Wednesday 30 March 2011

The Benn, Eubank and Watson Rivalry

"I'll hit him with so many lefts, he'll be crying for a right." Nigel Benn warning Michael Watson what to expect during their fight.

"If I don't get respect from Nigel Benn out of the ring, I certainly will get it inside." Michael Watson's retort.

"Boxing is a mug's game." Chris Eubank.

These statements sum up the respective personas of the participants in one of British boxing's most compelling rivalries. Eubank, provocative, lispingly verbose, dapper, haughty and overtly pretentious, was the antithesis of the snarling, unabashedly brutal mien of Benn and both men, brash and flashy by nature, contrasted sharply with Watson, an uncomplicated man of reserved disposition.

The protagonists, Benn the son of Barbadian immigrants and the others, sons of Jamaicans, came of fighting age at a period in history when black fighter's were firmly entrenched in the British game and accepted as home grown stars. The mixed race Turpin brothers, Dick and Randolph, were stars in the wake of the post-war abrogation of the so-called colour bar through which the right to fight for a British title was delimited to those of wholly Anglo or Celtic stock, but they were the exception.

Then came the era of the 'double-tax' and the ensuing recession in the boxing game was alleviated by the role of immigrant fighters from the new commonwealth: West Africans, South Africans, West Indians and Antipodeans; they came from the far flung corners of the setting Empire. The Nigerians Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger blossomed in the English North West fight axis of Liverpool, Blackpool and West Hartlepool winning huge local support, and later, world honours.

Yet a long road still needed to be travelled. Black fighters, promoters were wont to say simply did not 'draw' at the box office. The most marketable bouts were British title fights and in the 1960s and early 1970s few, if any, of the newly immigrant young Black British fighters were entitled to fight for Lord Lonsdale's belts given the British Boxing Board of Control's edict that they satisfy a lengthy residency requirement.

However, the middle and later part of the 1970s saw the emergence of the likes of Maurice Hope, John Conteh, Dennis Andries and Kirkland Laing and by the middle 1980s Frank Bruno, a Da Vincian sculptured, though limited heavyweight, was on his way to becoming a beloved national figure. But while Bruno's unthreatening, cockney court jesters routine echoed for some an uncomfortably demeaning, 'Steppin' Fetchit'-like caricature of black docility, Eubank and Benn brought with them a refreshing study of personalities. Watson too, with his quiet articulate ambience appeared to be, well, a regular guy. Eubank and Benn however, demanded the limelight and both men got it.

Benn was decidedly a flashy sort of person who dressed expensively and drove a Porsche around London. He was tremendously ambitious and together with his manager, Ambrose Mendy, reflected the materialistic and acquisitive tendencies of the young upwardly mobile in Thatcherite Britain of the 1980s.

With his clipped, upper class tones and sartorial tastes in monocles and jodhpurs, Eubank was a pugilist like none before him. He waxed philosophical and agitated both opponents and fans like none had before him. But while he got up most people's backs, he ran away with a pot full of cash to the bank, by shrewdly exploited a marketing tactic epitomized by a boastful American wrestler known as Gorgeous George who was a major influence on no less a figure than Cassius Clay: the customers will pay top dollar to see the downfall of an obnoxious fighter. Benn, also attracted the fans, who relished the aplomb with which he separated his opponents from their conscious states of mind.

Nigel Benn, though from a family headed by hard-working parents, was a juvenile delinquent ran amok. It was a four-year tenure as a soldier in the Royal Fusiliers, which he credits as the turning point in his life. In the army, he was forced to cultivate an ethic, which prioritised the need for self-discipline. He took up boxing representing his regiment in army tournaments and later in the ABAs, the pre-eminent British amateur boxing competition. His first twenty-two professional bouts ended in knockouts, most of them in the early stages.

Benn brought undoubted excitement to his fights; his punches pole axing a succession of challengers. Lethal left hooks, robust right uppercuts, swinging right crosses; they all were capable of rendering an opponent senseless. He was careless though, fighting sometimes with such reckless abandon that some opponents succeeded in tagging him and very nearly came close to knocking him out. This happened during a fight in October 1988 with one Anthony Logan. Be that as it may, what heightened his appeal was that he appeared to be most dangerous when hurt. Logan, for all the inconvenience caused, ended up unconscious on the ring canvas.

