Inside the eccentric genius of Christopher Livingston Eubank
“It’s a mental game, it’s a chess match, you’ve got to think, you’ve got to strategise and make tactical decisions”
Although he spoke with the pomposity of a Victorian aristocrat Chris Eubank was raised in as tough an environment as any. Expelled from school eighteen times and living occasionally on the streets he scrapped and stole his way through a brutal childhood in poverty stricken Peckham. Don’t let the jodphurs fool you Chris was far more at home in a police holding cell than a stables.
It was this hardship that gave him his boxing ability. Athleticism, rage, power made up the block of marble from which his new coaches in the South Bronx would sculpt a magnificent statue. Moved there by his father to try and get him back on the straight and narrow the gym provided the discipline he needed to kick his dependencies to drugs and alcohol and become a fighter.
As he sharpened his weapons in the gym, he also began to hone his mind and with it came his idiosyncratic voice and trademark methods of psychological warfare. Reading, listening and learning he began to find his own intelligence, the likes of which his school teachers couldn’t find. He told the BBC “I bettered by vocabulary and my grammar and my language and my demeanor, yes one by the BBC one world service… but also in American was taught to speak better because everyone else spoke wrongly, I learned to speak correctly by hearing it spoken incorrectly” As his now iconic voice formed he would divide opinion, some loved it others hated it but with this Chris would feel at home, he found comfort in controversy.
This divisiveness was not lost on the east end snooker entrepreneur Barry Hearn, who’s ‘all publicity is good publicity’ approach had drawn him to the young fighter. Barry recounted his first encounter with Chris recently; “He has nothing, no shoelaces in his shoes but he walked like a million dollars, he said ‘Barry my name is Chris Eubank and I am a sportsman, I’m a boxer and I know my worth, what is your best offer?’ That was the first line and I just fell in love with him...it was so unique”. A unique individual now had a unique promoter and they began to climb the slippery ladder of boxing.
As a child Chris could fly into bombastic rages losing his temper and exploiting into violence, but by the time he was boxing for Barry sport had taught him to regulate his emotion, he had conquered his demons and the aesthetic he presented was, authentically, ultra cool. He had learnt to control his aggression, and more importantly he learned to exploit the temper of others. “I learned very early on once I started boxing as a kid that if you go into the ring emotionally charged you make mistakes” Chris told the Ring magazine. He began to use his words and his vocabulary to provoke people. When they saw red he saw everything with clarity, able to exploit their rage. In and out of the ring it seemed as though nothing could fluster Eubank.
He used this repeatedly throughout his formative bouts, taunting and teasing his opponents, his style becoming ever more flamboyant as it became ever more effective. He spoke with beguiling magniloquence frustrating his opponents and the public alike. The crowds grew to dislike him, but ticket sales soared. They booed him but gate receipts became bigger. They mocked him but the column inches grew longer. They derided him but he continued to win. His ego and his skill set overlapped and made him a force of nature in the ring.
By the time he found himself in a midweek sports special studio signing a contract to fight the formidable Nigel Benn in 1990, his persona was perfected. His wit punctuated the interview like a rapier, a verbal fencer skipping away gracefully from Nigels blougennibg attempts to goad him. “Nigel was a Godsend” Chris would go on to say, “Obviously, in the buildup to some fights, there’s animosity and testosterone and banter,” but at the end of the day, I understood that this is a business, just two men who are trying to further their careers and provide for their families. There shouldn’t be any true malice towards your opponent, Nigel didn’t feel that.”
The ‘Dark Destroyer’ was in no mood for Chris Eubank. Rebounding from his loss to Micheal Watson he had beaten Iran Barkley and Doug DeWitt in devastating fashion, reasserting himself as a boxing wrecking ball. He however was renowned for his extremely short temper. The rage was almost palpable as his growls were met by “Lets have some parliamentary procedure here”, one of Chris’s most iconic barbs.
Muhammad Ali, the master of psychological warfare in boxing always said the aim is to make your opponent fight harder, so they make mistakes. Eubank understood this and knew that by taunting Nigel in this way he would draw out the inherent mistakes in Nigel’s game, mistakes he could exploit.
By the day of the fight Benn became so enraged by Chris, so outraged he had been spoken to in such a condescending and patronising way he was said to be unbearable, his only focus being Chris. Eubank however was light, focused but calm, they embodied the matador and the bull. Chris was composed, calm, confident. Nigel seethed with rage, cursed Eubank and thought about nothing but inflicting pain on him. The job was done. Chris Eubank had, with his words, his demeanour, created the perfect conditions for victory.
The fight is legend but the reason for the win is less well known, it is because Christopher Livingston Eubank made it so. He engineered it, he used his brain, his self belief and his confidence to best Nigel Benn, and become a World Champion. He dragged himself up from taking drugs and living on the streets to becoming one of the sports greatest gentlemen, a feat few else have ever achieved.
Ewan Breeze of SimBoxx
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