Wednesday 20 September 2017

Eubank's touching tale reveals boxing's true lies

Flashback to September 1991: Chris Eubank celebrates his victory against Michael Watson in their WBO Middleweight title fight
Flashback to September 1991: Chris Eubank celebrates his victory against Michael Watson in their WBO Middleweight title fight
Ruby Walsh riding Hurricane Fly to win The Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown racecourse
Jamie Heaslip's decision to stay at Leinster could deter French clubs from targeting other Irish players
West Bromwich Albion's Nicolas Anelka

Michael Watson locked Chris Eubank in a warm embrace, their ruinous past now the glue that made them "brothers".

The affection was unmistakable. "Chrissy," shrieked Watson loudly, his voice carrying that gentle slur of damage inflicted almost quarter of a century ago by Eubank's fists. Watching, you got the feeling that – in very different ways – boxing had been unforgivably cruel to both.

ITV's 'Sports Life Stories' on Tuesday night focused on Eubank, the self-styled intellectual 'dandy' of the '90s, a super-middleweight whose pre-fight theatrics made him what one TV commentator described as "the most unpopular world champion in the history of British boxing."

It was a beautifully filmed documentary, throwing an ambivalent light on the cartoon hatreds that once made these men billboard giants.

They fought two utterly brutal fights, the second of which Watson looked to be winning comfortably at White Hart Lane in September of '91. Finding himself on the canvas late in the 11th round, Eubank recalled: "I didn't get up to fight, I got up to act."

And then? "I walked forward and ... and I threw a shot."

That "shot" would almost kill Michael Watson and, ultimately, expose a sport haplessly ill-prepared for the crisis of a catastrophically-injured man, slumped motionless in his corner. Watson won damages against the British Boxing Board of Control for their failure to provide even the most rudimentary of medical care and he would spend the next six years in a wheelchair.

On Tuesday night, he said of Eubank – a man he'd once threatened to "destroy" – "I love Chris as a brother. It wasn't done intentionally. It wasn't Chris' fault."

Eubank was also filmed in warm embrace with Nigel Benn, another opponent he fought two vicious fights against and a man who once spoke of "hate" in their rivalry. Benn, too, now seemed to understand the fundamental lie of their past existence.

"You had your image, I had mine" he smiled. "And we worked the crowd."

"Perfectly," agreed Eubank.

That the programme carried no contribution from Steve Collins seemed a pity. Collins was the fourth key figure in that '90s narrative. The Dubliner who, according to Eubank's manager Barry Hearn, "screwed his head up" by convincing him he had been hypnotised not to feel pain.

Collins beat him twice, effectively ending the top-flight career of a boxer who had always referred to his sport as "a mugs' game." Eubank did make an ill-advised comeback in '98, discovering – perversely – that the public liked him better as a brave loser.

"In '91, didn't I show this heart?" he smiled on the programme. "But you only recognised it when I actually lost. Strange, but wonderful."

Eubank's clear disdain for a "barbaric" sport that his own son is now trying to enter cried out for the counterpoint of Collins who last year, just 18 months short of his 50th birthday, was talking of a comeback.

You were left with a sense that the drug of the fight game simply does different things to different people, the key is not letting it ruin you.

Eubank's way was to create an almost fictional persona. "When it's fight-time, Hyde comes out," he was filmed smiling to camera. "And he is strange and he is eccentric.

"Mister Jekyll here, I can't do anything about that!"

Hurricane Fly can become a legend at Festival

Hurricane Fly is becoming the kind of horse they write songs about and any disciples of National Hunt with real romance in their hearts will hope to see the cantankerous old champion go to Cheltenham in March as Champion Hurdle favourite.

For that to happen, he must again see off those brazen, young home pretenders, Our Conor and Jezki, in another Leopardstown shootout tomorrow. The English have declined an invitation to take a swing, keen – presumably – not to have their noses bloodied this side of the Festival.

They're waiting for 'The Fly' to grow old. But that's just not happening.

With two to jump in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas, this column considered him a beaten horse until the realisation began to slowly dawn that we were merely witnessing another masterclass in the sublime horsemanship of Ruby Walsh.

And you have to suspect that therein lies the essential problem for all those now looking for his scalp. Firstly, you have a remarkable 10-year-old gelding which looks, implausibly, to be improving. Secondly, he happens to have Ruby in the stirrups.

It must feel like giving Usain Bolt a 10-yard start.

Right now, Tuesday, March 11 is brewing as the Festival's day of days, the Champion Hurdle as its marquee race. If 'The Fly' comes up that hill at the front they may start commissioning the statue.

Snubbed french clubs won't get fooled again

Now that Jamie Heaslip has put pen to paper on another three years with Leinster, could you honestly blame Top 14 clubs taking a jaundiced view of Irish players' agents tossing covetous eyes in their direction?

Jonathan Sexton apart, all French efforts to recruit Ireland players have now come to nought, no doubt triggering a suspicion that they have been used simply as bargaining tools in an increasingly pinched market.

The IRFU deserve credit for their negotiation skills, given the clear financial imbalance between contracts available in Ireland and in France. Keeping the best players at home is clearly the preferable option for Irish rugby.

Next season, 10 full Welsh internationals will play in the Top 14. Sexton, alone, will be Ireland's representative. This says a great deal about the disparate health of the professional game in these two countries.

But it also tells you that, next time a slew of Irish contracts come up for re-negotiation, the Mourad Boudjellals of this world are unlikely to be taking calls.

Anelka is clearly showing signs of stupidity

Nicolas Anelka protests that he is not anti-Semitic and that his use of the so-called 'quenelle gesture' after scoring against West Ham was, instead, some harmlessly vague anarchic salute.

So let's, for a moment, give him the benefit of that doubt then.

The Frenchman has a problem, he suggests, with what is loosely termed "the system", rather than Jews.

Just one issue with that.

You are paid £50,000 a week to score goals for West Brom and, three and a half months and 21 games into the season, you finally get your first. And your immediate instinct is to deliver some odd message of unity with the common man?

Anelka may or may not be anti-Semitic, but he is clearly congenitally stupid.

Irish Independent

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