When Chris Eubank turned up at a recent Boxing Writers' dinner he was immaculately attired in a jacket and tie. But no shirt. He blithely insisted it was a statement of sartorial vogue and not an indication of his current state of impecuniosity - the sort of word that would appeal to his precisely measured diction.
Christopher Livingstone Eubank, Lord of the Manor of Brighton, to give him his full recognition, is bankrupt.
"Boracic" as they say in the business. The man who earned more than £10m during his career as a world super-middleweight champion in the 1990s owes £1.3m in VAT. He has lost his palatial residences and his expensive wheels.
Now Karron, his wife of 15 years, is filing for divorce. Fighters and lost fortunes have always gone hand in boxing glove, from Joe Louis through to Mike Tyson. In many ways it is the inevitable name of the game, though there are many, such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Britain's Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno and Dave "Boy" Green, who have hung on to their millions.
One felt that the former situation was always likely to be the fate of Eubank, who would get out of his Hummer truck and wash his hands in Evian water on a petrol station forecourt to avoid using the tap. Pretentious? Lui? But Eubank is not just another penniless pug. His is not simply the traditional tale of riches to rags. He has not lost his lisp, his marbles or his dandified dress sense. Not quite everything has gone up in smoke on the bonfire of his vanities. He still has his ego and his eccentricity, which was hailed last week as a model for British eccentrics.
Eubank has battled with the Revenue and Customs before. Two years ago another bankruptcy petition against him was dismissed. "The taxman doesn't allow you to stop," he has said. "He's a gangster." His creditors may have ranged from American Express to Rentokil, but he hardly seems on his uppers. His assets may have gone, but his faculties remain intact alongside the monocle, the gold-topped cane, the £1,600 lemon yellow jodhpurs and £1,500 Schneider boots in which he still struts his stuff along the Brighton prom. Down, but never out, he is unabashed, describing being broke as "a marvellous experience".
"I've experienced most things in boxing, but never this," he said. "Most people seem to think I am something of a character and the things that have befallen me are par for my course. Bankruptcy, divorce, these are feathers in my cap, I suppose. I have a wisdom which has been born from these things. Yes, I have spent. I have lived and had accidents. It's all part of life's wonderful experience. In my case, I've been relieved of paying £1.3m because I hadn't paid it on time. It's the legal constraint of the Government where they relieve you of the debt if you don't pay it."
Does this mean he has no money at all? "Well, I'm breathing. You see, there are many types of wealth and money is only one of them. I have different wealths, like the wealth of my health. Actually, I've got plenty of money. But money comes and goes. I've no regrets. I have health, respect and dignity." What he doesn't have is his missus, the ever-calming influence on his way-out lifestyle. She walked out last July, while he was at his friend Lennox Lewis's wedding in Jamaica, taking their four children - Christopher Jnr, 15, Sebastian, 14, Emily, 11, and Joseph, nine - with her to the new £1.6m beachfront house in Brighton that Eubank fortuitously had put in her name.
Friends say that Karron, who has reverted to her maiden name of Stephen-Martin, has a new man in her life, a blow that has hit Eubank harder than any of those delivered by his opponents in his 13-year career.
"I think my character has taken its toll on her and she's come to a decision that she can't live with me any more," Eubank admits. The family home, a £4m mock-Tudor mansion, was sold in the summer and Eubank lives in rented accommodation. Just him and his Savile Row wardrobe.
Born in Dulwich and brought up in Dalston, east London, he grew up with his father after his mother left them and moved to New York. After being expelled from school, he was sent to the US to live with his mother where he confesses to becoming "a world champion shoplifter". He says that his mother saved him from a life as a criminal by persuading him to go to church. Eubank had five professional fights in the US before returning to Britain in 1988, defeating Nigel Benn for the World Boxing Organisation title in 1990, which he successfully defended 19 times before finally succumbing to Steve Collins in 1995. He retired three years later after 52 fights and set about forging a career as a full-time Celebrity Big Brother and even bigger spender.
Examples of Eubank's extravagance are legion. When he was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace he took his wife to New York just to buy a dress for the occasion. There and back via Concorde. Now he says: "Since Concorde stopped flying I no longer go to New York because it takes too long."
