you have to survive is very interesting to those who have no idea. Normally, they are given by people who have no idea…..”
Quite so, by the promoters and agents, the pundits and the hangers-on.
Eubank is different. He’s stood toe-to-toe with Collins, Watson and Benn, he’s traded leather while making successful defences against “Sugarboy” Malinga, the American quartet of John Jarvis, Ron Essett, Tony Thornton and former world champion Lindell Holmes, as well as Juan Carlos Giminez Ferreyra and a draw with fellow Briton Ray Close.
“If you are thinking about what you are going to do when you are in the ring, then you are likely to lose. If you are thinking, it means you haven’t done the work.
“When you’ve done the work you don’t think, you react, you see.”
He’s talking about moving from the conscious to the instinctive – he’s talking about being a nano-second quicker in ducking and weaving, or flicking out a left. The best in the business don’t think, they just do. They don’t need time to process, they are working on a higher plane.
“What is really entertaining is this: the trainers don’t know that, most people don’t know. If you are thinking you are too late. It doesn’t work that way. The toughest fight of my life was the Michael Watson II fight. For 11-and-a-half rounds I was beaten almost senseless.”
That fight was on September 21 1991 at White Hart Lane, for the vacant WBO super middleweight title. In round 11, Watson was ahead on points and on the verge of a stoppage victory, having knocked Eubank down with an overhand right.
Moments later, Eubank was back on his feet. He stunned Watson with a devastating uppercut, which sent him spinning into the ropes. Referee Roy Francis stopped the fight in round 12 and Watson collapsed.
There were no medics in the building and it was eight minutes until doctors wearing dinner jackets arrived to assist. The oxygen-starved Watson spent 40 days in a coma and had six brain operations to remove a clot.
For eight months, he couldn’t hear, speak or walk. But, slowly, extraordinarily, he clawed it back. He won a legal case against the British Boxing Board of Control for negligence and he and Eubank became close friends.
Eubank says it’s impossible to know what will happen in the ring. For all of the bravado at pre-fight press conferences, it is a sport where outcomes are truly unknown. A boxer’s job is to embrace that voyage to the unexplored. The best are comfortable at being uncomfortable.
“When you don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s when you’re at your best.
“It’s like training to knock somebody out. Whenever I’ve trained to do that in one-two-three rounds, I usually end up going 12 and the fight being close and hard. When I’ve trained for 12 rounds and trained with intensity for 12 rounds, that’s the time I knock out opponents in one-two-three rounds. So what do you think when you’re getting in there? You’re always on point when you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
There are moments of anguish in every fight. “There are dark times, dark times yes.”
And what inner resources did Eubank have to draw on when he had no answers, when the barrage of punches was so great that he knew the best he could do was cover up and try to avoid further punishment?
“When it’s like that, the way I coped was by embodying the pre-requisites to being a success in any field. Those pre-requisites are: manners, morals, respect, trusting your parents, patience, character, application of common sense, consideration, reason – because reason obeys itself, punctuality.”
Imagine that. You’re in the ring, you’re being knocked half senseless. And the thoughts running through you’re mind aren’t – ‘I’m going to kill him’ – they aren’t anger or aggression, violence or revenge. Instead, you’re thinking about being the better man, about being noble and patient, about respecting your opponent and believing in yourself. It doesn’t get more humble.
“Living by those codes is what helps you to survive.
“Those prerequisites will make you successful in anything. When I had nothing left in the ring, I still had my integrity. I might have had nothing left from a physical perspective, but I still had integrity.”
And integrity is what helped him get off the canvas and defeat Watson. That’s what helped him to a draw against Nigel Benn at Old Trafford and a victory earlier at Birmingham’s NEC. That’s what helped him survive in a golden era of super middleweights.
n In part II of our exclusive interview, which will run next Saturday, Eubank talks about his proudest moment, the challenges facing his son, how he feels about other people poking fun at him, his decision to change his name to English, the greatest lessons he ever learned, the worst mistakes he made, his time on I’m A Celebrity and his protest against Tony Blair in THAT tank.
Chris Eubank’s One Man Show features at the Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, on November 30.
Ticket Price: £39.38 (£35.00 Ticket + £4.38 Booking Fee) are available from Midland Box Office; 0870 320 7000 or online at www.wolves civic.co.uk