The Rivalry of 'The Oddball' and ‘The Nutty One’
14.09.05 – By Michael Klimes: It is wonderful when a fight capture’s the imagination of the public and boxing receives the publicity it deserves. It seems to give our sport an extra dimension and it is even better when boxing is shared among more people as the saying goes,’ The more the merrier’ seems to hold sway in this writer’s mind. What fights can we see now and in the past that have really captivated not only boxing addicts but also the wider public interest? Oscar de la Hoya and Bernard Hopkins is probably the most recent fight that has broke through the obscurity barrier of even the highest walls of boxing novices. This is down to de la Hoya who always has been a fighter that even the most anti – boxing fanatics can name. ‘The Fight of the Century’ is another bout that not only caused excitement but apoplexy.
Article posted on 14.09.2005
In Britain, where I live we are rarely given such an atmosphere for the reason that boxing does not receive the adulation compared to what it does in Mexico and Cuba. However, there have renaissances of this art and one is actually underway now with Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton, David Haye, Amir Khan, Kevin Mitchell, Enzo Maccarinelli, Scott Harrison, Clinton Woods, Junior Witter and Carl Froch all involved in this resurrection in someway. Some are world champions, others contenders and others promising prospects..
However, it is important to appreciate the Golden Ages of one’s history. For me one of the highlights of that glorious middleweight era in the early 1990s was the pivotal rivalry between ‘The Oddball’ Chris Eubank and ‘The Nutty One’ Nigel Benn: This was a compelling contest between two different personalities (a strange one at that) and two opponents who both had an equal chance of hurting and defeating the other in the roped square.
Although not the greatest rivalry in history it is at least the most entertaining ever seen in a British boxing ring. I think also that it is by far the most bizarre and surreal rivalry in boxing for numerous reasons. Chris Eubank is a man that defies definition from whatever perspective you look at him from. Never mind the boxing career for a minute, look at the man: His tasteless taste in strangely coloured clothes, a monocle, an umbrella or walking stick at his side all the time and the spontaneous spurts of attempted wisdom in the form of poetry left us scratching our heads. His most admirable ability is the one of irritation as even now in any public appearances he can still provoke sharp reactions.
No one could understand Eubank so we all decided to hate him instead, no more so then Benn. Conversely, the Dark Destroyer could not be simpler then the sophisticated, self – proclaimed ‘Simply the Best.’ Benn is blunt and to the point. He said and still says what he thinks, a direct reflection of his attitude in the ring. Benn wouldn’t hide behind a jab and use lateral movement. He would be in your face as often as he could be and throwing all of the punching honesty he could muster. It is an interesting observation that some of the least wordsmith boxers have been the unstylish sluggers; think of Rocky Marciano and Joe Frazier, never big with words whilst boxers like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray Robinson could talk, usually about themselves forever.
Fast forward to November 1990 and Eubank and Benn are about to fight in a highly anticipated match for the WBO Middleweight Title in Birmingham. Both are at a major point in their careers. Benn has recovered from his painful humiliation against Michael Watson in Fitzbury Park in 1989 by touring the United States and becoming a superstar through whirlwind three round wars. He’s been knocked down but has achieved what few overseas fighters in America achieved during any period: He is known stateside and has conquered America with the ‘wear and tear style’. He enters the fight with 27 wins and 1 defeat. Eubank is the hungry young challenger or The Great Pretender as some would say. This test will see if Eubank really has the heart which has been questioned by the boxing world thus far. He is at 24 fights undefeated and looks ambitious enough. The pre fight antics are not worth bothering with as they are a well documented tirade of abuse, with egotism from both parties and Eubank having the nerve to bet a £1000 pounds that he would knock Benn out in the first round. Regardless of this, neither can ever beat Norman Stone at the rubbishing game.
Benn is the fierce puncher with the title, a champion’s pride and the superior ring experience. On the downside he has been in a few too many wars for a twenty six year old, is reckless with his almost non – existent defence and is likely to tire himself by the flat out pace he likes to fight at from the opening round. Eubank is fresher, a slick boxer and brash with confidence. However, he does not have the same level of experience, is untested regarding his chin and has one major flaw – He has an awful tendency to hold his guard a bit low and open.
So who would come out on top?
Eubank vaulted over the ropes, a less flashy version of Naseem Hamed’s more advanced somersaults. When it came to the business he lost his clown face and became coolly composed, so much so it would seem you would not be able to wipe away any sweat from his forehead. Benn entered flanked by a guard of his army buddies and looked the exact opposite. Pumped up, eyes bulging and ready for a war.