The boxing game, no matter its geographic stage, is apt at producing punchers of remarkable devastating power. They build up impressive records that create an impression of apparent invulnerability. But the underlying reality of quality of opposition tells the true story. This is true of Benn's case. He admitted as much when he referred to the bulk of his opposition as "Mexican road sweepers." Yet, for all his shortcomings of lacking concentration and of having a suspect chin, many felt that the murderous degree of power he held in his fists was enough to threaten even the best middleweights.

Casting their eyes around for suitable homegrown opposition, Benn's handlers had few from which to choose. It is always a coup for an up and coming fighter to make a victim out of a fading 'name' fighter. But the era of Minter and Sibson was long over and Mark Kaylor had moved up to the light heavyweight division. However, among those of Benn's generation, Michael Watson, who like Benn had received a world title contender ranking by the World Boxing Council, provided the most visible opponent of substance. He was someone who could test Benn.

Born in North London, one year after Benn, Watson started his career at the Islington Amateur Boxing Club situated in Archway. He had impressed onlookers at the National Association of Boys Club Tournament. As a professional, he had generally fought opponents of decidedly higher calibre than Benn's. He had gained some valuable experience fighting in America where he drew with one Israel Cole. The one blemish in his twenty-three-fight career was a point's loss to James Cook in 1986.

A fight was set up. Both men were so very different; Benn's loudness and brashness sharply contrasting with Watson's reticence and apparent humility. Benn was of course a puncher, while Watson was a counter puncher; a thoughtful boxer, seriously dedicated to his craft. There was unsurprisingly some needle between both. Watson, who became irritated at Benn's bragging, felt his opponent was building his ego in order to camouflage his insecurities. While training for the bout, he told a national paper about a chance encounter with Benn at a late night gathering both men attended.

Both fighters, although only too aware of the presence of the other maintained a wide berth. For a short period only, both eyes surveyed the other and according to Watson, Benn's eyes were the first to blink -he cast his head down to avert Watson's gaze, a sign, Watson was convinced, of Benn's fear. When Benn heard of this, he exploded in a rage. Far from being afraid, he was going to prove the contrary once they both stepped into the ring by knocking him out.

Both men trained hard. But Watson appeared to train the harder. While Benn completed only a miniscule regime of sparring sessions, Watson's team hired the experienced American middleweight Willie Scypion who had unsuccessfully challenged for Marvin Hagler's middleweight championship in 1983. He knew that he could never hope to match Benn for brutality of punch, so Watson's strategy was to focus on developing defensive strategies and outbox him.

A circus-style venue, dubbed the 'Super Tent', was erected in North London's Finsbury Park. The excitement on the night of the fight, 21st May 1989, was palpable both to attendees and viewers on national television where it was broadcast live. The rituals to the build up were flamboyantly staged and focussed on Benn who, along with his handlers, were treating the whole event as the prelude to some sort of coronation. Watson was aware of this, having conceded top billing to the superior box office appeal of Benn whom the bookmakers favoured at three to one. He would enter the ring first, but his manager Mickey Duff had warned the Benn camp that Watson would leave the ring if their pre-fight festivities went on longer than two minutes.

A tackily designed stage door, inscribed with the words BENN IS BAD (in the graffiti art style of Michael Jackson's album 'Bad') was to be Benn's point of introduction. First out was a marching detachment of soldiers from Benn's old army regiment, the Royal Fusiliers. They lined up on either side of the path leading to the ring to form a sort of guard of honour. Then four long legged beauties bearing the Union Jack emerged and made their way to the ring.

Finally, the door opened to reveal Benn attired in glittering sequined hooded attire laced with gold trimmings. To the accompaniment of a throbbing raggae beat, Benn posed 'bad boy-style' waving his gloves in the air before setting off along with his entourage on a jog to the ring. In the ring he disrobed to reveal matching sequined shorts and a plaited hairstyle which had necessitated a four-hour appointment with his hair designer.

When the bell rang, both men approached each other in great haste. Benn crouched low, while Watson was more erect. Watson pawed out his left, but hastily assumed a high guard posture when Benn began to unload a full blooded succession left hooks and clubbing right swings that were aimed at Watson's head. The crowd roared at the sound of Benn's gloves thudding off Watson's arms and gloves. But absolutely none connected to any of the vulnerable points on Watson's anatomy.

