Chris Eubank was making his way to the ring for his first fight with Nigel Benn in 1990, when he was caught by a sucker punch he never saw coming.
Eubank was getting in the zone in the final moments before the biggest fight of his life and first of 24 world title fights, expecting to hear his entrance song of Tina Turner’s “Simply the best.”
But Eubank’s focus was interrupted when someone — under instructions from a member of Benn’s team — pulled the plug on the sound system at the NEC in Birmingham, England.
Without his usual entrance song, which had become as part of watching Eubank fights as his posturing mid-fight, Eubank walked to the ring without music and to the sounds of mostly jeers.
Eubank might have been familiar and comfortable with the role of the heel, but being victim of a prank like this, by Benn’s team, was an unwelcome deviation from his pre-fight routine. But this was typical of the hostility between Eubank and Benn, which made for good publicity and compulsive viewing.
No matter how explosive pre-fight events get this week ahead of Saturday’s fight, relations between Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr. will seem amicable compared to how their fathers interacted with each other in the 1990s. Conor mocking Chris Jr’s self-imposed sex ban, and Chris Jr. posting social videos of him eating fast food, is tame compared to the belligerence and, despite Eubank insisting he never detested Nigel Benn, utter hatred they had for one another.
“I find the man intolerable,” Eubank said 32 years ago. “He has no class as I see it.”
“I personally do hate him,” Benn said, and repeated it, as he sat next to Eubank and signed a contract for their first fight in 1990.
The pair’s personalities and backgrounds became familiar to millions around the U.K., who lapped up their public bickering.
As well as the rivalry being less intense, this weekend’s fight is not on the same scale as Benn-Eubank three decades ago. When Benn and Eubank had their second fight in 1993, in front of 42,000 at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, it was watched by 16.5 million on free-to-air television around the United Kingdom.
Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn faced off in an eagerly-anticipated rematch at Old Trafford in 1992. Sean Dempsey – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
Conor vs. Chris Jr. will generate a lot of interest yet will fight in front of a capacity gate of less than half the crowd that was at Benn-Eubank II, and the viewing figures on a streaming channel for boxing fans will be a small fraction compared to the TV viewers who tuned in for their dads’ last powder-keg clash.
Benn and Eubank were some of the most well-known sports stars of the early 1990s in the UK, at a time when boxing was shown on free-to-air television. Eubank’s preposterous posing, unashamed arrogance and eccentric behavior outraged and entertained the public. Benn, like other opponents of the Brighton boxer, was infuriated by Eubank who claimed boxing was a “a mug’s game.”
“It is like two minds which are miles apart, a street brain and a society brain,” Eubank said of his rival.
Benn, from east London, who served five years in the British Army before turning professional in 1987, overcame a stoppage loss to Michael Watson before winning the WBO world middleweight title and then stopped Iran Barkley in Las Vegas in a first defense.
Eubank, originally from south London, moved to New York as a child where he learned to box before returning to England to live in Brighton. From there, Eubank became a household name, aided by his strutting, vaulting into the ring, dress sense and bizarre antics.
Benn had a late struggle to make weight ahead of the first fight, but started well with attacks to the body slowing down Eubank, who bit through his tongue when he was caught by an uppercut in the fourth round. Eubank bravely recovered though, and he landed some big shots to close one of Benn’s eyes due to swelling, and overwhelmed Benn with a volley of unanswered shots in the ninth round.
The second fight between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn ended a split-decision draw. Holly Stein/Allsport
“I urinated blood for two or three days,” Eubank said after the fight.
There had to be a rematch, but Eubank kept Benn waiting. He twice fought and beat Michael Watson, who was left with life-changing injuries from the second fight. Some easy match-ups followed for Eubank, until the 1993 rematch with Benn. This time, Eubank’s entrance went without a hitch for the title unification fight at super middleweight.
Benn, known as the ‘Dark Destroyer’, was docked a point for a low blow and in a close fight, Benn produced a strong last round to finish another classic encounter. It ended a draw, which left Benn furious, but many could not split the two. It was set up for a third fight, but it never happened. Benn fought Gerald McClellan, the American who was left paralyzed and blinded by injuries suffered in the stoppage loss to Benn, and ended his career in 1996 after the second of two defeats to Irishman Steve Collins. Eubank also twice lost to Collins and his career ended finally in 1998 after three successive defeats, to a young Joe Calzaghe and twice to Carl Thompson up at cruiserweight.
Benn and Eubank both won world titles at two weight classes, featuring some epic encounters — a feat unlikely to be matched by their sons.
Even after their boxing careers, when they were both on a TV show called Gladiator in 2003, the pair clashed on the set and had to be held apart after a shoving match threatened to boil over into Benn-Eubank III.
Despite their families’ history, the revival of one of boxing’s greatest rivalries, to make Benn-Eubank III, has not been an inevitable development.
When their sons entered the boxing profession, a match up seemed unlikely as Chris Jr. fights at middleweight (and at one time super middleweight), while Conor is two divisions below at welterweight. Conor (21-0, 14 KOs), 26, is also younger by seven years than Chris Jr (33-2, 23 KOs). Their careers seemed to be a long way apart, until a couple months ago.
Benn’s run of form, a lack of current opportunities for him at welterweight, and Gennadiy Golovkin fighting other opponents rather than Eubank at middleweight combined to present the chance of making Eubank-Benn III without any initial trash talk or anyone calling for the fight.
Thankfully, we never saw Benn, 58, and Eubank, 56, meet for a third time in recent years — there was talk of it — but an intriguing and high-quality fight between their elite-level sons allows us to remember one of the most entertaining rivalries in boxing history.