Collins survives the onslaught

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TO the delight of a 20,000 crowd in the Pairc ui Chaoimh here last night, Steve Collins retained the World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title when he outpointed Chris Eubank over 12 hard, ugly rounds.

All the Irishman's supporters held their breath when a split decision was announced, but a great roar went up when Collins received the verdict from two of three official judges, two of whom scored it 115-113 in his favour, the other awarding the fight to Eubank, 115-114.

It was Collins' reward for a relentless effort that prevented Eubank from settling into a rhythm, and the will to withstand a late rally from the former champion, who was attempting to regain the championship he lost here last March.

What a second successive defeat will mean to Eubank's career remains to be seen, but his future is now clouded, and given his split with his former promoter, Barry Hearn, there can now be no guarantee that he will be able to reassemble one of the most lucrative careers in British boxing in alliance with Frank Warren.

Eubank's counter-punching style was negated from the opening bell when Collins, half standing on his stool, almost in the manner of a sprinter on his blocks, launched himself across the ring. Surprised, Eubank was only just able to avoid the charge and the pattern was set right from there.

There was never much in the way of crisp punching, hardly a blow in the first nine rounds to cause either man concern, but Collins always had the edge because of his refusal to be driven back by Eubank's attempts and counter-attacks.

The Irishman showed no pretence at finesse. He simply kept ploughing forward, wild for the most of the time but never giving Eubank a chance to settle or take a breather.

There is always a suspicion that Eubank does not put in the mileage that is demanded of fighters in preparation, but other than in hard contests against Nigel Benn and the ill-fated Michael Watson, he has invariably been able to take breathers, often fighting for as little as one minute in every round.

There was never a chance that Collins would allow him that luxury. Clearly as he entered the ring after coming slowly to the accompaniment of a slow, haunting Gaelic anthem, he kept up the pressure and overcame the disadvantage of a cut alongside his right eye that resulted from a long, looping left hand in the eighth round.

On aggression alone Collins went steadily ahead, and Eubank's corner men grew more anxious as their fighter entered the second half of the contest. Twice trainer Ronnie Davis slapped Eubank hard across the face, but although he stepped up the pace, Eubank could never wrest the initiative or persuade Collins to back off.

To expend as much energy as Collins did risked the possibility of a crisis in the later rounds, but when it came he stood up manfully, refusing to yield to some heavy blows to the head, especially the right uppercuts Eubank employed in a desperate attempt to force a dramatic finish.

The crowd grew anxious for the Irish hero as Eubank reached deep within himself for the sort of punches that could turn things his way, and they willed Collins to keep out of trouble. However, it was not in the Irishman's nature to take a backward step on the night and although clearly shaken in the 11th round, he bulled back in again, forcing the challenger to give ground and seek a respite on the ropes.

The 12th saw Eubank stage one last despairing effort, but Collins survived. The contest was closer than a majority considered it to be, but Collins was a clear winner.