Weigh-In from London: Chris Eubank Was a Shrewd Realist

By Michael Klimes on July 10, 2012
Weigh-In from London: Chris Eubank Was a Shrewd Realist
People did not know where Eubank the man ended and Eubank the fighter started.

“Anyone who goes into the ring with a civil mind does not understand desperate times call for desperate measures…”

It was right that Chris Eubank had his last fight in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield. The town, with its rich industrial heritage, which was rooted in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Victorian age, was the best setting for the July 1998 rematch against the tenacious cruiserweight champion Carl Thompson.

Eubank’s two brutal struggles with the Manchester-born Thompson demonstrated all of his renowned qualities. In the early rounds of both bouts, he was the consummate counterpuncher: he threw fast, sharp and fluent combinations; used nimble footwork to avoid Thompson’s imposing physicality and gracefully slipped his opponent’s heavy punches.

Eubank also threw excellent body blows in the hope that he would slow Thompson down in the championship rounds. Later on, when Thompson managed to close the distance and measure Eubank with dangerous right hands, Eubank drew upon his exceptional courage to carry him to the final bell in the first fight and to round nine in the rematch. In both contests, he reminded journalists and historians that he possessed one of the most durable chins ever seen in the business. 

Eubank’s rivalry with Thompson reminded me of the Victorian sentiment encapsulated in Rudyard Kipling’s best adventure stories. There was intrigue, excitement and a certain amount of can-do entrepreneurialism in his audacious jump up in two weight classes. He wanted to become a three-time world champion in three divisions.

He had never fought at cruiserweight before and legitimate questions were raised by sceptics about his ambitions: would he preserve his punching power? Would he be able to absorb the punches of naturally bigger men and did he retain enough desire to go through hellacious battles to reach his goal? He answered all of those questions brilliantly in his losses to Thompson.

By the time Eubank retired, he had gone from villain to hero just like Arnold Schwarzenegger between Terminator 1 and Terminator 2. Eubank’s career and public perception could not have been more different when he begun boxing in the 1980s. He was a riddle no one could solve.

His idiosyncratic dress sense which he deemed as fashionable, clipped manner of speaking and raffish persona annoyed everyone. He wore jodhpurs, tweed jackets and monocles. He arrived at press conferences late and would enter them, like he did the ring, as if he was an exotic prince from a distant land.

There was an air of entitlement in Eubank’s behavior and his distinctive showmanship suggested that he wanted to become a member of the country’s aristocracy. He even bought the title of “Lord” for himself, which exposed him to a degree of ridicule. He lived in a large house in his adopted hometown of Brighton on Britain’s south coast where he drove a massive truck, much to the ire of his neighbors. He was arrested in October 2003 while protesting against the Iraq War in London.

Undoubtedly, Eubank had a flamboyant way of attracting attention to himself but that does not mean Eubank should be underestimated. In fact, he was one of the shrewdest boxers the game has seen who knew how to exploit media attention to the maximum.   

Eubank added insult to injury when he was a fighter as he called boxing a “mug’s game” and treated it unlike any other boxer before him. For Eubank, if we measure him by his own words given at interviews, was the purest capitalist ever seen in boxing bar the mafia. His sole reason for being a fighter was to earn money for himself and his family, nothing more and nothing less. Pride, respect and sportsmanship were secondary concerns to making money.

Some found Eubank’s attitude hypocritical and offensive. Who was this clownish and bombastic figure to lecture them about the immorality of not only their sport but his own profession as well?

Eubank compounded this by his high society pretensions. Occasionally, he did seem like he was character out of P.G. Wodehouse novel from the Edwardian period that moved in and was part of upper class circles. He was dandyish and supremely confident in his powers, both intellectually and athletically. He bested many formidable adversaries and gave monologues about anything which took his fancy to everyone who was in his presence, even if they did not want to listen. He was, as the fine broadcaster Ray Gutteridge observed during his fight entrance against Graciano Rocchigiani in 1994, “a law unto himself.”
His boxing style was also something quite unique and was not influenced, as far as I can tell, by any fighter in particular. Eubank had the temperament, natural speed and elusiveness which made him a slippery counterpuncher, but he could be indolent.

He never liked to overwork and preferred to box at a leisurely pace. He never moved more than he had to and used robust upper body movement to dodge punches and launch quick counters. He also liked to box in clusters and had a “Napoleonic strut,” where he would showboat between rounds instead of going to his corner to rest.

He was at his best when opponents came towards him and gave his greatest boxing performance against the highly touted Henry Wharton in 1994. He also proved his bravery and punching power by outgunning Nigel Benn in their first fight in 1990 in nine mesmerising rounds at middleweight.

Eubank also showed he could retain his punching power after he sustained a beating from the talented Michael Watson in their rematch in 1991 when he almost ended Watson’s life in the eleventh round with a rare uppercut that changed Watson forever and himself as well.

However, Eubank was lazy at times and prone to not take enough initiative in fights and had could have difficulty being aggressive. This was true in a number of title defenses following the Watson tragedy where he seemed to have lost his killer instinct and won dubious decisions. He also found it difficult to engage Benn in their megafight rematch in 1993 when Benn was the defensive minded fighter. He forced Eubank to be the aggressor and Eubank looked uncomfortable and awkward. The draw was and remains controversial to this day. 

