Nigel Benn vs. Chris Eubank
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Nigel Benn vs. Chris Eubank were two professional boxing matches which took place on 18 November 1990 and 9 October 1993. Both Benn and Eubank fought at middleweight and super middleweight around the same time in 1985–97, and became rivals on both the domestic and world boxing scene. Benn won his first 22 consecutive bouts by knockout, earning the moniker 'the Dark Destroyer'. Eubank was the cocky, flamboyant upstart who began calling out Benn after his tenth bout. The rivalry grew, with both men swearing that they would knock the other man out. The British public began to demand the fight to be made.
Benn, having lost to Michael Watson, began to rebuild in America, winning the WBO middleweight title by knocking out Doug DeWitt. He then savaged Iran Barkley within one round in his first defence. Benn then agreed to meet Eubank with his title on the line, which set up the first fight. A rematch was held three years later.
Benn v Eubank: WBO middleweight championship
|Date||18 November 1990|
|Venue||National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, UK|
|Title(s) on the line||WBO Middleweight Championship|
|Tale of the tape|
|Eubank wins by TKO in the ninth round|
The Benn entourage began plotting ways to demoralise Eubank and 'even things up'. They decided to sabotage his entrance music.
As Eubank made his strutting ring walk to the thumping sound of Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best' (his ring moniker), the record suddenly stopped. Eubank ignored this, and impassively made his way to the ring apron and vaulted to the rope as per usual. Benn entered the ring like a caged tiger, furiously shadow boxing and clearly exhilarated. The men posed in a scene that would be replayed countless times over the years on television, Eubanks gloves touching and baleful gaze, and Benn's expression of pure hatred and loathing. The bell rang to begin the fight.
Eubank ran out sideways before turning and striking Benn with a right cross, clearly hoping for a surprise (and somewhat unorthodox) knockout. Benn stalked the challenger at furious pace, and the opening rounds are remembered for their lack of jabs or range finding punches. Each punch was thrown with evil intent, and commentator Dave Brennar called the fight 'Grand Prix stuff so far'.
In the fourth round, Eubank took a ferocious right uppercut to the chin when breaking from a clinch. The blow caused him to bite his tongue, leaving a severe gash which led to copious amounts of blood being swallowed. Eubank hid this evidence from his corner, afraid of a doctor stoppage.
Even the commentators were getting carried away. Jim McDonnell exclaimed "JESUS, look at that right hand!" Benn's eye was swollen shut by the fifth round, and in the sixth Eubank began throwing shots at Benn who was covering up on the ropes. Benn caught Eubank with a low blow, and with no points deducted used his advantage by pounding Eubank's body. Eubank fought back in the seventh, and with scores fairly even the fighters began the eighth round.
A more wary Benn now sought to catch Eubank with flashing overhand shots followed by short hooks. Eubank was trapped in the corner when an overhand right caught him on top of the head, and down he went. He was up quickly, claiming it was a slip, but took the eight count regardless from Richard Steele. Eubank finished the round strongly and posed and preened between the rounds. The ninth was an even round until Eubank missed with a right and Benn caught him with a left hook which landed on the unbalanced Eubank's rear, sending him down. Standing up, Eubank circled Benn before releasing a left right combination, and a left hook which staggered Benn (Barry McGuigan commentated: "This is it! It's the end!"). Benn survived the flurry and clinched, but a straight right from Eubank sent him into a corner, and Steele stepped in to end the flurry with five seconds left of round nine, ending what he called; "The most dramatic fight I've ever refereed". The fight is still considered a classic to this day.
Eubank would defend his new title three times, relinquishing to contest the vacant WBO super middleweight title against the ill-fated Michael Watson, who after winning eight of eleven rounds fell into a coma after a Eubank uppercut at the end of round 11, before the subsequent referee stoppage twenty seconds into round 12. This fight was as gruelling as Benn-Eubank 1, though all accolades were halted after the tragic end. Benn, who had also moved up to super middleweight, won the WBC super middleweight title in Italy, beating Mauro Galvano. With both men champions in the same weight division, a unification fight and three year anticipated rematch was arranged by Don King for October 9 1993.
The Rematch: WBC champion v WBO champion
|Date||9 October 1993|
|Venue||Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, UK|
|Title(s) on the line||WBC/WBO Super Middleweight Championship Unification|
|Tale of the tape|
Over 42,000 crammed Old Trafford for one of the biggest boxing events ever staged. The bout was watched by half a billion people worldwide. Don King's contract stipulated that not only would the winner join his stable of fighters, but also the loser.
This time Eubank's ring walk went off without a hitch, commentator Reg Gutteridge making the classic call when Eubank performed his customary vault over the ropes into the ring, claiming; "The ego has landed". The fight itself did not quite reach the brutal heights of the first, as neither man was as badly hurt. However, there were flurries of punches at the ends of the rounds, with both boxers trying to claim the rounds knowing that there was more chance of the fight lasting the distance as the bout progressed. One such exchange saw Benn in a corner knocked through the ropes, though Eubank used his body as well and Benn was not badly hurt. The final round was thrilling, with both boxers told they needed it to win. Most boxing experts agree that this was a truly classic round, Gutteridge referring to the two 'magnificent warriors' at its climax.
The final scores were 115-113 Eubank, 114-113 Benn, and 114-114. The bout was declared a draw - Benn retained his WBC belt, Eubank his WBO championship. Astonishingly, Don King had not written the event of a draw into the contract, and as a result neither fighter was contractually bound to join him.
The pair never fought again, despite a £6 million bout at Wembley stadium being touted for Eubank's eight fight Sky deal. Benn faced Gerald McClellan, pound-for-pound one of the most devastating fighters of the 90s, and his career paralleled Eubank's when McClellan was paralysed as a result of this bout. Benn was finished mentally and almost physically after this violent war, and lost first his title then twice more to Steve Collins, who magnanimously claimed afterwards that Benn was the greatest British boxer ever, and wished he could have fought him at his prime.
Eubank too lost his title and unbeaten record, also to Collins by a split decision. He retired, and came out of retirement to face a young Joe Calzaghe, who beat him on points. He fought for the WBO cruiserweight title, losing another split decision to Carl Thompson, and the rematch when, ahead on points, the doctor stopped the fight due to Eubank's swollen eye. This time, he retired for good.
Two legends of British boxing thus finished their careers, the highs and lows still vivid, and both defined the other's career. Britain, or boxing, may never see another rivalry like it.
Respected publication Boxing News recently contained a large feature on the rivalry, and an in-depth look at the occasions and fights. The sub-headline, which summed up the rivalry perfectly, read; "Glynn Evans on a magical time when two of Britain's opposites went to war in the ring and transfixed a nation". The article begins; "There can be few individual pairings across any sport to eclipse the rivalry Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank shared in the first half of the 1990s", and goes on to label the fights between the pair as "titanic clashes".
On the ITV documentary 'Best Ever Big Fight Live', former world champion Duke McKenzie said of the Benn–Eubank rivalry: "It may never be rivalled". Barry McGuigan agreed, saying; "There was real antipathy and ill-will there. But what fights, what fights." The legacy of the feud was summed up with the first fight being shown, and given the moniker; "A war to end all wars".