By Leon Smith
Chris answers questions and gives insights into parts of his career and certain fights, including fights with Mark Breland as an amateur and the unknown Dan Schommer during his infamous ‘World Tour’. He also reveals his theory on who maybe the greatest of all time! Enjoy.
Chris on facing amateur king Mark Breland:
Yes it’s true that I fought Mark Breland in my amateur career. He was the number one pound-for-pound in the world and we met in the Golden Gloves quarter-final at welterweight in February 1984.
He was knocking everyone out and I was 17 and hadn’t learned how to punch correctly yet. So the fear going in caused adrenal overflow, which made my reflexes so sharp I was able to catch or slip his jabs and land my own, winning the first round by outboxing him despite a reach disadvantage.
When he realised I couldn’t punch properly, he came on strong at the end of the second round with combinations and the referee stepped in and stopped it. But I got some kudos in New York for my jab and boxing ability, because they’d never seen Mark Breland lose a round.
It was said Mark Breland was sparring Thomas Hearns at Kronk at the time and getting the best of the jab exchanges. I had been training all of 12 months, one year.
Learning to be objective about fights:
In my amateur career, opponents would call me a limey punk, a punk ass bitch or a motherfucker at the weigh-in or before the fight. I would tell them that if they ever referred to my mother in that manner I would end them, and then they would.
So I’d go into particular fights trying to hurt my opponent, and every time I did I’d lose on points. That was teaching me that a boxing match should not be personal, and that your objective is to score points in there, or you risk losing. You make these mistakes in the amateurs so that you don’t make them in the pros.
Developing his skill set in the US:
The fighters I would hear most about from Adonis Torres were Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta, plus how Max Baer knocked out this Primo Carnera and how Emile Griffith ended the life of a Cuban fighter in the ring.
But it was the stable of professionals that Maximo Pierret had at Jerome gym that I’d see up close who inspired my style: Dennis Cruz, for being so aesthetically pleasing with his movement, poise, jabs and correct hooks. And Julio Solano – who fought for a WBC world title in Tokyo in the lighter weights – a great fighter whom I stole a move from that was jumping side to side a few times at medium pace or with hip swivel feints, if trapped by ropes or a corner, before moving past one side of the opponent at a faster pace while ducking or weaving through.
I practiced the move from Solano against the consummate come-forward jabber Milton Guest, who was in the world top 10 and had started training under Pat Versace at Jerome gym in 1985.
Taking from Asian methodology:
From 1986 to January 1988, the chapter was extracting from the martial arts physically and applying them to my boxing training or into my boxing style, revising the art of war meticulously, and learning about the ancient samurai. Growing spiritually. Applying the philosophy.
Increasing emotional health with the karate stretches, the tai chi meditation, the herbal medicine, the pushing hands, using the ginseng and so on.
I was working security jobs in NYC at the time, as a bodyguard and minding a building site, before being released on the unsuspecting public in Great Britain.
Drive to become a world champion:
Barry McGuigan, and he doesn’t know this, indirectly inspired me to become a world boxing champion. What I wanted was acceptance from my brother Peter, and he beat Barry.
So when McGuigan won the world title, I had to do the same or Peter could say that he beat a world champion and I didn’t. My brothers had never accepted me all my life, as far back as I could remember. That’s all it was.
Yes I studied to become a secretary as a back-up plan, because it would keep me in the city and I was a city boy.
It wasn’t until I received a piece of advice in 1987 to put all my eggs into one basket or risk mediocrity in both that I decided to drop my studies and my work to put single-minded focus into boxing.
Early sparring feats:
Versus Herol Graham
There was an occurrence in March 1989 when Michael Nunn knocked out Kalambay in Las Vegas in the first round with one punch, and was hailed as the number one pound-for-pound or best middleweight in history, or both.
In April 1989, I knock out Herol Graham in a gym in Sheffield in the first round with one punch. Herol Graham was said to of fought too aggressively against this Kalambay and lost marginally but had the skills to beat him, and was on the defensive against me.
Nunn has just been paid millions of dollars for his feat in front of the world and I’ve just equaled or exceeded the feat physically, in front of a few people without a penny to my name and with nobody knowing me.
It has to be said, I failed to hit Herol again with a proper punch in three weeks – he was the grandmaster of the spoiling. And if he did it for 12 rounds under the bright lights, noone would come close to beating him.
Versus Johnny Walker Banks
It took me five years to get the better of Johnny Walker Banks in sparring in the Bronx. Now this Johnny Walker Banks was one of the world’s best in sparring, a light-middleweight regularly used by Hagler, Michael Spinks and Dwight Muhammed Qawi where he’d more than hold his own.
He wouldn’t produce once you took the head guard off and put him in front of the crowds and cameras. But in the gym, this Banks was legendary.
When I finally started getting the better of him, I knew I was ready to be unleashed, and then made United Kingdom my new home.
Path to the World crown:
My path to the world championship was prestiege and perfect. Lottery winning luck for the education, experience and preparation. I had made my mistakes in my amateur career and learned. I had been taught in New York for five years, the hottest bed.