Watson stood up close to Benn so as not to create the distance that would give his opponent's swings added potency. He dodged punches and carefully placed a series of jabs and hooks in the few moments Benn paused. As the bell ended the round, both men dropped their guards to give the other a sneer before ambling back to their corners. Benn won the round by sheer quantity of punches thrown, but Watson's defensive posture had ensured that little, if any, damage had being sustained.

In the second, Benn continued to pile on the pressure while Watson, elbows protecting his ribs and gloves, held at the side of his head, kept himself safely tucked up. In this round, his counters were more convincing. The defensive frailties of Benn also came into sharp focus. With about half a minute of the round left, Benn lost concentration and carelessly let his guard down. Watson seized his opportunity and caught him with two left hooks, and although Benn came back powerfully with a succession of sweeping left hooks of his own, his error pointed to a recurring tendency in his career which, while not exploited by his previous opponents, would reap grave consequences when made with a fighter of Watson's pedigree.

In the fourth, Watson slipped a wild right from Benn and slammed in a right hook. Benn staggered backwards as Watson connected with a series of eight blows; each of which went unreplied. Benn's arms were down to his sides and his groggy demeanour was suggestive of an impending knockout. Then suddenly, with the skin of his back impressed against the ropes, Benn suddenly sprung to life, unleashing four clubbing rights which sent Watson, hands quickly raised, scurrying away in retreat. The crowd roared its approval, but Benn, although not making eye contact, was quick to pat Watson as they made their ways back to their corners.

It was clear that Benn was getting winded in the fifth. When Watson suddenly lashed out with some hard lefts to the face, he stagnated and then without the prompting of a follow up from Watson, he began to retreat. Watson chased after cautiously, a justifiable attitude validated by Benn's wounded-but-dangerous-like-a-lion threat. For Benn came back and scored with two powerful uppercuts and a crunching left hook.

But although he ended the round on the attack, the seeds of his destruction were already planted. In the sixth, a seemingly innocuous jab-poke from Watson made Benn turn his back to his opponent. As the crowd let out a collective gasp of surprise, the referee walked up to Benn and demanded clarification as to whether he intended to fight on. Benn nodded in the affirmative, but it was obvious that Watson had broken his heart. Now sensing victory, Watson increased his punch rate until after a pause; both men began to extend their left arms in the motions of executing a jab. Watson's connected first and Benn's body visibly went limp as he fell backwards onto the seat of his trunks.

Watson had triumphed, and his handlers felt him ready to challenge for a version of world middleweight championship. He did this -unsuccessfully- against Mike McCallum in April 1990. After being persistently outclassed and ceaselessly body punched by the appropriately monikered 'Body Snatcher,' Watson collapsed in as much exhaustion as pain in the eleventh round. But while Watson's career was stultifying, the vanquished Benn was succeeding in resurrecting his own.

Benn had cut a pathetic figure as he lay prostrate on the ring after his knockout loss to Michael Watson. The following day, he appeared on national lunchtime news with Ambrose Mendy to announce that after recuperation, he would fly down to Florida to begin rebuilding his career. The plan had always been to launch Benn in America where his belligerent style was bound to find favour. After beating Jorge Amparo and Jose Quinones respectively in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, a split decision victory over Sanderline Williams set up a meeting with Doug DeWitt, the middleweight champion of the then fledgling World Boxing Organisation (WBO). Although fighting a champion vastly inferior to McCallum and for a belt that carried less weight and recognition than that of the WBC, it was ironic that Benn defeated DeWitt the very month that Watson succumbed to McCallum.

Perhaps the defeat to Watson was a blessing in disguise. If Benn had triumphed in that contest, it is possible that he may have been overmatched like Watson was. McCallum was the fighter mentioned as the next hurdle of the winner.

While Benn poised himself to defend and earn premium dollars against a fading, post-detached retina phase Iran Barkley, Watson would soon angrily be contemplating Mickey Duff's measly £5,000 fee to fight a nonentity in a preliminary bout. The explosive one round defeat of Barkley in Las Vegas, though controversial for Benn hitting Barkley while Barkley was on the canvas, even set up the possibility of Benn challenging the likes of Thomas Hearns and Ray Leonard. Or so the hype intimated. But Benn's attentions re-focused back home where a new rival had emerged.