They lined each other up in the ring, smacked gloves and went at it. Round 1 saw Eubank circling for a while, holding ground, backing off and then circling as Benn came after him. Neither of them landed anything in the first exchanges but Eubank landed quickly after with some good right hands. He also demonstrated some wonderful reflexes as he slipped Benn’s bombs who himself looked a bit ragged as he didn’t land a meaningful punch and was in many instances hitting thin air. The first round was definitely the challenger’s as he exhibited a well balanced plan of coming forward to land punches and moving back to avoid Benn’s efforts.
The second round was intense as Benn landed a magnificent straight right just at the point when the commentators were discussing Eubank’s worryingly low guard. Eubank rapidly retreated and then clinched as he strove to take some momentum out of Benn. He then caught Eubank with another good right. To his credit Eubank regained his composure and retreated two or three steps and then waited, looking to throw a counter at one of Nigel’s bombs. He almost landed a vicious uppercut with his back against the ropes but Benn caught him with a beautiful right hand that forced Eubank to start dancing. Eubank though, then recovered his ground and waited for the opening, he got it in the middle of the ring countering with a stunning left hook that staggered the champion. Eubank then moved in and finished the round with some good combinations.
Round 3 again saw Benn hit Eubank with that right and one had to wonder whether Benn was using the wrong tactics through a lack of dexterity. He wasn’t using his excellent body shots on his great rival that often, was going for Eubank’s elusive head too much and wasn’t fighting out of a crouch. Meanwhile Eubank was fighting a distinctive mixture of hit and run whilst also stopping in between to give Benn his own big hooks and uppercuts. It was a classic trademark blend of Simply the Best’s style that was effective by way of awkwardness. It fluctuated between retreating and coming forward, then fighting flatfooted, Eubank’s rhythm was being out of rhythm. The end of the round closed with close quarter fighting.
In Round 4 Benn finally started going for the body but Eubank drove the Dark Destroyer to the ropes with his devastating right hand and hit him with some good blows. Benn’s eye started to swell up though and the fight still looked very much in the balance. Increasingly the fight saw Eubank taking the initiative and becoming more of the aggressor and pushing Benn back that was no good for the champion who was only dangerous when coming forward. True to the ebb and flow nature of any classic fight Eubank was running towards the end of the round with Benn back in the driving seat.
Round 6 saw Eubank pressing again and both of them both trying to establish their jabs. Eubank was gaining a distinctive advantage by not only out scoring and out boxing Benn but stopping him from coming forward. By doing this Benn was like a fish flopping out of water at Eubank’s mercy: Being picked off with jabs and hurt with stinging power punches. Benn wouldn’t be able stay in the fight let alone win it by staying in the same place; he was lethal at point blank range where he could strike the kidneys. His whole dependency in a fight was based on coming forward. However, ‘The Dark Destroyer’ did get some consolation by striking ‘Simply the Best’ south of the border.
Eubank in Round 7 was hit with a multitude of body crunchers. He was dancing for the first minute but regained some rhythm, by lancing Benn repeatedly with the jab. There was a lot of on the ropes action as the challenger managed to smother him with two great left – right power shots and push his tormentor back. Benn stayed with Eubank and in characteristic fashion came back with his own punches.
Round 8 simply proved to be the most sensational of the fight with both chasing the other, Eubank launching jabs followed by the heavier artillery and Benn managing to floor the challenger near one corner of the ring. The champion was fighting with one eye and still very much in the contest. The following round would be the decisive one as Eubank caught Benn with one of those flurries, his the champion’s legs went and Eubank stormed in. Richard Steele, the referee separated them and gave Benn one last chance and then admirably stopped the fight at precisely the correct point – A brilliant judgment.
After the fight Eubank congratulated a tearful Nigel Benn and called him an ‘unbelievable puncher’ and exclaimed,’ He hit me with shots that I never knew existed, look he split my tongue open.’ Both men had won each other’s respect. Benn seemed to have had underestimated ‘Simply the Best’ who had used his awkwardness to frustrate Benn: He kept him at a distance whether it was defensively through dancing or by driving him back by reinforcing the jab with punishing uppercuts and hooks.
The re-match took place three years later and was labelled ‘Judgement Day’ but that is another saga of their story. Today both fighters are involved in colourful retirements. Chris Eubank is a consummate celebrity who drives his Monster Truck specially imported from the United States around the narrow streets of Brighton. At some point he was arrested in a quintessential Eubank fashion whilst protesting against the Iraq War outside Downing Street. In the end he attracted more attention to himself then the cause he was campaigning for by reversing into a parked van. His escapades outside the ring continue to draw attention. Simultaneously Nigel Benn has become a successful DJ and probably keeps himself amused by Eubank’s exploits as an aspiring multi–talented individual.
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