In of one of his most forthright interviews before his rematch with Nigel Benn called “The Best of Enemies,” Eubank talked about his dislike for the sport and the fact he had to hurt people. He gave the impression he disliked it intensely, which dumbfounded some members of the crowd who thought he was again being disrespectful of the sport or he was mocking it to promote the fight. Either way, people did not seem to know where the Chris Eubank the man ended and the fighter started. 

However, the interview rather than pointing to evidence of Eubanks’s shallowness instead revealed an honest consistency and depth to Eubank. What gave Eubank’s career an added gravitas in retrospect was his realization that in order to succeed he had to be a performer. If he could not be a hero, then he would be a pantomime villain and this role suited him. In a fascinating interview with Steve Bunce, the well known British commentator on boxing called “Cad & and the Dandy,” he revealed that he thrived on the hate of the crowd and did not like being cheered.

Bunce also pointed to the fascinating period of Eubank’s early life where he grew up as a delinquent youth in London and discovered himself in New York where he became a fighter and started his career and wryly observed that it is a shame we do not know more about this side of the ex-boxer’s life.

Eubank also gave one of the most thoughtful insights in what it takes to be a fighter in the most uncompromising of trades. It points to Eubank’s intelligence and honesty as a man which should be his legacy:

“I was prepared to die and take a beating…I could not be normal as a boxer otherwise you would not be able to do it…you have to go into a different zone. I say to my son (Chris Eubank Jr. is a boxer) look at Naseem Hamed, look at Mike Tyson, look at me. When we got into the ring we were not ourselves, we changed, we metamorphosised into a ball of energy and that energy was focused at that target which was the opponent. That will always inspire people. There have been many champions but some of them did not resonate as they should because they got into the ring as themselves and they boxed in a civil manner. Anyone who goes into the ring with a civil mind does not understand desperate times call for desperate measures because in the ring you have two men fighting for supremacy over the other…if you go in there with a normal mind, you are not going to resonate and capture the imagination of the public.” 

Weigh-In from London: Business as Usual
Weigh-In from London: Chris Eubank Was a Shrewd Realist
Weigh-In from London: Carl Froch—“The Professional”

Michael Klimes is a journalist and writer based in the United Kingdom. He works for Japan’s leading news agency, JIJI Press, at the London bureau. He writes about a variety of topics. You can visit his website at: www.michaelklimes.com to see his interests. His twitter page is here: http://twitter.com/#!/misaklimes.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Nigel Benn vs Chris Eubank II

Chris Eubank vs Graciano Rocchigiani

Chris Eubank vs Carl Thompson 1 (Full Fight).avi

Chris Eubank Vs Carl Thompson II (PART 1/4)

Chris Eubank Vs Carl Thompson II (PART 2/4)

Chris Eubank Vs Carl Thompson II (PART 3/4)

Chris Eubank Vs Carl Thompson II (PART 4/4)

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  1. john 07:22pm, 07/17/2012

    Quite the article.
    Chris is one of a kind, to be sure.

    However, I must ask what it matters how a man dresses, his manner of speech, or other such innocuous behaviors. It seems Mr. Eubank still undergoes the same shallow public scrutiny in the U.K. that he always had.

    Why not just judge the fighter ?


  2. raxman 10:55pm, 07/10/2012

    ted - remember the Cat vs Johnny Nelson - the greatest ref early stop robbery ever!!! yes the cat had taken some shots but i can’t believe this fight wasn’t a fix to get nelson the title he’d long time wanted,
    it would’ve been like stopping gatti vs ward or ward vs gatti. when you have a fighter (in this case thompson) who has prior after prior for come from behind victory, you need to measure them by their own standard.
    my favourite cat moment - another victory from the jaws of defeat, was the perfect right cross, over the low guard of sebastian rothman. it was perfect
    its a fight that all aspiring boxers should watch as it shows everything - tangible and intangible - you need guts, perseverance, conditioning and proper technique ( for had rothmann not carried his left hand at his waist he wouldn’t have been so open)

  3. The Thresher 05:47pm, 07/10/2012

    Rax, The Cat was one of my all-time favorites. He was Gatti before Gatti. He could pull out a win at any time as Haye found out. The Ezra Sellers fight was a classic. He took part in more closet classics than just about anyone. . Too bad Americans did not know about him.

    The guy who called him a journeyman then did a light fandango when I presented Car’s history. The guy did not even know he was a champion much less that he fought Eubank twice and beat him twice. The entire debate made me want to puke, but it did force me to move on to Bad Left Hook and then to Boxing.com. So I am kind of glad we had the debate because it exposed him and sent me off in a better direction. I am quite happy to be on Boxing.com.

  4. raxman 05:26pm, 07/10/2012

    ted - i remember that on esb - we both jumped on him in the comment section.  in the past you and i have have shared our admiration for the underrated thompson - so given that,  you must feel the same about eubank fighting him not once, but twice - and that was prime carl the cat too

  5. The Thresher 05:18pm, 07/10/2012

    An ESB “writer” once called the tenacious cruiserweight champion Carl Thompson a “journeyman.”  That’s when I decided to leave ESB as a writer. But I still post on there because I enjoy shootouts in the wild west.

  6. raxman 04:44pm, 07/10/2012

    i’ve found now that the years have past, and that “in the moment” emotion is gone, i can appreciate eubank a lot more. even enjoy him. certainly respect him as a great middle/super middle - who had huge balls to fight carl the cat 2 weight classes above his

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