Born Christopher Livingstone Eubanks (he later deleted the 's') in August of 1966, Chris Eubank had, like Nigel Benn, been a young tearaway who spent time in various institutions geared towards reforming delinquent minors. He relocated to the United States with his father where he completed his high school education. He took up boxing and achieved the laurel of winning the New York Spanish Golden Gloves Tourney in 1984.

Turning professional, he fought his first five professional bouts, all four rounders, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, before returning to Britain. It was while in Britain that he fine-tuned the eccentric persona of theatrical stunts and posturing both in the ring and outside of it. He spoke confidently, and lavished praise on his own abilities while at the same time disparaging those of his opponents. He gained the widespread antipathy of much of the boxing fraternity because of the frequent aspersions cast on the nature of the sport he participated in, remarking in one infamous aside that boxing was a "mug's game." His ascension to the status of 'public enemy number one' was almost complete.

Eubank wanted Benn and his world title, brashly asserting that he would defeat Benn. Benn's handlers were all too aware of Eubank's public infamy which when allied to Benn's willingness to have a "tear up," spelled huge financial rewards. The subsequent war of words revealed a deep mutual loathing. On a late evening sports show, just days before the fight, when both men were seated only a few feet away from each other, Eubank pointedly refused to acknowledge Benn's presence and sat with his back to a scowling Benn inspite of the ministrations of the interviewer to "look at him Chris."

Grudge fights are always good business and tickets quickly sold out. The fight was dubbed "Who's Fooling Who?" Benn, felt that he had rehabilitated himself after the loss to Watson and that his experience in America, especially having bombed out a 'name fighter' like Iran Barkley clearly felt himself to be in a higher echelon than Eubank who, inspite of a twenty four and no loss record, had fought no world class opponents. Eubank showed his contempt by wagering £1000 of his money on the premise that he would despatch Benn within one round.

The fight was held in November of 1990 at the National Exhibition Centre in the English midland city of Birmingham. Eleven thousand spectators paid to watch the fight while millions watched it live on British television. Although Eubank's signature song, Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best,' was sabotaged by agents working for the Benn camp so that he walked to the ring with only a chorus of boo's directed at him, his outward confidence remained undiminished.

Grabbing the top ends of the ring rope with both gloves, he vaulted over, as was his custom, before standing poseur style with gloves held to chest and head tilted sideways. For his part, Benn made his most lavish entrance since the fight with Watson. Martial drumbeats anticipated a march by the Fusiliers before Benn made his way to the battle site.

At the bell, Eubank came out side on and threw a wild punch before assuming a crouching stance. He circled Benn who missed with a couple of wild shots following which Eubank took the opportunity to throw light combinations. The pattern was soon made clear: Benn stalked, while Eubank circled and countered. Unlike Michael Watson who held his hands high and stayed close to Benn, Eubank fought loosely, keeping his hands fairly low and preferring to slip and pull away from Benn's shots instead of blocking them.

Both had successes but with twenty seconds of the second round to go, Eubank caught Benn on the chin and Benn staggered backwards into the ropes. Benn appeared to score more than Eubank whose cheek was cut in the third. Both fighters indulge in some banter. When for instance Benn hit home with a combination, he yelled at Eubank who shouted something back.

Eubank, however, did not give the impression that he was worried, occasionally circling Benn in staccato-form motions while he let out an occasional jab. But Benn found Eubank's jaw with an uppercut just before the bell rang. In the fourth, he thundered in a powerful left to the body, which sent Eubank staggering back. But Eubank recovered and came back with stiff counter punches that created the beginnings of a mouse under Benn's left eye.

Although, Percy Armstrong, Benn's American corner man worked furiously on the nascent mouse, Eubank's accurate punches in the fifth worsened the injury. He stood back, always attempting to draw Benn's leads, and made Benn miss before countering. Yet Benn, ever so dangerous when seemingly at his most vulnerable, fashioned a powerful punch that left Eubank grimacing in pain. Eubank continued his successes in the seventh when he caught Benn with a left and right punch combination, but yet another hook from Benn sank deep into Eubank's side. Eubank turned his back as if to complain of a foul but referee Richard Steele motioned for him to box on.

