Profile: The monocled mutineer: Chris Eubank

Click to follow
IT WAS January 1989 and for Keith Miles, a businessman and would-be big-time boxing promoter, the sight on the first floor of the Connaught Rooms was not a pretty one. At some expense he had hired a suite and invited the national media to the unveiling of his new middleweight hope, a then unknown Englishman recently returned from living in the South Bronx named Christopher Eubank. Unfortunately, no one from the nationals had turned up apart from myself. The air of gloom was as palpable as the wilting spread of sandwiches.

One might have thought that an exclusive interview was inevitable, albeit one no one else wanted. A vain hope. Eubank was sitting on his own wearing a collarless suit of vaguely Islamic inspiration. For some months, whenever one saw Eubank outside the ring, in whatever circumstances, he was always wearing that suit, so it is probable that he did not have much money. When I asked him about his forthcoming eight-rounder at Bethnal Green, he responded with a pause. Then another pause. Finally an expression of deep reflective pain broke across his forehead and in an American accent he said: 'I am sorry. This is difficult. I am not used to seeing white men.'

Five years on, the accent has gone, replaced by a famously clipped and hectoring British delivery. The collarless suit has not made an appearance for years, with Eubank favouring tweeds, riding breeches and a monocle from his large and expensive wardrobe. As an unbeaten world champion he is said to be worth pounds 4m to pounds 6m. When he boxes Graciano Rocchigiani in Berlin next Saturday it will be his 14th title fight at two different weights. But Eubank's obsession with his self-image remains truculently the same, except that it is now a national source of entertainment, sympathy or irritation.

As a boy growing up in south London, Eubank was regarded as difficult. Although he is remembered as being boisterous rather than malicious, he was always getting into fights at his school, Thomas Carlton comprehensive, and was eventually expelled and sent to an approved school in Wales, from where he ran away. His father, Irving, worried that Eubank was heading for jail, sent him to live with relatives in New York, where the terrifying burnt-out streets of the South Bronx soon convinced him there were some places where being rowdy was not a good idea.

He entered boxing in B-movie fashion. He was keeping fit in a gym one day when a Puerto Rican fighter known as The Horse found himself without a sparring partner. Eubank volunteered and took a hammering. But eventually the day came, as under boxing lore it must, when Eubank discovered that he could hammer The Horse. His trainer, Adonis Torris, entered him in the Spanish Gloves tournament and Eubank won it. He and Torres then turned professional and Eubank had five wins in Atlantic City, without anybody really noticing. When Torres died Eubank returned to Britain, to Brighton, where his elder brother Peter was an experienced professional boxer who had never received the opportunities or the purses his talent warranted. The lesson of his brother's career made a strong impression.

A new trainer, Ronnie Davies, who has been with Eubank ever since, set up the promotional deal with Miles. But the promoters lost money promoting Eubank and went out of the game. Eubank and Davies did not have much bargaining power. Indeed most of the fight fraternity found Eubank a rather bizarre irritant who overrated himself. I remember a conversation at a gym on the Old Kent Road with Frank Maloney, later Lennox Lewis's manager but then 'fronting' as a promoter for Ambrose Mendy, Nigel Benn's agent, in which Maloney said he was going to offer Eubank a bout with a fighter he promoted who would 'bump Eubank off'.

The fighter was a Jamaican named Anthony Logan who had just given Benn a terrible time. Maloney saw big money in Benn- Logan but could not resist slipping in Logan-Eubank just to shut Eubank up. Of course, Eubank then beat Logan. He soon had his second slice of luck when he ran into Barry Hearn, the snooker impresario, who was then trying to break into boxing but who had yet to find a genuine top-of-the-bill attraction. Other London promoters had either rejected, or been rejected by, Eubank.

Hearn paid up for Eubank and also put up with him. Hearn had a house in Romford in which his fighters could stay for nothing before fights. Eubank took one look and refused because, he said, he never stayed in houses with blue front doors. Hearn said in that case Eubank could pay for a hotel room himself. Eubank did, and has ever since. When in London he always stays in the same suite on the seventh floor of the Grosvenor House. It has the best views of Hyde Park. But if Hearn needed Eubank, Eubank needed Hearn. It was a perfect marriage of convenience. It enabled the first Benn fight, in November 1990, to be arranged - the fight that made Eubank. On its fulcrum, the carousel of cash and newsprint turned.

Days before that meeting with Benn in Birmingham, Eubank cocooned himself at a hotel in Solihull with Davies and his then publicist, Andy Ayling. If Eubank, a heavy underdog, was worried by what was at stake, he did not show it. 'He was never in any doubt that he would win,' Ayling says. 'I remember the night before the fight we sat up watching Blackadder videos.' Eubank likes comedy and has a large collection of tapes of which his favourites are Norman Wisdom, Harry Enfield, Tony Hancock and the Two Ronnies.

It has not all been laughs. In September 1991 Michael Watson went into a coma after Eubank stopped him in the 12th round. Then in February 1992 Eubank's Range-Rover went out of control and hit and killed a workman. Eubank regularly visited Watson in hospital until Watson requested that he stop. Eubank was deeply wounded until a friend pointed out that it was a sign that Watson had recovered his senses.

Despite his prominent role in the new boxers' union, Eubank remains a distant figure to most pros. As one said: 'Chris is the type of bloke who when he's not there they say, 'Oh yeah, Eubank. Horrible bastard.' But when he walks in the gym they're in awe.' Nor does Eubank closely follow sport, or even boxing outside the sphere of possible future opponents. What Eubank does follow is money. His openness about it has frequently landed him in hot water. Many boxers, for example, were insulted by his statement that boxing was 'brutal' and that he was only in it for the money, because it implied that they were all mugs who were not bright enough to have come to the same conclusion. For a time onlookers drew a religious significance from Eubank's pre-fight gesture of moving the palm of an open glove against an imaginary surface. In fact he was gesturing to friends that victory would enable him to build another wall.

Eubank lives with his wife, Karan, and their two children in an imposing residence in Hove ('Never say Brighton,' Ayling says. 'I used to address all his letters 'Hove Actually' '). He has also bought the adjacent house and converted it into an office and gym. He unwraps brand-new clothing each day to train in. He has two Range-Rovers and a Harley Davidson motorbike but sometimes hires Rolls Royces, always with white interiors.

According to Eubank all his friends are over 40 and are mostly local businessmen. But his closest and most loyal is Ronnie Davies, often the butt of Eubank's remarks in public but, in private, someone who is permitted habitually to address him by a racial epithet.

Eubank's critics talk of folie de grandeur setting in. They say his overheads are too high, he is burnt out, and that he will never make it in Las Vegas against the real champions. They say that with his lifestyle he will go skint. But perhaps they understimate him. The pay-days are still rolling. According to Andy Ayling: 'Chris told me, 'If I go skint, all I can say is that I had very good time'.'