When he bought an Aston Martin for £140,000 he decided the engine wasn't big enough and spent a further £60,000 having a larger one installed. Expenditure was not always designed to further his reputation as the fight game's Flash Harry. Before a fight in Berlin he presented his long-suffering trainer Ronnie Davies, whom he treated as his personal Jeeves, with a £700 black leather coat which went from his neck to his ankles, and ordered him to wear it at a press conference. "I can't do that," protested Davies. "It makes me look like Rommel. The Germans will go ballistic." "That's precisely the idea, Davies," replied Eubank.
Eubank has never doubted his own market value. When he began his British career he declined to sign for the then leading promoter, Mickey Duff, saying scornfully: "He tried to buy me over a plate of fish and chips." What he didn't mention was that the meal was partaken at one of London's most expensive up-market seafood restaurants and cost £67. Duff won £25,000 damages from the tabloid that reported Eubank's comment.
In a fly-on-the-wall TV documentary about his home life, we saw him thundering around Brighton in his £54,000 truck, a seven-ton, 32ft American Peterbilt, which cost £22,000 in delivery fees when it was specially shipped from the US. The taxmen may yet dispossess him of his worldly goods but they can never confiscate his courage. This he showed in the ring in his two battles with Michael Watson, two with Benn, two with Collins, that blood-curdling scrap with Joe Calzaghe and the final wars with Carl Thompson. He was knocked down, but he got up again in situations when lesser men might have considered timely discretion the better part of any valour.
Promoters loved him; so did the punters, though some opponents weren't quite as captivated by his affected disdainful demeanour. "I couldn't stand him," said Benn. "Just seeing him there posing like a prat, I wanted to jump on him and punch the hell out of him."
Despite his quirks, Eubank remains one of the most endearing of sports personalities, if a sometimes infuriating one. A call to his mobile recently brought the response: "Hello, Christopher here."
"Hi Chris, where are you?"
"I'm in Europe."
"We're all in Europe, Chris. Whereabouts?"
"I couldn't pothibly thay," he replied. And hung up.
Poseur, tosser, buffoon. Eubank has been labelled all of these but fazed he isn't. So what now for the man named the second most eccentric personality in the world, behind the singer Björk, a nomination he disputes. "Just because I have a sense of style, because I try to project dignity and have tried to earn the respect of my peers, that should not make me an eccentric."
For all it brought him, Eubank has been no great advocate of the noble art. He admits to a distaste for boxing even before the infamous night when his measured punches put Michael Watson in a coma for 40 days and left him with permanent disabilities. That fight is etched into his consciousness. He has called boxing barbaric, and a mug's game. "This is not a reasonable business. You get damaged; you get disfigured; you get used. You are partaking in a tragic form of entertainment. I can hear the slurred speech of many ex-boxers. I certainly don't want to put my sons through that."
Eubank may be poorer these days, but so is boxing for his departure from the ring. He has already made one comeback. Even at 39, is another inevitable to repair his finances? He says not, and we must hope not. But with Christopher Livingstone Eubank, nothing is "impothible".
Born: 8 August 1966, Dulwich, London
Vital statistics: 5ft 10in, 12st
Early career: Moved to New York in 1982. Won Spanish Golden Gloves in 1984, and became No 1 junior middleweight in US. Retired from boxing but returned for five fights in Atlantic City 1985-87, all won. Keith Miles spotted him in Brighton and became his manager after persuading him to go professional.
Highlights: Won WBC International Middleweight title in March 1990, beating Hugo Antonio Corti, and made two successful defences. Beat Nigel Benn to take WBO World Middleweight title in 1990. Won WBO Supermiddleweight title in 1991 in ill-fated fight against Michael Watson, who was left in a wheelchair, and defended title 14 times before losing for the first time to Steve Collins in 1995.
Career record: Won 45 (23 KOs), lost five, drew two.
Celebrity: Britain's Best-Dressed Man, 1991 and 1993. Appeared on Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother, 2001, and Five's At Home with the Eubanks, 2003. Voted second most eccentric star after Björk by BBC Homes and Antiques.Reuse content