Chris Eubank still in love with Irish fans
When Chris Eubank swaggers to ringside tonight at the Odyssey Arena he will embrace the autograph hunters, the pantomime boos and the large cheers with all the confidence and self satisfaction of a Roman Emperor preparing to address his army.
That was how he approached the scene of battle on the night of May 21, 1994, embracing a raucous King's Hall as his signature tune, ‘Simply The Best’ rang out while Belfast's Ray Close waited patiently for the second opportunity to take away his WBO super-middleweight belt.
Just 12 months earlier they had boxed a controversial draw in Glasgow but on this night the Eubank show turned back the challenge of Close and vociferous support for the local hero. He was the villain once more but he left with a long standing respect for Close and Belfast, which was compounded in 2005 when he came along to watch the comeback of WBU champion Eamonn Magee.
“I walked into the arena and they gave me a standing ovation, it was incredible. It made me stop and think, this is why I fought, this is why I got off the canvas. That moment will stay with me forever. The Irish people are a people who understand fair play, they respect the talented, the standard bearer,” said Eubank, who returns to Belfast to watch unbeaten son Chris jnr on the supporting bill to Tyson Fury’s battle with Kevin Johnson in their World heavyweight title eliminator.
“When I fought Ray Close it was a unique, special atmosphere. I was the champion coming to face the Irishman in his own back yard, the Englishman coming to conquer. I was the braggart and it wasn't that it was hostile, they just adored to hate me.
“Some would say I was the pantomime villain, I wouldn't use the word pantomime because that's not how I saw myself, but yes the fans loved me as the villain, they enjoyed it as if they were part of a movie.”
At that time Eubank was at his celebrity peak, the man fans loved to hate, but the 46-year-old admits he feared a more sinister threat when coming to Belfast, so he donned a bullet-proof vest to enter the ring.
“The truth is the media made a lot of me, built me into something I wasn't, but I will always be eternally grateful to them because they made me into a star. I was reading in the tabloids about what was happening in Northern Ireland and I had myself believing that there was a chance I could be shot because of the Troubles so I wore the vest,” added Eubank who found Close a worthy warrior.
“Close had a very big heart, his heart was of the highest calibre. He was in the pursuit of success, to stamp his name on the warrior stage, he was fierce, he had an enthusiasm that meant he never stopped.
“However his heart and spirit was twice as big as his ability, his desire was irresistible and I admired that, only a handful of fighters have that same spirit.
“When a man loses, it's not that he loses but the way in which he loses. Ray lost to me but he had given his all and unfortunately for him I had the measure of him.
“He had more fortitude than Nigel Benn, more spirit, and the justification I have for saying that is that Ray was never known throughout his career to give up. However the same cannot be said of Nigel Benn, you saw that in the fights with (Steve) Collins.
“However, Nigel Benn's abilities together with his spirit were superior to Ray, when he brought the two together.”
Benn and Eubank brought out the best in each other as did Michael Watson, who almost died following their 1991 brutal encounter.
Knowing how savage the ring can be, does the former champion have any concern as he watches his son?
“I have no concerns about him because he is true, he has integrity and when you have integrity you can cut through the division like a knife through butter. His gears will take him to the top … his second gear is the fourth gear of the other British middleweights. I’m not speaking as a father, I’m speaking as a former practitioner of the sport and I know that he can go on and become not just a world champion but an undisputed world champion.”
And Chris, who faces former Commonwealth champion Bradley Pryce, isn’t the only Eubank following in dad’s footsteps as Sebastian is also making waves in the amateurs.
The Eubank show continues and he’s loving it.