Boxing: Blood-and-guts display earned showman new respect

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The Independent Online
MAYBE THERE was no other way for Chris Eubank to confirm a true fighting heart than engage in a contest so brutal that even hardened ringsiders called for him to be spared further punishment.

What else could you think when you saw shock on the faces of people who had never realised how much a boxer gives of himself?

The occasion was Eubank's unsuccessful attempt to wrest the World Boxing Organisation cruiserweight title from Carl Thompson last April in Manchester.

Until then, despite proving in hard contests against Nigel Benn, Michael Watson and Steve Collins that his heart pumped nothing but high-octane courage, Eubank's reputation had been formed by ludicrous, if profitable, showmanship.

What the challenge to Thompson made clear was that in choosing to shape his career at middle and super-middleweight around a series of contrived defences, contests that did not require him to train diligently, Eubank had sold himself short when he could have been the British fighter of the 90s.

Giving away more than half a stone, Eubank showed a warrior's mettle, fighting with such spirit that a left hook in the second round brought the prospect of a remarkable victory until he chose to stand off the visibly-stunned champion.

Eubank, who also dropped Thompson in the fourth, paid dearly for this perverse decision, finishing the contest with one eye completely closed in a mass of brutalised facial tissue and spitting blood. He had never been in such pain or looked more ring-soiled.

Drawn to boxing by the glitz of television presentation, conditioned by Naseem Hamed's comparatively bloodless dismantling of carefully selected opponents, women in the audience averted their gaze from Eubank's mangled features.

Admitting that he had thought more than once of stopping the contest, the referee Roy Francis said, "It was a dilemma. Chris took so much punishment that I was only a second away from stepping between them, but I had to give him every chance because he kept coming back with punches. It makes me feel like weeping; he's a guy I like so much."

The former heavyweight champion, George Foreman, who was working for American television on Hamed's defence of the WBO featherweight title, thought Eubank's performance heroic. "Did you ever see such guts? "People told me that Eubank has made a mockery of boxing, but he fought tonight as though his life was on the line."

Others would speak about the lifeless glaze that came over Thompson's face when Eubank put him down in the fourth round; about the heavy blows Thompson fired in return to secure his title, the immense will shown by both men.

Eubank is a creature of ego. Were he anything else, he wouldn't have stood up to punches that caused him to spend a night under observation in hospital after undergoing a brain scan. If it was any consolation he at last had the respect of his peers. In bloody defeat he was more endearing.