Chris Eubank: ‘I had the balls to fight an Irishman on St Patrick’s Day’

Former champion is still one of boxing’s most eccentric figures 20 years after his heyday

Former middleweight and super-middleweight world champion Chris Eubank on his first defeat to Steve Collins: “Collins won but if you watch that fight start to finish and score it, I didn’t lose the fight.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Former middleweight and super-middleweight world champion Chris Eubank on his first defeat to Steve Collins: “Collins won but if you watch that fight start to finish and score it, I didn’t lose the fight.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Chris Eubank doesn’t do interviews. He gives talks, he muses, he quotes. A bitter man might say his philosophies are borrowed from the life-affirming slogans of a refrigerator magnet, a cynic that his dandy clothes and affectations a piece of frivolous performance art, posed, manufactured and unreal.

He’ll tell you that world champions don’t come without heart and hurt and he’ll say that many of his performances with the monocle, cane and jodhpurs back in the Steve Collins and Nigel Benn days were both real and pretend, Eubank acting out his real self.

“I was being myself in the act of being myself, which was real,” he explains. He has never denied being convoluted.

Sweeping down the main stairway of the Shelbourne Hotel, he owns the place. Blue pinstriped jacket, tie pin, starched collar, cufflinks, torn skinny jeans, flat face, flaring nostrils after 52 professionals fights, flawless brown skin, pearl white, even teeth, and looking the specimen, lean enough to step through the ropes at his beloved middleweight. He has barely changed in 20 years.

A Jungle celebrity, Eubank has lived what seems like several lives, one as an unbeaten middle weight and a world champion, another as tabloid gold, an eccentric and calamitous personality, who lost his wealth, his wife and was arrested for a typically overstated antiwar protest, the fallout of which unravelled his family.

Enigmatic patter

Then he lay on the rainforest Petri dish of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, squirmed around in the humidity selling his wordy life philosophies to a younger audience and suddenly teenagers hit upon the former boxer and marvelled at his enigmatic patter and posturing.

And here he is reciting the Warrior Code among china cups and a piano playing classical music in the background, his thumb and forefinger emphasising each heroic line.

“Divine inspiration ascending from the heart . . . He knows not anger . . . The warrior does not judge,” he says. “It’s teaching you to be pure. Words have flesh. Do you understand?”

The war protest was 2003. He drove his oversized 10-wheeled American truck to Downing Street in a one-man charge against the military occupation of Iraq. He was given a ticket for careless driving after blocking the gates and was later arrested for reversing the truck into a delivery van.

“But I’m not political,” he says. “I wasn’t educated to understand politics and the nuances behind it.

“There are certain things you must not say in spite of the fact that supposedly democracy means free speech. No. You are not allowed free speech. If you speak freely, you are then deemed as I was, to be a subversive. Do you know that word?”

Ireland knows it, he is told.

“I had become instantly a subversive for saying what was obvious. What was obvious to me I put on the back of my truck and got arrested outside Downing Street for not moving and getting on the horn and making sure the media was there.

“What I didn’t want to happen was any type of military occupation because it would cause uprising, it would cause terrorism. People say you predicted this 12 years ago. I predicted what? It was common sense then. It is common sense now.”

Eubank is personable, respectful and now speaks without a lisp but, no, no common sense. His life is an assembly of sketches but at the heart was a boxing career and personality that brought money to the sport. He once made a citizen’s arrest, moved a parked lorry without permission because it was, he says, causing an obstruction and packed two of his sons to the USA when they were teenagers.

Second Captains

In 2008 he handed Chris Jnr and Sebastian into the care of Irene Hutton, a Las Vegas single mother. According to the Telegraph he introduced himself to Ms Hutton in a Paris bar with the words: “Hello, I am Christopher Livingstone Eubank. I am an ambassador.”

Too pragmatic, eccentric to be wholesome? Too callous to give up his sons for temporary adoption? Through Eubank’s prism, it was the decision of a concerned parent. A parent of conspicuous action.

“Always,” he says. “Always to the detriment. I paid the price. Coming from where I come from, I can handle it. But my children, they have suffered. My first marriage suffered because of it. But I am not angry and I am not bitter. I wish I had known better. I wish I could have been counselled to understand the consequences.

“When I say my family suffered for my anti-war protesting, one of the many fallouts was having to send my two sons to America because I couldn’t keep control of them when the divorce happened . . . there are consequences for your actions.”

