Collins rejects claims he was a broken man
WORLD champion boxer Steve Collins yesterday in the High Court strongly disputed claims that he was a broken man when he joined the stable of promoter and manager Barry Hearn in early 1993.
His counsel Colm Allen put it to the boxer that it had been claimed he had been in a deep trough and had arrived abjectly at the Hearn stable a broken Stephen Collins.
``I would disagree. Things had not gone well but I was never broken or distraught. I knew I had the potential to be a world champion,'' Collins said in the witness box.
Yesterday was the eighth day of the action in which Mr Hearn and his company Matchroom Boxing Ltd are suing Mr Collins for alleged breach of a management agreement. The boxer denies the claim.
Mr Hearn claims Mr Collins entered negotiations with rival promoter Frank Warren after his win over Chris Eubank at Millstreet in March 1995 and later signed an agreement with Warren.
Giving evidence for the first time in the case yesterday Collins said that at the time he arrived at the Hearn stable he was still highly regarded in the boxing world.
Mr Allen put it to the witness that Mr Hearn said he was ``valueless'' as a boxer at the time.
``Those words were very strong. I would not have used them. They were not a fair description of me. In 1993 I was in the top ten in the world rankings. To become a top ten fighter you must have some ability. I was recognised as someone who was definitely a world class fighter. To say that I was valueless was untrue.''
Collins said he contacted a number of promoters in October/November 1992 after he had split amicably with promoter Barney Eastwood. He had parted with him because he wanted to further his career.
``I believed he was the man who could further my career,'' Collins said of Hearn.
``Mr Hearn was very strong on television. He had a contract with ITV and later on Sky. He was a man who was a busy promoter with TV exposure who I believed was the best man to go to at the time.
``I was still ranked in the top ten of all the world boxing organisations. I was still the number one middleweight in Europe. Many managers and promoters would have been interested in taking over my career.''
Collins then recalled a fight, after his return to Ireland, against a US opponent in Dublin's National Stadium. He dispatched him in three rounds.
``It was my first chance to fight in a Dublin venue. It was sold out and I was thrilled with the reception I got.''
Collins counsel put it to him that Mr Hearn had claimed he could not put ``bums on seats''.
``I was packing them in in Boston and Dublin and I got a great reception in Belfast, which was more or less an extension of Dublin. I also fought in France,'' Collins said.
Later he fought for the vacant World Boxing Association (WBA) title in New Jersey and lost on a split decision to Reggie Johnson.
``I was very upset about that result. Myself and everyone present believed I had won but due to the politics of boxing I didn't get the decision in a fight I should have got it in,'' Collins said.
Afterwards he was chosen by the European Boxing Union as its number one contender and fought Sumbu Kalambay in northern Italy in a world title fight. ``I lost on a split decision. I believed I had won the fight,'' Collins said.
``He (Kalambay) was a world champion who had beaten some of the best champions around. He was a hero in Italy.''
His contract with Eastwood then expired.
``I parted with Eastwood on amicable terms. I wanted to further my career and needed someone who was well connected in boxing, someone with exposure to TV contracts. To this day I am on good terms with Mr Eastwood.''
In January, 1993 he went to Barry Hearn in Romford, Essex. He remained there training from Monday to Friday, returning home to Dublin at the weekends.
During this time he paid for his own plane and train fares, food and laundry, and had difficulty in seeing where the figure of £181,000 submitted by Mr Hearn for management expenses had come from.
It was totally untrue for Hearn to say that he (Collins) expected everything to be provided for nothing or that he was an ingrate who bit the hand that fed him. Anybody who knew him, Collins said, would know that this was not the sort of person he was.
He did accept he was given cash advances but these were repaid out of the purse monies he received for his fights.
During meetings he had with Hearn in early 1993 the question of a contract arose but Hearn said there was no need if any fighter was unhappy, the door was open and he could leave at any time.
He started training with Freddie King straight away and they got on well together. He had no problem with King training other boxers simultaneously. After winning a series of fights he fought Chris Pyatt in May, 1994 for the WBO world middleweight championship. Pyatt had left Hearn for another manager, Frank Warren.
On May 9, 1994, two days before the Pyatt fight, he and Hearn signed a contract. They were the sole parties to the deal. The contract was conditional on he (Collins) winning his fight against Pyatt. A clause inserted in the contract by his (Collin's) solicitor stipulated that no action be undertaken by the manager which might be in conflict with his duties to the boxer.
Two days later he beat Pyatt in Sheffield and his lifelong ambition to become a world boxing champion was fulfilled. Hearn was absolutely delighted with the victory for it meant the title was coming back to the Hearn fold.
Collins said after the Pyatt victory, he was hungry to fight. He wanted as many defences of his title as possible. He would have fought anywhere. A fight was arranged for him in Hong Kong in October 23, 1994 but it was called off at the last moment for what the promoters said were financial resons.
This made him frustrated. He thought more could have been done for him and more fights organised. He felt was not getting the same treatment as other boxers in the Hearn camp such as Chris Eubank or Herbie Hyde.
Seeking to amend his side's reply to the defence, Paul Gallagher SC, for Mr Hearn, said it seemed to be alleged that there was a conflict of interest at the time the management agreement was entered into in May, 1994.
Mr Gallagher said Mr Collins could not allege that Mr Hearn's involvement with Chris Eubank to be a breach of contract when at the time of the making of the contract he knew of Hearn's and Matchroom's involvement with Eubank.
Mr Justice O'Sullivan adjourned the case until today when he will rule on the issue and Mr Collins is due to continue giving his evidence.