King of grand entrances exits unlamented

Ken Jones assesses the boxing career of a flamboyant but flawed exhibitionist
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In the process of amassing a considerable fortune from boxing Chris Eubank and his promoter, Barry Hearn, rejected totally the idea of going in with Mike McCallum, who then held a version of the middleweight championship. "What would McCallum bring?" Hearn snorted. The answer was danger.

While Eubank showed plenty of courage in hard contests against Nigel Benn and the ill-fated Michael Watson, he was never likely to run unnecessary risks with titles put out by the World Boxing Organisation. Eubank, who announced his retirement from the ring yesterday, had but one self-confessed aim: to manipulate the sport he declared to be beneath his contempt.

So many past boxing champions have ended their days penniless that nobody, not even the fellow professionals who resented his attitude, could deny Eubank the riches from a career shaped around ludicrous posturing, extravagant entrances and the many mismatches on a record that shows just two defeats.

With the eager co-operation of ITV, who projected the first phase of his championship career, Eubank gained a reputation out of all proportion to his ability. "I like to think I set standards for others," he said yesterday.

If Eubank was referring to the hyperbole that served to polarise public opinion to the point where millions of viewers (his fights achieved record figures) switched on simply to see him defeated, there isn't an argument. Stunt followed stunt. He arrived by crane, once astride a motor cycle. Dress and stylised speech established him as an eccentric. Unmitigated gall never failed him.

Eubank the fighter is a different matter. Curiously for one so determined to grow rich from the sport, he took liberties in preparation that often left him well overweight only a few days before championship contests, some of which were not worthy of the name. A former title-holder said of Eubank, before his recent failure to regain the WBO super-middleweight title from Steve Collins, "I did more work in a day than he does in a week."

Never far from controversy, Eubank gained a number of decisions from WBO officials that raised eyebrows at ringside. It is impossible to know how good a fighter Eubank might have become, because he never committed himself fully, the posturing unquestionably a device to conceal serious limitations in stamina.

Eubank was seen at his best when taking the WBO middleweight title from Benn, stopping him after nine rounds, and in the two contests against Watson. Watson was ahead in the second when Eubank climbed from the floor to score a knock-out that had tragic consequences.

There is no way of knowing these things but it is hard to imagine that Eubank would have attained even domestic championship status had his career coincided with those of Alan Minter, who held the undisputed world middleweight championship, or Kevin Finnegan and Tony Sibson, who both went in with Marvin Hagler.

Interestingly, however, Eubank will probably be remembered for having a higher profile than any of them. A man for the time, he rode the television bandwagon for all he was worth and earned more than any British fighter outside the heavyweight division.

Despite the attention he attracted, Eubank could not be considered a great champion, and the arrogant worst of him in the ring, especially the taunting of humbled opponents, has been taken up by the new star, Naseem Hamed. If that was setting standards, Eubank's retirement is no cause for regret.