Fight #44: Chris Eubank vs. Nigel Benn
Fight #44: Chris Eubank vs. Nigel Benn 1, November 18, 1990, Birmingham, United Kingdom
I'm not sure if there is an activity in the world that centers the beauty of the male body more than boxing does. Back thousands of years ago when the Ancient Greeks introduced the sport in the original Olympic Games, the boxers were always completely naked, so that the (exclusively male) spectators could admire the beauty of the fighters' bodies, an early example of the Greek humanism that would one day conquer the Western world. In modern-day pugilism, of course, the boxers wear trunks, but--especially in the lower weight classes where fighters have to "make weight" in order to qualify--there is an excessive emphasis on the trimness of the male figure, oiled up with vaseline, preening for the crowd and the cameras.
I'm trying to be very explicit here in capturing the homoerotic foundations of the sport. Joyce Carol Oates, one of my favorite writers on boxing, has written about this better than I am doing here. But the way that fighters must obsess over their opponents, the way that they must abstain from sex leading up to fights, creates a kind of sexual energy in the ring that expresses itself through violence, yes, but also through, much of the time, a genuine fraternal admiration and love that grows between the two fighters, no matter who ends up in victory or defeat.
Going into this fight for the middleweight championship of the world, champion Nigel Benn and challenger Chris Eubank, both British, did not much like each other. Benn especially, who was known as an awesome puncher (a fact confirmed by his record--heading into this fight he was 27-1 with 25 knockouts), seemed to genuinely despise Eubank. Eubank entered this fight with a 24-0 record with 14 knockouts, but mostly against middling opposition. Benn was an 11-8 favorite, but Eubank confidently predicted he would knock Benn out in the first round. He believed this would happen not because he was a stronger puncher than Benn, but simply because he was a "boxer, not a puncher," which in boxing-speak is code for "I am smarter than you and you are going to lose because you are too dumb to understand this sport on the level I understand it."
Eubank has to be one of the most arrogant fighters in history. He loved to pose like a peacock for the cameras, often standing erect like a statue in the ring so that the crowd could admire his sculpted figure. In the lead-up to this fight he seems to have genuinely gotten under the skin of Benn, who truly wanted to rip him to pieces.
In the early parts of the fight, that anger seemed to neutralize Benn's natural advantages, as Benn tried to decapitate Eubank with furious combinations. But he was too tight, and Eubank won the first two rounds simply by dancing around the ring, landing sharp blows to Benn's face that caused his left eye to begin to swell.
By the third and fourth rounds, Benn became a more composed fighter, and we learn that Eubank has a remarkable chin, as Benn's punches that had leveled previous opponents did not seem to even daze Eubank who held his hands low despite Benn's reputation as a knockout artist. However, in the fourth round, Benn hit Eubank with a vicious uppercut that caused Eubank to bite his tongue so hard that it nearly ripped apart in his mouth. For the rest of the fight, Eubank managed to hide the injury from his corner and from the announcers by continually swallowing mouthfuls of his own blood. By this point, I had the fight even on my scorecard, with Eubank winning the first two rounds and Benn winning rounds 3 and 4.
In rounds 5 and 6, Eubank started sticking his chin out at Benn, a psychological maneuver designed to get Benn to load up on his punches. When a fighter loads up on his punches, it is easy to see them coming, and Eubank simply darted out of the way and hit Benn with crisp counters that won him those rounds.
But still Benn kept coming. He started targeting Eubank's midsection rather than his chin, and that began to slow Eubank down. In Round 8, Benn scored a knockdown with a body punch that only partially hit its target...Eubank was off-balance and that sent him down. He was not seriously hurt, but the 10-8 round put Benn up by one point on my scorecard heading into the 9th.
But despite pulling ahead on the scorecard, Benn was running out of time. The left eye that had begun to swell in the second round was now almost completely closed. Benn is not a slick boxer...he is a puncher who wins by coming forward. With his left eye closed, he had difficulty seeing Eubank's crisp combinations coming. Towards the end of the 9th round, Eubank hit Benn with a straight left followed by a right hand that caught Benn flush on the chin. Benn stumbled back to the ropes. Eubank pounced and battered Benn across the ring for another 20 seconds. With Benn unable to see the punches coming or to defend himself, referee Richard Steele stopped the fight with just a few seconds left in the round, making Eubank the new middleweight champion.
After the fight, Eubank told reporters that Benn had earned his admiration, and showed a humility in victory that he had never previously admitted. Benn "extended me like I have never been extended before," Eubank said. "He's an unbelievable puncher. He's earned my respect. He hit me with shots I never knew existed."
This is the best fight I've watched so far on this list. Given some of the fights that I know are coming up on this list, I feel I can say with confidence that it is ranked too low on this list.
A couple other notes:
Benn and Eubank would fight again in 1993, in a bout watched by an estimated 500 million people around the world. It ended in a split draw. Their rivalry did a great deal to elevate the sport of boxing in Britain, which today is arguably the capital of the boxing world. Funny thing is, the rematch was promoted by Don King, who put into the contract that both the winner and loser of the fight would sign with him for all future fights. But for some dumb reason, King didn't stipulate what would happen if the fight ended in a draw, and so in the end neither fighter joined Don King's promotional company, which was probably fortuitous for both of them.
Today, Benn and Eubank are friends, and Eubank's son, Chris Eubank Jr. is an excellent middleweight contender himself with a 29-2 record.
Here is the video of the fight: