By Sam Lee
With the current focus of boxing on his talented son, Chris Eubank Jr, we tend to forget sometimes what a great fighter the father was.
Chris Eubank Sr turned pro in 1985 and didn’t lose a fight until 1995, nobdody in boxing could match his record at the time.
Eubank Sr was such the entertainer that no fighter outside the heavyweights of that era could match the mans earnings, either.
Big Chris agreed to talk pre-session in Hove while his son was warming up, at first unkeen to talk about his own career rather than that of his sons, but then opening up for a terrific interview that focused especially on his early days.
How did boxing find you?
CEsnr: I needed money, so I worked as a janitor at the local boxing gym when I was 16 in the Bronx, New York. I trained to get in shape, and became the gym master of both jumping the skipping rope and hitting the speed ball, within just three or four months.
I was asked if I wanted to spar and got taught a lesson by a powerhouse Puerto Rican boxer. I never wanted to feel humiliated and embarrassingly exhausted again, so took up sparring on a daily basis and got very good very soon.
What occurred in your amateur fights?
I had a 26-fight amateur career in New York City, losing seven and winning the rest. If I got my jab working, I won. If I didn’t get my jab working I lost. Some of the losses were to southpaws.
I won the 1984 Spanish Golden Gloves, and in the Bronx final of the 1985 Golden Gloves, I beat a fellow called Dennis Milton, who had beaten Barkley and Tate and Nunn and some others who all went on to win world titles.
It progressed me to the finals in the Madison Square Gardens where I found 19,000 spectators and national USA television cameras around me, which was unknown territory for an 18-year-old who fled from the streets of London two years before before he even took up boxing, and I lost despite being favored for the title.
Why did you turn pro at only 19 years of age?
A decision went against me in the 1985 Empire State Games against Tyrone Frazier – a relative of the great Joe – that was very much political. I couldn’t get my jab going but had him reeling on the ropes in each round.
My trust had gone in amateur officials with that lack of integrity.
I also needed some money to pay bills.
Your first five fights took place in Atlantic City. Did you plan to come home and box in the UK?
My brothers pestered me to on the phone, and when I went over to visit. But I saw America as the land of opportunity. However, I eventually realized that I could become a big fish in a small pond in a quarter of the time I would become a big fish in a big pond.
My manager Adonis Torres warned me off all the other managers on the East Coast of America in regards to skullduggery, so when he died in October 1987 I didn’t know where else to go but to my big brothers in Brighton and see what they suggested.
Out of the ring, were you always so well-dressed?!
That just goes back to my father, who when I was growing up always said to be clean and smart and wear a suit and tie. He would drum it into me not to be rude, to speak good, to have manners and so on. It all came from there.
You eventually fought Nigel Benn in 1990 for the WBO world middleweight title. What were the pivotal fights leading up to that famous encounter?
Anthony Logan was the main one, because he was world-rated and came closest to beating Benn, and my record was still novice-like.
Much like Billy Joe and my son, I had those domestic rivalries with Johnny Melfah and Kid Milo, and I didn’t show a quarter of what I could do in those fights and that is why Benn underestimated me.
Did you always believe you could be world champion?
Nobody really praised me in my gym, but when I was 20 years old I decided to aim for the stars and decided I was going to be world champion.
I went to Gleasons Gym to spar with whoever I could get in with and sparred with Renaldo Snipes, a heavyweight, and Glenwood Brown, a light-welterweight. I tried to get Mike McCallum to spar me but he wouldn’t.
I asked my manager Adonis to get me on the next boxing card of Bob Arum’s in 1987 because I was going to try to get signed by him as a promoter.
Did Benn punch as hard as you expected, or even more so?
The latter, He could clearly hit, though I always knew I had a good chin because I had never gone over and only ever been hurt twice, but I didn’t know it was possible to hit that hard, like he did.
I can’t really put into words how hard that particular man punched me.
Was it the greatest win of your career?
The greatest win of my career was the Watson II win, because I couldn’t win and awoke something supernatural inside me through the integrity of getting up to carry on in a fight I could not win, with nothing left, having been battered in every minute of every round from a superhuman individual on that particular night.
So that was the greatest – the Watson II.
Who was the best challenger to your title other than Benn, Watson or Collins and do you feel you could’ve beaten Michael Nunn or James Toney or even Roy Jones around that time?
Graciano Rocchigiani, the German. Lindell Holmes was extremely good in the first three rounds, but was too musclebound to stay loose for 12 rounds and tired a lot. Malinga wasn’t on their level and neither was Ray Close.
Essett had very good defensive footwork but lacked far too much aggression to beat Chris Eubank. Thornton had very good offensive footwork but was far too predictable to beat Eubank!
Gary Stretch and Dan Schommer had the most success but I didn’t jab them like I did Rocchigiani. I believe it is a major mistake not to jab a southpaw and only look for the right.
If I jabbed at Nunn and Toney and got my jab off properly, half would land and half would miss, it’s whether they land more than one counter before I catch, slip, block, bob, weave, counter their counter or pull out of range. I believe they are 50/50.
I believe Roy Jones has a question mark over his absorbance of a shot because nobody really touched him in his prime, and I would. So it’s almost impossible to say.
One thing I will say is that we were all the world champion of our own right.
Following the double loss to Steve Collins in which you were arguably beaten by an inferior fighter via work-rate and questionable judging, you made up a big comeback against an unknown quantity by the name of Joe Calzaghe!
What did you know of Joe at the time?
Nothing, really. Average record, young kid. Just another guy, so-called prospect possibly. I knew he was southpaw and an ABA champion, and had some knockouts.
I didn’t expect much, other than an early shower after three rounds with him. Easy win.
Yet he had you over in 15 seconds and beat you on points! What did you make of him at the time?
Joe hit me by surprise, I was cold and off-balance, but he hit me so hard he took me off my feet and put me on my back on the other side of the ring!
I didn’t see the shot coming. He threw from awkward angles. He had a frantic work ethic. He could bang with both hands in actual fact, and was naturally talented with fast combinations and smooth feet.
He gave me a good hiding, and likewise, I gave him a good hiding in his acid test and he had to stay strong, stay put and earn that title. I really enjoyed that fight, even though I couldn’t do what I wanted to and what I would’ve previously been able to do.
Would he of beaten you in your prime?
Not for me to say.
How did you manage to put on 20lbs of muscle for the Carl Thompson fights at cruiserweight that closed your career and earned you great respect?
I used to cut 20lbs to make 12 stone and that was after eating only once a day! So instead of cutting weight off, I kept it on and ate three times a day right through.
If not for the eye injury I would’ve ran away with both fights!