Collins has a head start

Harry Mullan explains how a clever psychological ploy cost Eubank his title
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The Independent Online
IT WAS 2am on Sunday, and in the lobby of the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney the party was just getting under way. A crowd of perhaps 200 pressed around a small table against the wall as if it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic, because on it stood Steve Collins who had, a couple of hours earlier, taken Chris Eubank's WBO super- middleweight title and thus become the first Irishman to win versions of world titles at two weights. It was a faintly surreal scene: Saturday night was the climax of Killarney's "20s Festival", so the old Victorian railway hotel was full of flappers and their Great Gatsby escorts, in full regalia, mingling with the square shoulders and flat noses of the fight fraternity.

The new champion stood there for the best part of an hour, signing every bit of paper that was shoved at him, shaking every hand, posing for every photo and even scrawling his name on the sweaty Guinness-adorned shirts of those who had nothing more conventional to offer for his autograph. His victory, and the euphoric atmosphere it generated, drew inevitable comparisons with the great Barry McGuigan's nights in the King's Hall, Belfast. Yet there was one important difference: Barney Eastwood, who master-minded McGuigan's rise. would never have allowed his protg to press the flesh in the way Collins did with such gusto.

McGuigan was still an unsophisticated and inexperienced youngster when he became a star but Collins is a mature and settled man of 30 who has been there, done that and been impressed by very little of it. That maturity, acquired in hard years of campaigning in American rings, was the secret weapon he brought to the ring in Millsteet, Co Cork, last Saturday night. The man who had fought the mighty Mike McCallum down to the wire for a world title when McCallum was younger and even more formidable than he is now was never likely to be intimidated by Eubank's theatrical posturing, and for one of the few times in his unbeaten 43-fight career Eubank found himself in against a man whom he could not dominate mentally.

Collins studies people as much fighters, and in spreading the rumour that he had been hypnotised for the fight he struck deep and hard into the core of Eubank, the place where the demons live. Eubank was so unsettled by it that he genuinely wanted to pull out of the fight rather than face a man "who was not in control of himself".

John Rawling, the BBC's respected boxing commentator, knows Eubank well and was the only media man present when the champion confronted Barry Hearn and Barney Eastwood, the show's co-promoters, the night before the fight. He reported that Eubank was on the verge of tears as he struggled with the thought that what happened to Michael Watson might now happen to Collins, a man for whom he had genuine respect.

While Eubank was tormenting himself, the supposedly hypnotised Collins was laughing all the way back from the weigh-in, in the knowledge that the damage he had done to the champion's peace of mind was worth a three- round start.

And so it transpired: Eubank took at least that long to get into the fight, and never at any stage looked at ease with the Irishman's rugged, brawling style. There was little textbook artistry about the challenger's work, but he did what was necessary to win. Eubank accepted defeat with a degree of grace and dignity which surprised many, andseemed almost relieved that the burden of British boxing's longest unbeaten record had been lifted. His eight-fight contract with Sky TV - always an absurdly ambitious schedule - allows him to have a 10-round contest before facing Collins in a re-match which may take place at Croke Park, Dublin, on 22 July.

Collins is likely to make a quick voluntary defence in front of his hometown fans at the Point arena in Dublin in late May, probably against the European champion, Frederic Sailler of France. But first, though, there is some serious celebrating to be done. "I've a child almost a year old. that I haven't hardly seen yet," he says. Such sacrifices are likely to pay off now and few would begrudge him a few decent six or even seven-figure pay cheques. But how ironic that this most honest of performers should have achieved his greatest success by a con job of a scale not seen since Cassius Clay famously went "berserk" at the weigh-in for his heavyweight title challenge against Sonny Liston, 31 years ago.