Sport wars: A fight too shocking to show again
Ex-boxer Chris Eubank has set up a pay-per-view website on which he's releasing footage of one of the most infamous encounters in the sport's history. Louise Jack reports
Monday 24 April 2006
The 1991 fight turned out to be Watson's last. After a titanic struggle that pushed both boxers to their limits, the bout was stopped in the 12th and final round. Amid chaotic scenes, Watson was left in a coma for more than 30 days. The young Londoner suffered irreparable brain damage and almost 10 years passed before he was able to walk unaided.
Executives at ITV, who broadcast the fight that night, have always deemed the footage unacceptable for public viewing and it has never been broadcast again, although there is a flourishing black market in bootleg copies of it. But 15 years on, the man responsible for throwing that fateful barrage of punches will make the fight available on his new pay-per-view website, to be launched tomorrow.
Eubank, who was declared bankrupt in the High Court last year with an unpaid tax bill of £1.3m, hopes that fans will take advantage of the new technology to download the footage on to their mobile phones and computers. Unusually for a major sportsman, Eubank retains the non-exclusive rights for all the fights in his career - which included 23 knockouts in 45 wins, all of which will be made available on the site.
He hopes to exploit the growing market for vintage sporting events with the online service. As for Michael Watson's view of the enterprise, Eubank says he supports the venture and will enjoy a half share of the money raised from their clashes. "I consider myself very close to Michael Watson. I could only prove that with examples that are no one's business. I know what I know," said the eccentric boxer in typically enigmatic fashion.
The monocled pugilist, who has earned equal numbers of fans and detractors for his bizarre dress sense, outlandish comments and penchant for driving a personalised HGV, will charge £1.50 per round to view his career retrospective.
"Michael Watson says yes. Because he says yes, I say yes. This is one of the greatest fights in the history of boxing. From that point of view, why would you want to deny the man his legacy? He is of the opinion that the public should not be deprived of the fight any longer. Fifteen years is long enough."
Eubank's manager, Richard Hillgrove, said he also had the backing of ITV Sport. "They are completely behind what's going on. The unique thing about the site, in terms of content, is that Chris has retained the rights to all his fights and can offer them all for download. Very few people in the world of sport are able to do that."
The videos are among a number of possible money-spinners on the site. Eubank plans to auction personal items such as his boxing gloves and other memorabilia. He says he has other business interests, but adds, "I am keeping them close to my chest. You won't hear about it, you'll read about it."
Eubank claims to have had the initial idea for the site and says that he is using the "best of the best" of new technology. There will also be a forum with the capacity for fans to interact directly with the fighter at regular scheduled times. Eubank says: "I'm going online so that I can have a personal relationship with the fans." The boxer joins a growing band of celebrities who use the internet to communicate directly with their supporters.
Eubank's host company, Activefone, is working on a site based on the TV series Long Way Round which followed Ewan McGregor on his epic motorcycle journey from London to New York via Russia and Alaska.
Eubank's life outside the ring has been as dramatic - and tragic - as his encounters inside it.
Michael Watson may have survived their encounter but while he was still in hospital Eubank was driving a Range Rover that accidentally veered off the road and killed a motorway worker.
Last year Eubank was convicted for taking and driving away a lorry that was blocking his way on a road near his children's school in Brighton. This may have been the final straw for his wife of 16 years, Karron. She left him last July.
But he has always craved the limelight. In 2001 he appeared in Celebrity Big Brother and in 2003 - the same year he was arrested for blockading Downing Street in protest at the Iraq war - he invited cameras into his home to film him and his family in a fly-on-the-wall documentary for nine months.
Michael Watson later sued the British Boxing Board of Control over the fight with Eubank, saying that specialists were not at the ringside in the course of it and that the organisers took too long getting him to hospital. Watson believed he would have made a complete recovery had the appropriate facilities been available. He won £1m compensation in 1999.
The two men were reunited when Eubank joined Watson for the last mile of the London Marathon in 2003. Watson, who is partially paralysed, was raising money for the Brain and Spine Foundation. Heroically, he completed the 26-mile course six days after he set out.
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