Chris Eubank: The dandy bounces back off the ropes – now he's the daddy
A great character as well as one of Britain's finest boxing talents, the man with the monocle is back with a bang and 'mentoring' his son in the sweet science. Alan Hubbard speaks to Chris Eubank
Sunday 18 July 2010
Christopher Livingstone Eubank, one-time Lord of the Manor of Brighton as well as the rings, arrives an hour and a half late for our appointment in Savile Row, true to his idiosyncratic form. The former world boxing champion is fine, and as ever dandy, in camel hair frock coat, sharply pointed designer boots and jeans that bear a striking resemblance to the jodhpurs that once accompanied his trademark monocle, cane and lisp.
Sport's snappiest dresser has found a new niche in his bizarre life, designing outfits for bespoke tailors Cad & The Dandy, named not after himself but after the split personality character in The Importance of Being Earnest. Founded two years ago by two City brokers, James Sleater and Ian Meiers, with premises in Savile Row, the City and Canary Wharf, Eubank was approached as a dedicated follower of his own inimitable fashion in the belief that he can popularise it for upmarket punters. "Chris was well-known for his stylishness and liked the concept of what we are doing," explained Meiers.
So what inspired Eubank to become a designer? "Should I say Vivienne Westwood? Should I say the fact that I won six best-dressed men awards? Should I say that when I was shoplifting as a kid I became very aware of what works and what doesn't in terms of fabric, shape and design?"
First off the drawing board are his £75 jodhousers (pronounced jousers), a cross between jodhpurs and trousers ("really comfortable for men with big thighs like me"). Then there's the frock coat, a snip at £2,000. Every item is labelled "inspired by CLE". Isn't it rather upmarket? "I wouldn't say that, though I'm an upmarket guy. We are all upmarket really but then we are British. I believe there are many out there who would like to be a little distinctive, like me."
So here he is in Savile Row. Yet five years ago it might have been Skid Row when the fighter who earned more than £10 million as a world middleweight and super-middleweight champion in the 1990s was made bankrupt after he owed £1.3m in taxes. He lost his palatial Brighton residences, his expensive wheels and the lovely Karron, his wife of 15 years. He has also lost his lisp after a £35,000 dental operation. But he has never lost his marbles, his ingenious resourcefulness or his dandified dress sense. Not quite everything has gone up in smoke on the bonfire of his vanities, like getting out of his Hummer truck to wash his hands in Evian water on a petrol station forecourt to avoid using the tap. Pretentious? Lui?
"Most people seem to think I am something of a character and the things that have befallen me are par for my course," he tells us. "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."
What he doesn't have is his missus, the ever-calming influence on his way-out lifestyle. She walked out while he was at his friend Lennox Lewis's wedding in Jamaica, taking their four children with her. 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.
Intriguingly, Karron has now moved into a house near the bijou hotel where Chris has been living. She still sees him regularly concerning their children – Christopher, 20, Sebastian, 18, Emily, 15, and Joe, 12. "Karron is a fantastic woman," says Eubank. "I can't fault her for what happened. The only person at fault was myself. I was nonchalant and younger and I let her slip through my fingers. I should have held on to her. She's irreplaceable." He admits he would love to win her back "but it may be too late now".
Does he miss boxing? "Boxing? She's like a woman. If you've never wooed her, never won her, you always look back wondering what would have happened had you had her. If you caught her and had a long relationship, you don't really look back. Do I miss her? No, because I've had her, I've moved on. Now I am a mentor."
The subject of his mentoring is his eldest son Christopher. "I teach him about boxing, although I do not train him. He is in the furnace, in Las Vegas living the life of a young fighter who will have the ability to inspire. When he comes fully on the scene he will be an original. I am nurturing him to be the real thing."
As distinctly different personality-wise from his dad as Nigel Clough was to Brian, the quiet and modest Christopher Jnr is currently serving his fistic apprenticeship in Las Vegas, where he is trained by the former world middleweight champion Mike McCallum and Floyd Mayweather Snr, having had 19 amateur fights at middleweight and winning a Nevada Golden Gloves award.
Will he turn professional? "Most certainly. People ask if he is good, but good has nothing to do with it. I beat many good fighters and many who were better than me and the reason I beat them was because I was persistent, I was willing to go through those pain barriers. Even if he loses, I want him to win the hearts of people who witness it. It's about the way he conducts himself in how he fights, a warrior of high calibre."
Eubank once said he would never allow his sons to become fighters because boxing was "a mug's game". He pauses: "I truly did not want Christopher to box, but in saying that to him, I fortified his will. At 16 he said, 'this is what I want to do,' and by then he was a young man with a will of his own.
"As a parent I did not want him to lose my respect. I didn't want him coming back to me in a few years and saying, 'Dad, you stopped me'. He understands that the first lesson in being a boxer of the highest calibre is that you have to learn how to take a beating and when you are getting one, you stay there and take it.
"To be exceptional you have to be alone, that's the life of a warrior," adds Eubank. "Maybe one day we will have in Christopher someone who will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."
Eubank Snr claims he is now out of his financial mire. "I was never bankrupt of effervescence, of fun, of life, of my dignity, my character or my essence. Anyway, money is just a medium. I am extremely wealthy in other regards. I have never, ever seen anyone richer.
"How did a man like me end up in a position like that? If you trust people, you will lose your money. Period. I learned the hard way. I've always had something much more than money, which is respect. When I was champion, people looked into my heart and some said, 'We may not like Mr Eubank, but we respect him. He fights beyond the call of duty and he never quits'."
Eubank has always been one of sport's big spenders. But 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.
The taxmen may have dispossessed him of his worldly goods but they could never confiscate his courage. This he showed in the ring in his two battles with Michael Watson, two with Nigel Benn, two with Steve Collins, a blood-curdling scrap with Joe Calzaghe and 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 foolhardy valour. When it came to ballsy boxers, Eubank had few peers.
In days when sport takes itself far too seriously it is worth reminding ourselves of the chutzpah that Eubank brought to his game. 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," says Benn, 20 years after their second epic. "Just seeing him there posing like a prat, I wanted to jump on him and punch the hell out of him." Theirs was the Golden Age of British boxing as much as Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett were to track and field.
Poseur, tosser, buffoon. Eubank was labelled all of these but fazed he wasn't. "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."
As fragrant and elegant as ever, Eubank remains a trim 13 stone, just a few pounds above his best fighting weight. "That eight-pack I used to have will be back. I'm up to six and a quarter now." Would he possibly be thinking of fighting again? "At 43? Of course not. I can't do that anymore, it's a young man's sport.
"These days when I'm walking in the park, I can smell the earth, I can smell the trees, I realise that I'm alive. I hit the jackpot every morning I wake up. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, I'm steady, I'm calm, I'm gentle and I'm true. Yes, I think that I am contented."
The ego has landed on his feet.
Life and times
Name Christopher Livingstone Eubank.
Born 8 August 1966, Dulwich, London.
Fighting statistics 5ft 10in, 12st. Won 45 (23 KOs), lost five, drew two.
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.
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 super-middleweight 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. Retired in July 1998 after successive defeats to Joe Calzaghe and Carl Thompson.
And the rest Divorced from wife Karron, 2005. Four children: Christopher, 20, Sebastian, 18, Emily, 15, and Joe, 12.
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. Declared bankrupt 2005 owing £1.3m in taxes, repaid a year later. Voted second most eccentric star after Björk by BBC and No 96 in '100 Worst Britons We Love to Hate' by Channel Four viewers.
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