Soon after the beginning of the eighth, a sweeping over hand right caught Eubank at the top of his head and he fell to the canvas. Eubank, who was in his corner of the ring, hastily got up and immediately screamed at Steele, pleading for him to rule it as a slip. Steele refused and proceeded to give him a standing eight count. Benn stormed after Eubank and caught him with a punch, which appeared to land at the back of his head. Again Eubank moan to Steel. Was he unravelling? Benn continued into the ninth, the debilitating effects of a swollen eye causing him to absorb many unsighted Eubank deliveries.

Another hook to Eubank's sides elicited more complaints, which were pooh-poohed by a disbelieving Steele. However, with just under half a minute left of the round, Eubank opened Benn's defences with a left and smashed in a follow up right. Ben was clearly stunned. Still in distress Eubank backed Benn into the ropes and unleashed a barrage of lefts and rights. Eubank had delivered an upper cut just before Steele stepped into save Benn from further punishment.

Eubank closed his eyes before screaming with joy and then kneeling on the canvas. His post-fight interview moments afterwards was memorable for his constant mutterings to his partner to marry him. Speaking into a microphone, a bruised and battered Benn apologized to the fans. "I do detest Chris Eubank," he said "but I can't knock him (because he beat me)."

For the second time in his career, Nigel Benn had had to endure the humiliation of a painfully crushing defeat after going into the fight as the putative favourite. While he licked his wounds, Chris Eubank held court, seemingly revelling in the notoriety that surrounded his reign. His pomposity and eccentricities knew no bounds, whether offending this fighter or that ex-champion or riding a powerful motorbike complete with horse riding apparel.

Later, he would import an American designed super highway truck to drive around the streets of London and the south coast town of Brighton where he made his home. Many did not know the extent to which his behaviour was an act. He appeared on the one hand to have appropriated the mantle of 'man-the-public-hates-most' from British wrestlers like Mick McManus and Giant Haystacks. But later, there would be darker overtones attached to the public's apparent antipathy when the car he was manoeuvring killed a road workman.

Michael Watson had returned to winning ways albeit against the aged and ineffective Errol Christie, and against journeymen fighters of the calibre of Craig Trotter and Anthony John Brown. But since he was the only other man to have beaten Benn, Watson was installed as the darling figure that would have a chance of defeating Eubank. He did not get on any better than Benn in terms of his relations with Eubank. At one pre-fight press conference, Watson confided that Eubank had been "foolish to take this fight" and then turning sideways, instructed the reclined and besuited champion to take off his "silly glasses."

"I reckon that Chris Eubank is the most unpopular world champion in the history of British boxing," said Independent Television Boxing presenter Jim Rosenthal. "I'm sure you are tuning in to see him get beat."

As Rosenthal spoke, the millions who were settling into arms chairs and sofas across the nation to view the fight on the 22nd of June 1991would have nodded in concurrence. So also did most of the eleven thousand spectators present at the Earls Court Arena in West London, a venue that last staged a big fight in July 1973 between Joe Frazier and Joe Bugner. The cheers on behalf of Watson stood in stark contrast to the booing that Eubank's entrance elicited. Eubank's 'Napoleonic strut', was of course now familiar to everyone.

One strand of his 'book of postures' had him continue to circle the ring in haughty fashion after the end of rounds. Other times he stood motionless near his corner, refusing to sit down and refusing the attentions of his long suffering trainer, Ronnie Davis. The fight itself was pretty uneventful. Watson, as challenger and against his normal method of operating, had to move after Eubank whose work rate could be as haphazard as his punch combinations were loose and sloppy.

Both men had their scoring moments, but no one was hurt at anytime. The decision, which took a long time to be tabulated provided for an unsatisfactory majority decision in favour of Eubank. Once he knew where the scorecards were headed, Watson shook his head in furious disagreement. The contest had been supposed to set up the winner with a match with Nigel Benn, but the unsatisfactory nature of the decision immediately gave birth to the idea of a rematch.

The rematch, on September 21st 1991, was held at the White Hart Lane Stadium, home ground to Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club. A supreme irony given the fact that Watson entered the ring, to much acclaim, while bedecked in the red colours of his beloved Arsenal Football Club, for long the bitter rivals of Tottenham. Eubank of course was serenaded by the usual catcalls to which he remained oblivious.

