Boxing: Eubank labours to make points: Head-to-head that never happened fails to rouse the multitude. Jonathan Rendall reports

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THE idea was for Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn to meet 'head to head' for a last publicity opportunity before Eubank - as is widely expected - puts the 'Dark Destroyer' to sleep again in their rematch on Saturday at Old Trafford.

It didn't happen. Benn didn't show up, and Eubank instead put everyone else to sleep with an hour and a half's worth of public meditation on life, the universe and, particularly, his place in it. Even childbirth got a look in as Eubank remembered his last fight with Benn, at Birmingham more than two years ago; a fight after which Eubank turned to his promoter, Barry Hearn, and said: 'Barry, Barry, take me to the hospital.'

The soft tone of an ante-natal counsellor entered Eubank's voice as he said: 'When women have babies the pain is excruciating. At the time you say 'Never again' but afterwards, because of what you have produced, you forget the pain. I use that example because I am a woman's man.'

Even Don King, the co-promoter, a man also capable of going on talking until someone finally interrupts him, found that hoods of skin seem to be descending over his eyes; eyes that have launched a million tickets in their time but which maintain a curious, hollow stillness even when the mouth below them is working at overspeed.

But King kept flashing the odd dazzling smile to keep up appearances. He did not seem particularly interested in Eubank when they met in New York recently. But since his arrival in Britain King has become considerably more so. Despite the fact that Benn-Eubank has scarcely had a line in the papers because of heavyweight events in Cardiff, the fight has sold and there could be as many as 40,000 bona fide punters in the stadium on Saturday. Even accounting for 'free paper', you do not get gates like that in America any longer.

Anyway, King had said his piece, which was that he had spoken to Benn and could report that Benn had chosen not to come because he could not trust himself not to chin Eubank. 'He told me he could not stand to look at the man without tearing him apart,' King said. 'We have a very hostile situation here, as all wars tend to be.'

A few minutes later Hearn inadvertently let slip that King had not spoken to Benn at all but to one of his advisers. But no matter. The Board of Control's general secretary objected to the military analogy and thus allowed King to respond by saying that they would not be playing tiddly-winks out there. 'The Marquis of Queensberry is smiling over me now,' King added. 'I can feel his spirit.'

Then it was over to Eubank, who said that the addition of his old trainer, Maximo Pierret, to the camp had made him train twice as hard. However, when asked if this meant that previously he had only trained as half as much as he should, Eubank admonished: 'Stop that bad talk. It is not that I was not training properly but that I am now training correctly.'

Eubank was in his jodhpur and expensive tweed country squire get-up, this time topped off by a monocle. It is tempting to go along with the claims of his (rather cowed) promoters that he is a truculent but well-meaning eccentric. No one would doubt that he is well-meaning, nor that he is a brave and improving performer in the ring. But delusions of grandeur seem to be setting in.

Eubank also ticked off a rival claimant to the world super-middleweight championship, the American Michael Nunn who is regarded as a master boxer, for presuming to want to fight him in Britain for the short end of a purse. Eubank said he would rather fight James Toney, yet another 'world champion', because Toney had allegedly insulted his mother on a TV show and it was 'personal'.

Eventually, Eubank concluded ruefully that Toney's comments had brought boxing into disrepute and were 'the reason why I can't get Adidas and Reebok to give me endorsement deals'. But by then no one could be bothered to disagree.

(Photograph omitted)