By James Slater - Exactly 20 years ago today, one of British boxing’s most genuine grudge-matches took place, in Birmingham, West Midlands. Two middleweights, both well respected, with one of them established on the world stage, locked horns over a scheduled 12-rounder that contested the WBO title.
Article posted on 19.11.2010
The crown belonged to London’s Nigel Benn, and Brighton’s Chris Eubank wanted it; knowing a win would mean so much more than just his becoming a belt holder. Benn, known as “The Dark Destroyer,” was already a star in America, having stopped both Doug DeWitt and, most recently, Iran Barkley. Eubank was less known, but he knew a win over Benn would make him the biggest 160-pound star in the U.K..
Eubank, having compiled a 24-0 pro record, had began calling Benn out (and calling him names) in early 1990, and the badmouthing had finally got to Benn. The fight was on, and the upcoming battle that saw two men with genuine dislike for one another captured the imagination of the British public. This fight appealed to more than just hardcore fight fans.
On one side of the fence were people who wanted to see Benn punish and silence the unimaginably-smug, cocky and full of himself Eubank. On the other side were people who found “Simply The Best” to be strangely likeable, even amusing due to his eccentric, unusual behaviour. And Eubank could box; that much had to be admitted by Benn and his followers - even if the younger man (Benn was 26, his challenger 24) had not yet passed a genuine test against a world class operator.
“The puncher never beats the boxer,” Eubank declared. “At lest he never beats the competent boxer.”
Was Eubank a fully competent boxer, one capable of defeating a monster-puncher like the 27-1 Nigel Benn? The experts were pretty much split down the middle, with perhaps a slight majority favouring Benn.
On November 18th, inside a packed National Exhibition Centre, we found out!
Benn was his usual aggressive self in the early going, while Eubank also fought with venom. Some people expected him to maybe run and fight cautiously early on, but Eubank, though paying a high attention to defence, was more than willing to fight Benn.
A quite savage, highly-paced battle ensued, and it was Eubank who struck first blood, in a metaphorical sense, by badly staggering Benn at the end of a blistering 2nd-round - this after taking some bombs from Benn earlier in the session. And this proved to be a crucial point: Eubank could hold a shot better, and with less visible sign of distress, than could the defending WBO champion. Benn, caught by a left and a right to the head and stuck on the ropes as Eubank went for the finish, whipped back into action himself, as he was known for doing, but Eubank landed the harder, more effective shots.
The huge crowd could not take its eyes off the action, and in the 4th Benn scored with a vicious right uppercut. It’s doubtful many people realised it at the time, perhaps not even Benn himself, but the champion was as close as he’d ever be to winning the fight. The uppercut had hit Eubank with so much force that Benn had slashed Eubank’s tongue, almost literally severing it from his mouth! Badly hurt and swallowing his own blood for the remainder of the fight, Eubank told no-one, not even his corner - so fearful was he, he said later, of the fight being stopped due to the horrific injury.
Later, when learning about this display of raw courage, those fans who felt beforehand that Eubank was a quirky, phoney of a would-be fighter were forced to change their minds.
Benn’s big punch came and went and the fight roared on. By the midway stage of the rumble, Benn’s left eye was beginning to swell, and by the later stages the eye was almost completely shut. Benn, who later said he failed to train like a true champion, was now in real trouble.
There was no quit in either man on this night, though, and Benn continued to fire bombs at his tormentor. There was a brief touch of late success for Benn in the 8th, round, as a right to the top of Eubank’s head sent the challenger down. Eubank bounced up instantly and claimed he’d slipped, but referee Richard Steele was having none of it, giving him a count.
The end came in the 9th, as Eubank, still being pursued by Benn, landed with a huge right hand to the head. Benn was instantly in a daze and Eubank followed up with fury, forcing Benn to cover up on the ropes. The action again reached centre ring, when Eubank landed another hard right to the jaw, forcing a rubbery-legged Benn into the ropes once more. After a brief salvo from the challenger, Steele dived in and stopped it. Benn was devastated but neither he nor anyone else complained about the stoppage - even though it came at 2-mins and 56 seconds of the round.
Eubank was the new champ and, for the next seven years or so (until his fan-winning, but losing effort against new star Joe Calzaghe) he was THE love him or hate him figure of British boxing. Of course, the two would meet again, up at 168-pounds, three years later - with the two fierce rivals battling to a controversial 12-round draw. But this night belonged to Eubank. Even if he couldn’t talk too much after the victory he’d just scored!
“I need to go to the hospital,” Eubank said to the ITV reporter who was peppering him with annoying questions, completely unaware of the wicked pain the new champion was feeling. Eubank did, however, have enough energy and strength left to propose to his girlfriend on camera!
All in all it was some amazing night; 20 long years ago today.