Characteristically, he had informed one journalist earlier on in the day that Watson was "strictly an obstacle of which I must get past in order to enhance my standard of living." There were two factors which would influence the nature of this fight: First was the matter that both men, 'large' type middleweights, would be fighting at the twelve stone limit, hence the declaration by the WBO of a vacant Super Middleweight title and secondly, the venom of attitude in Michael Watson who acknowledged the shortcomings of his strategy during his attempt to dethrone Eubank.

A cool evening's autumnal breeze wafted around as both men came out for the first round. It was obvious from the first exchanges that both fighters were much stronger at the heavier weight, in fact Eubank appeared closer to thirteen stone, given the new rules, implemented soon after welterweight Simon Brown's recent near fatal bout of dehydration during a match with Buddy McGirt, extending the period between weighing in and fight time.

This fight started at a frenetic pace and did not let up. Watson again, contrary to his fighting instincts, felt obliged to go after Eubank whom he pressured with rapid deliveries. The exchanges were intense but Eubank slipped and blocked punches and also executed some shrewd counter punching measures during which he actually demonstrated the more effective power of punch.

It seemed to some that Watson was wasting his energies, not unlike Nigel Benn's efforts against him, by hitting Eubank around the elbows and gloves. So Eubank won the first rounds inspite of Watson's aggression. However, Watson had a good fourth round during which a cut began to appear above Eubank's left eye. And by the middle rounds, Watson had managed to establish a certain level of superiority even if not quite outright dominance. The more he surged, the more Eubank backed away and the more pressure he administered, the more Eubank continued miss and appear ragged. In the tenth round, Watson rocked him with powerful combination punches.

In the eleventh, further violent exchanges ensued between both fighters, but Eubank appeared to be gaining a second wind as  he appeared suddenly to wilt. He had the strength to push Watson against the ropes, but in mid-ring, Watson fired a straight right followed by two clubbing rights, which dropped Eubank to his knees.

Eubank's face appeared impassive, but he seemed to be on the verge of defeat. After the eight second pause to administer the obligatory standing count, both fighters approached each other. As they came within firing range, Watson's arms remained in a defensive position, but Eubank quickly crouched low and came up with a power laced uppercut, which penetrated Watson's guard and slammed against the underside of his chin. Watson fell backwards, landing flat on his trunks, his head bouncing off the lower strand rope. He got up glassy eyed, groggy and unstable of foot. But the bell rang to end the round.

When the bell rang for the final round, Watson gingerly resumed a standing position, but he appeared not to have recovered. The steps he made towards Eubank were very tentative and referee Roy Francis appeared almost to be dragging him towards Eubank in order to administer the touching-of-gloves ritual. As soon as he waved them on, Eubank sprang at Watson, immediately pushing him onto the ropes near Watson's corner before pinning him there and unleashing a salvo of punches. Francis then jumped in to stop the fight.

The fight of course ended in a near fatal tragedy. Soon after returning to his corner, Michael Watson collapsed, due not, as it appeared, to the effects of extreme exhaustion, but as it would transpire, because of the beginnings of a blood clot that would render him comatose for several weeks and which eventually would cause him to lose the power of half his brain. Thus a fight which would have been feted as one of the greatest in British Boxing history is, as is the case with other tremendous battles which end in fatality or near fatality, an uncomfortable reminder of the extremely dangerous nature of the sport and its potential for inflicting death and disability.

The boxing game had not come under such pressure to be banned since the death of Welsh bantamweight Johnny Owen in 1980. But as it is apt to do, it survived. While Watson's career came to an abrupt and premature end, both Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn prospered. Benn won the WBC version of the middleweight title from Mauro Galvano in Italy on the 3rd of October 1992.

One year afterwards he met Chris Eubank for a second and final time at Old Trafford, the ground of the glamorous Manchester United Football Club. Billed as 'Judgement Day', forty thousand fans paid two million pounds to witness both men resume their feud. Out of the ring, both were frank and open about the depths of their mutual dislike.

"I do detest him," Benn drawled. "I really do. It's no joke. I can't stand him."

"Nigel," replied Eubank, "You're not the man you portray yourself to be. I wouldn't say that you're a fraud, but I don't mean to be impolite."

Both men approached the ring with much fanfare, with Benn getting top billing because his title was the more prestigious. The fight was not as intense as the first and neither faced to many torrid moments, the most dramatic moment occurring in the sixth when a push from Eubank sent Benn tumbling out of the ring.

