Collins primed for the best

Stephen Brenkley talks to a champion whose trade is more than a business
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The Independent Online
As a world champion Steve Collins is asked to perform a whole range of activities which are probably more pleasant and less rigorous than boxing. Not long ago he was on stage in Cork to introduce Oasis.

"I walked out and the place was full of thousands of screaming female fans who'd bought millions of records and just wanted to see their heroes play," he said. "I thought then how great it might have been if my dad had bought me a guitar instead of boxing gloves."

While this statement also put in mind the prospect of the dreadful things which could have happened if the Gallagher brothers had acquired boxing gloves instead of guitars it was merely Collins in his jolly, after-dinner speaker's mode. It should not be considered as reluctance to enter the ring to defend his World Boxing Organisation super- middleweight title against Nigel Benn on Saturday. Far from it. Like most of the men who share his trade, the Dubliner is eager to ply it.

"I still get a buzz from it. I'm still hungry," he said in his Jersey training camp last week. "It's not the money any longer. I've now earned enough to keep the wolf from the door if I didn't fight again but as long as I still have the hunger and I'm willing to make the sacrifices I'll continue."

Collins's calm assessment is that Benn is unlikely to persuade him to alter course. He was ahead on points in July when the Dark Destroyer was forced to retire with an injured ankle and can think of nothing which has happened since to bring a reversal of fortune.

"I expect the fight to be pretty much a repeat. I know he has a weak chin and I expect to knock him over. I don't underestimate Nigel Benn at all. He is a proud man who will be anxious to redeem himself and will be better prepared. But I'm better prepared too. I'm fitter and stronger, in peak condition. I'm glad he's taken the fight because of the money but maybe he should have gone out last time."

Collins, 32, began his professional career in the United States when he joined the Brockton gym used by his hero, Marvin Hagler. He became United States Boxing Association middleweight champion, lost a World Boxing Association world title fight on points to Mike McCallum and headed home for Ireland. "I felt I was being ripped off," he said. "I was a barman, a labourer, I was having to do anything to make ends meet."

The American experience taught him to look after himself outside as well as inside the ring. He has advisers but insists that they work for him, not the other way round. He makes and calls the shots.

"There was one world-title defence when I was on my way to the ring and I was on the phone finalising the purse details," he said. "Didn't put me off at all."

Collins is a charming man who understands boxing's dangers. "You can't deny people have been injured and damaged," he said, "but ask professional fighters if they would fight underground if the sport was banned and 90 per cent of them would. Then they wouldn't have the medical protection."

He is grateful to Chris Eubank for giving him the chance to make his initial challenge for the WBO title, and feels lucky to have been around with the division so vibrant. He insisted that, unlike all the others down the years, he will know when to quit ("my wife certainly will"). But he also considers business far from finished.

After Benn, he is already preparing to throw down the gauntlet to the celebrated Roy Jones - "he's avoiding me" - and if that doesn't work he might consider moving up to light-heavyweight.

"I'm not one for hanging round just to take the money and fighting Joe Bloggs. I want to take on the best." Collins has no plans yet to take up guitar lessons.