BOXING : Collins casts spell to start a party

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The Independent Online
When word drifts around the American boxing scene that Chris Eubank has lost his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title and his remarkable 43-fight unbeaten record to a lightly regarded Irishman called Steve Collins in Millstreet, Co Cork, the likely reaction will be not so much "who?" as "where?"

Until Saturday night, Shelby, Montana, was probably the unlikeliest venue for a world title fight, but now that distinction belongs to the tiny Cork village.

Doc Kearns, the old rascal who masterminded Jack Dempsey's career, would have tipped his fedora to Noel C Duggan, the 61-year-old entrepreneur with the vision to build a 7,500-seat arena in the middle of nowhere and make it pay spectacularly. When Kearns brought Dempsey to Shelby to fight Tommy Gibbons in 1923 he persuaded the town's leading businessmen to finance the venture, and then skipped town with the cash the morning after the fight before the burghers realised they had been bankrupted. Duggan does things rather differently. He gave the promoter Barry Hearn free use of the arena, talked the Irish Government into putting up their £10,000 sponsorship and can now probably retire on the proceeds of the takings in the arena's many bars, which were still doing brisk business at six o'clock on a bleary Sunday morning.

It was a wonderful Irish celebration of the famous victory, and those in the boxing business who had grown weary of Eubank's posing and posturing will have joined in the applause for a triumph of substance over style. Collins, at 30, is not well-known on this side of the Atlantic but is a respected performer in America, where he has had 20 of his 31 fights. His three defeats were all on points to the world champions Mike McCallum, Reggie Johnson and Sumbu Kalambay, better men than those on whom Eubank had built his reputation, and when you've been the distance with Mike McCallum then Chris Eubank's strutting holds few fears.

Collins was so sure of success that he even offered to cover any losing bets, but having discussed the fight with him in Las Vegas two weeks ago, I had the distinct feeling that he would not be called upon to honour the promise. All boxers talk of good fights, but there was an impressive air of certainty about the Dubliner which convinced me that the 5-2 on offer in London against him winning on points was too good for him to turn down.

His confidence got to Eubank, and the brilliant psychological ploy of claiming to be hypnotised worked so well that the champion was reduced to the edge of tears on Friday night as he threatened to pull out of the fight rather than face a man who "was not in control of himself". Collins carried on the charade in the ring, sitting in his corner throughout the preliminaries with his eyes tightly closed, like a man in a trance.

With Eubank, mental control of the opposition is the key to everything, and by the time he realised that Collins was no more hypnotised than he was himself, the challenger had built a three-round lead. Roared on by a capacity crowd whose fervour recalled the Barry McGuigan nights in Belfast, he absorbed the best that Eubank could throw at him and consistently out-worked and out-hustled the champion. It was not a great technical fight - there was too much messing and mauling for that - but the extraordinary atmosphere gave it a special edge.

Eubank's style irritates as many as it enthralls, but his fighting heart has never been in doubt and he proved it yet again with a late rally, coming off the floor from an eighth-round knockdown to drop the Irishman with a right to the temple early in the 10th.

A more resolute follow-up then might have saved the day, but instead he stood off for much of the round and allowed Collins to survive the crisis, thus lending more weight to the theory that Michael Watson's injury has left its scar on Eubank's psyche.

We must wait to see how he copes with his first defeat, always a difficult experience even for men with standard-sized egos. For Collins, suddenly a major major player in world boxing, the party has only just begun.