In my first five professional fights in Atlantic City: I face a tall guy, I face a short guy, I face a southpaw, I face the Philadelphian left hooks and the Philadelphian shells.
In my next five professional fights: I face welters, light-heavies, high hands, low hands, straight shots, wide shots. The deadlocked Michael Justin having the low hands and wide shots.
The landmark fights were against world-class Anthony Logan when I was still a novice and then winning the WBC International title, at Royal Albert Hall and York Hall respectively. I was catapaulted into contention to face Nigel Benn or Michael Watson and then for the world title.
Would I be worried stepping up to face a name like Benn for the world championship? No, I already had the experience of fighting in front of tens of thousands of people and on live TV in my amateur career in the MSG, and had already completed a full 12 rounds in the professional ring.
I had also beaten the very best gym fighters in the world – Johnny Walker Banks in New York and Errol Christie in London. Errol without bright lights and with head guards and 16oz gloves was getting the better of the entire Kronk stable is what is said.
The only difference between sparring and a real fight for me was there was a result at the end of a fight.
Going into the Benn fight, since 1983 I had sparred more than any fighter in the world and where the sparring was hardest in the world, and had never been put down. So even though Benn was pound-for-pound the best puncher in the world, if anyone could absorb his power it was me.
How he beat nemesis Nigel Benn:
I beat Benn with the application of common sense, not just the art and craft I had learned in New York. For instance, when I was over him, he lifted me right up instead of going limp and saving his strength.
So next time I was over him and his head went into the reverse headlock position again, I went limp myself and he held me with his strength some more. That’s one man applying common sense and one not.
Good behaviour and strong morals, learned in Sunday schools and cathedrals, was why I won. We both beat each other to within inches of our lives, so it was the one who was most honest, clean, true and goodly who was going to actually win the fight, because it’s then going beyond physical.
The greatest fighter of all time:
The greatest fighter in history is one who did not win the world championship, and I’ll tell you for why.
For why is because professional boxing is a business, and the best does not always win, or the best does not always make it, if the best or even greatest doesn’t have a powerful manager to pull the strings.
There was a fighter called Charley Burley. He fought most of the very best men in non-title fights at higher weights because he couldn’t secure the names at his particular weight, and worked day jobs right through his career of about 100 fights.
I don’t know another fighter who would be able to fight the very best from higher weights for 15 rounds and win but not always get the decision, sometimes fortnightly or even weekly, and carry on and do the same for around 10 or 15 years.
That’s not fighting for money, that’s fighting for respect. And I’ve never heard of another fighter as great as this, as great as Charley Burley.
Overcoming a little-known yet largely skilled opponent:
Dan Schommer was the grandmaster of positioning. He was always just marginally out of punching distance and wouldn’t lead, and countered me each and every time I threw, which was few and far between because it was a southpaw-orthodox chess match.
He didn’t have massive ambition or hunger to be a great boxer, because he was a successful and wealthy stock broker and businessman. But his skills were exemplary and he didn’t have a manager capable of getting him the breaks before getting his chance at me out of the blue.
I thought he deserved the decision, because I always score on effective boxing ability over aggression, of which aggression was what I adopted.
Analysis of Calzaghe fight:
Joe Calzaghe was exceptional. How do you beat him when he throws four or five times as many punches as you and out lands you by three or four to one?
It’s difficult to jab or move against a southpaw, because if you go clockwise you’re moving right into his right hook and if you go anti-clockwise you can’t get your lead foot outside of his to land the straight right.
If you clinched Calzaghe, he always punched in the clinches back then and hit extremely hard before his hand troubles after he fought me. So he had a wider power stance when he fought me which made it twice as difficult.
My only option was to take him out but his chin was so strong and he’d fire back. I finished the stronger though and was much less bashed up than he was, because I was better defensively at moving my head just enough at the last moment.
He was extremely talented though, and highly motivated that night.
Analysis of Watson rematch:
The best I ever fought, amateur, professional or in the gym, was Michael Watson in our second fight. He had never fought like that before that night, with that maneuvering and a motivation that was unnatural.
The Nigel Benn who fought Gerald McClellan and me in our rematch was extremely hard to land a punch against, for even masters of the right hand, and still had his punching ability. Michael was counter punching while closing the distance though, which is the ultimate skill.
Watson set a pace that night almost as fast as Calzaghe, or Benn in 1990, or Collins in Collins II; only he maintained that pace. He wasn’t physical like Herol Graham in sparring or Collins in Collins II, wasn’t over-strengthened inside like Schommer, and his punches in bunches were crisper and cleaner than Joe’s and harder and heavier than Errol Christie’s. He wasn’t even blinking when I landed hard.
Michael was the complete package that night. He was unbeatable, literally. I beat the unbeatable fighter and I did it by being true, honest, clean and correct, having lived by the code and in not looking for a way out, and thus awakening a spiritual warrior while on the brink of death.
So when my knee – 100% unwillingly – hit the canvas at the end of the 11th, I had all my strength, vigor and energy back that I had at the start of the fight, and walked in as if casually due to the conviction and resolve that I will be able to throw the most perfectly executed uppercut on the way in and throw it through a glove-sized gap in Watson’s guard.
It changed boxing, and both our lives, forever.