Benn boxed with greater finesse than he had shown against Watson or in his previous bout with Eubank, while Eubank offered the usual poses and counter punches. The most critical moment of the fight occurred when Benn had a point deducted by referee Larry O'Connell for persistently directing punches below the belt. It cost him the fight since it was scored a draw by one judge while the other two favoured Benn and Eubank. The general consensus was that Benn had won the bout, but a draw went some considerably way in making amends for his losing performance three years previously.

Both fighters continued their careers a few years longer, but would never meet again. Benn went on to make several title defences, the most memorable of which was the epic encounter with the hard punching Gerald McClelland which ended with McClelland suffering a blood clot and facing subsequent infirmity and indigence.

Eubank later signed a lucrative contract with British Sky Broadcasting and fought regularly against inferior opposition in a kind of personal road show. Belatedly, he gained the appreciation of boxing fans and commentators with his valiant but losing displays against Joe Calzaghe for the vacant WBO super middleweight title and in two cruiserweight battles against Carl Thompson. Ironically both Benn and Eubank would meet their nemesis in the form of the 'Celtic Warrior' Steve Collins who would inflict two victories over each man, forcing Benn to quit in the fourth round of their second encounter.

All three, Watson, Benn and Eubank have maintained something of a public profile since the ending of their respective careers. For Watson, the subsequent years have being a courageous battle for survival, physical rehabilitation and for pecuniary compensation. Although paralysed on his left side, he regained the power of speech and can walk unaided for a few paces. There have been several benefits organised to cater for his financial needs and he finally won a negligence suit against the British Boxing Board of Control in which he was awarded a million pounds in compensation.

Nigel Benn, a professed born-again Christian, today is a renowned Disc Jockey who commands huge fees for his performances at nightclubs and large rave events. He recently appeared, on location in Australia, in an episode of a Reality TV programme called 'Survivor.' He has also published a successful autobiography, which charted his rise to fame and details his many personal indiscretions.

Chris Eubank retains the highest profile of the three making regular appearances on TV sports shows, chat shows, and in the newspapers. He avails himself to after-dinner speaking and once accepted an invitation to appear before the Oxford Union. Eubank has made substantial contributions to Watson's finances and their meeting a decade after their last fight was truly poignant. Sadly, Nigel Benn, who had cheered Watson on from ringside that fateful night, ended his contact with Watson after taking offence at what he perceived as Watson's flippant inquiry as to whether Benn was doing drugs.

It is most unlikely that any of the three men would get into any world level all time greats list. The quality of opposition is lacking. None of them got it on with the likes of James Toney or Michael Nunn. None shocked the world with the sort of performance put on by Lloyd Honeyghan who won the undisputed world welterweight championship by stopping Don Curry, a champion widely considered at the time to be unbeatable.

But ironically, Nigel Benn, who was stopped by both Watson and Eubank has the big name wins on his record: the first round dismantling of Iran Barkley and the stoppage of the unfortunate Gerald McClelland Many will no doubt voice legitimate concerns about the foul filled nature of his victory over an aged Barkley and others might argue that the referee ought to have stopped the fight in McClelland's favour in the first round, but whether aided or not by the efforts of a famous British hypnotist, Benn showed extreme bravery in picking himself up and out fighting a fighter who was widely expected to knock him unconscious.

And while Benn, Eubank and Watson may not rank among the greatest ever middleweights, the excitement that their battles produced among British fight fans was often times quite palpable, echoing that which emanated from the rivalry of Freddie Mills and Bruce Woodcock and Woodcock with Jack London. They were important in other ways. The monies paid at the box office and involvement of television, provided the industry with a golden age of sorts, giving the game a wide audience, now lost in the era of cable pay-per-view.

Even the unfortunate ending of the Eubank-Watson encounter proved influential, as it contributed to the reform of safety measures at fights. It is not for instance, possible for a boxing bout to go ahead without the presence of an anaesthetist and two teams of paramedics.

The five contests they fought between 1989 and 1993 were characterised by a fierce competitive spirit, and a skilful application of boxing talent. They provided drama and entertainment for die-hard fans but also caught the attention of the wider public.

You could not ask of more from fighting men.

Adeyinka Makinde (2002)

No comments:

Post a Comment