Disconcerting

Eubank is nothing if not disconcerting. Concern requires remedy and for that he reaches into the Eubank vault on how to raise children while ignoring the modern tomes on best practices. Boxing is a tough business, so toughing up the kids was the first step on the ladder. He likes to reason.

“Please write this as you are hearing it,” he commands.”If you are learning how to box, any type of support will make you weak.” He pauses and the forefinger is raised. “Any type of support is counterproductive.

“The best way for me to give you a chance is for me to actually put you in a furnace. You learn by fire. How do I know this because I had to do it. That’s the reason I became . . . formidable.

“I went to a foreign land, New York City in 1982 and had no money, no respect in the gym. Everyone thinks you’re full of it. The remit in those days was break his heart, get him out of the gym. That was the ethos and that’s what it was in Vegas for Junior. They found out his name [Eubank] and said, ‘lets test him’.

“If you can pick up the skills, the craft, the art, the jostling, reading these young men, picking up what the other trainers are teaching their fighters . . . if you can do all of that, then you have a chance, a chance to fail. Because winning is almost, if not, impossible.”

He felt that failing sentiment 1995. It was St Patrick’s weekend in Millstreet. Ray Close had been forced to pull out of the super middleweight bout against world champion and the Celtic Warrior stepped in. Steve Collins had a shamrock shaved into his head and a curious little man in his corner, a hypnotist called Tony Quinn.

At the weigh-in 3,000 fans turned up and Collins went around the hall telling people he was hypnotised, that he couldn’t be hurt and wouldn’t bleed. “It’s not a gamble, it’s an investment,” said Collins to betting punters preceding by 20 years Connor McGregor’s self-glorifying routines.

Collins went nose to nose with Eubank and told him he had been hypnotised and wouldn’t feel pain. In a previous fight Eubank had seriously injured opponent Michael Watson, who never fully recovered from what was an almost fatal blood clot.

In the 10th round in Millstreet Eubank floored Collins for the second time. Instead of following on to finish the bout he stood off and started talking. There was no urgency, no killer instinct. He didn’t try to dust off a jarred Collins because of Watson and what Collins had been saying.

“Yeah, I accept that, yeah,” he says, looking towards St Stephen’s Green, and hesitating again.

“Collins won but if you watch that fight start to finish and score it I didn’t lose the fight,” he says with absolute certainty.

“So I didn’t complain because sometimes it goes your way when it shouldn’t. We accept it with grace.” He illustrates his point with a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If.

“Collins beat me. Did he win it? I dropped him in the first round. I dropped him in the 10th round. Can’t lose a fight like that. But I understand. I’m sure there are three fights in my career I shouldn’t have won but I did.

“But you are missing the point and the public are missing the point. This is the point. It wasn’t about Steve Collins. It wasn’t about an Irishman being the first to beat Chris Eubank.

Champion of the world

“This was about the man who was champion of the world, who had . . .”

His two fists are out in front clenched hard over the small round table. People at the adjoining table glance sideways as he searches for the right word.

“Balls,” he says. “The balls to come to Ireland on St Patrick’s Day weekend and fight another Irishman when I didn’t need to. I came here twice. This is not about winning or losing. This is about balls. This is about defiance. Ireland. St Patrick’s Day. This is about spirit.

“The second fight I should tell you . . . Collins didn’t have what it took to beat me. In truth, I was by far the superior fighter. By far.

“That second fight, no mind games, he beat me comprehensively. Not with skill. Not with strategic measures. Here is a man fighting with everything heroic about the spirit of the human.

“And here is a lovely line. Get this,” he says and stops. Then speaks for seven minutes. He finishes with his son Junior, a hugely talented middleweight beaten by Billy Joe Saunders, the same English boxer who defeated Andy Lee for his world title.

The same Junior, tempered in the furnace of Vegas, was “out gamed” by Saunders and lost the first six rounds. No recovery there. Eubank senior, who once labelled boxing as ‘a mug’s game’ is typically absolutist about his son and may have good reason to be. One loss in 22 and a 73 per cent win by KO, his world ranking is nine.

“Someone who is a force of nature in their field . . . It’s like Usain Bolt,” he says. “You know, when a record is a hit no one has to tell you. You can hear it.

“When I am looking at my son Junior . . . his ability is extraordinary. He is a danger and that’s the wonderful thing. Like Tyson back in the day, he was a danger. Junior is a danger.”

Eubank courteously stands and offers his hand. Forty-nine years old and still in the act of being himself.

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