British Beef #6 - Chris Eubank v Nigel Benn
It was professional and it got very personal. And it will go down in sporting history as a rivalry that dominated front and back pages and crossed into celebrity culture. Nigel Benn were watched by millions and the split the nation in two, so what better way to close our British Beef?
Last Updated: 22/11/13 11:59am
Perhaps the best-known grudge to ever grip British boxing, these two super-middleweights, like George Groves and Carl Froch, just didn't like each other. In the ring they met twice in the early 90s, a halcyon period for the sport when the world watched on to see what Benn and Eubank would do next.
Out of the ring, their rivalry crossed over perfectly into a celebrity culture that was beginning to take shape and the bitter feud that would last for years was played out in the public spotlight.
Eubank could have started a fight in a phone box. Benn would've had it with his own reflection had it stared back at him long enough. They were both from the streets, both knew how to brawl, so from the moment a 10-0 Eubank began publicly calling out Benn - who had had twice as many fights and was the WBO world champion. The pair were on a collision course.
While their dislike was genuine and utterly personal - both had no problem respecting each other's boxing ability - their rivalry became more than that. Eubank - jodpurs and monocle, had made no secret of his disdain for the sport that brought him fame and fortune. "Boxing is a mug's game" were five words that immediately alienated him from his peers, Benn included. The Dark Destroyer, was the people's champion in comparison, a bristling, brawling representation of lads' culture that was starting to emerge in British society.
Benn took exception to Eubank's attitude and as soon as the fight was announced, he was flying the flag for boxers everywhere. The stage was set for a classic brains v brawn encounter, a class war that would divide a sporting nation. The contract for Who's Fooling Who, a fight for the WBO super-middleweight title was signed live on ITV's Midweek Sports Special, with both fighters and their managers on set. Throughout the show, Eubank sat with his back to Benn, who swivelled anxiously on his chair every time he spoke, his face tightening at every grandiose statement.
The host Nick Owen was not kidding when he said "there seems to genuine hatred here". Eubank, ever the gentleman, insisted there wasn't on his part and he was only interested in the WBO title. Benn happily went with form: "Personally I do hate him" and openly admits today that it was "100 per cent genuine".
The NEC in Birmingham would be where we all thought this score would be settled but already the lines had been drawn. Benn had the swell of public support in contrast to the preening, posturing Eubank, the pantomime villain who if he never did anything else in life, could always get a reaction. But Benn and his manager Ambrose Mendy were just as proactive, even cutting short Tina Turner's Simply the Best, to which Eubank strolled to the ring too as always.
He still vaulted the top rope, he still posed as usual through the pre-fight while Benn, wide-eyed and fit to burst, could not wait for the bell to sound, knowing full well his fists would have more of an effect on his enemy than his mouth ever could. A capacity crowd had reached fever pitch by the time the bell sounded, but surely the action itself could not match the animosity leading up to it?
The opening exchanges were understandably tense, neither wanting to make the first mistake yet both packing each punch with as much venom as they could muster. They barely bothered to sound each other out and went straight into an exchange of big shots that would cause serious damage on either side but also underline the fact that these were two of the best in the world.
A vicious uppercut in the fourth slammed Eubank's mouth shut, cutting his tongue almost in half and he was to spend the rest of the fight swallowing his own blood - even his biggest detractors could never question the man's bravery.
By the midway point, only one of Benn's eyes still bulged with adrenalin, the other was already half shut through swelling. Still he scored the first knockdown in the eighth, even if Eubank claimed a slip. The indignation of it all brought a brilliant response, not least at the bell when he pranced his way back to the corner.
Benn gained instant revenge by flooring Eubank in the ninth but just when it seemed the tide was turning his way, he was stunned by a three-punch salvo and as Eubank pummelled into a corner, Richard Steele had no choice but to step in and save him, from his own bravery as much as anything. Ever the showman with an eye - or a monacle - for the occasion, Eubank promptly and famously proposed to his girlfriend Karron, live on TV!
But no-one in the ring, or around it, none of the millions watching at home thought for a minute that was that. And true enough, this was only half-time. They went their separate ways for three full years, but would forever be linked. When Eubank moved up to super-middleweight - where he was the other man in the awful Michael Watson incident - Benn soon followed.
When the rematch came in 1993, it was a blockbuster in every sense. The pair were househould names in Britain and even appeared on an Evening With-style show, hosted by Jonathan Ross, with a celebrity audience asking the questions. They stood yards apart on platforms at either end of the stage. The respect was there from the first fight, but the ill-feeling would take a lot longer to die down. And the stakes had gone through the roof.
Benn says he was the first man to be paid £1million-plus for a British fight, Eubank pocketed a mere £850,000. His WBO and Benn's WBC super-middleweight titles were up for grabs, although it did not stop Eubank having WBC champion stitched into his shorts! He has since admitted their second meeting was more of an event than a fight, helped considerably more public wind-ups and very personal insults that began when Benn marched into the first press conference and just snapped: "I don't f****** like you".
The action, played out in front of a 42,000 crowd at Old Trafford was never going to match the first instalment but it was decent enough. Controversy though was never far away when these two were together. Benn, sure he had won, raised his hand at the end in triumph, convinced he had squared their rivalry up. The judges though, had different ideas and a draw was declared, to Benn's horror and the disbelief of plenty packed into the stadium. The scores of 115-113, 114-114, 113-115 are still debated by fight fans to this day, but showed that whatever they tried, these two could not be separated.
But even fuelled by indignation, there was an air of resignation about Benn once the dust had settled. It seemed whatever he tried he could not get the better of Eubank. And even the ever-flamboyant Eubank, who had every right to feel relieved, looked like the two titanic fights and years of bickering and back-biting had taken their toll.
A third match never really looked likely to happen and when Eubank signed up with Sky Sports and set off on his world tour, their rivalry slipped slowly but surely out of the spotlight. It says it all for their profiles that when they eventually made up, it was backstage at the Brit Awards. Benn was expecting a row, instead he got a big hug, they swapped numbers and after years of feuding, were on the phone to one another the next day!
But the sporting and celebrity culture was not finished with their grudge, even if they were. A documentary series called Clash of the Titans was released and the pair were tempted to sign up for Gladiator: Benn v Eubank, a 'gameshow' in which they would compete, Roman-style, in a series of physical confrontations. It meant time together and not surprisingly it bought all the old animosity back - even when dressed in period costume and going through a series of undignifying contests.
In the end, a neck injury to Eubank brought a premature end to to filming, just as they were getting ready for a Greco-Roman wrestle. Benn naturally felt his old foe was running scared, Eubank surprisingly happy to admit defeat, safe in the knowledge he would always have the upper hand where it mattered - in the ring.
They are now on friendly terms, full of respect and platitudes, knowing the pain they put each other through, if not bosom buddies. Theirs was a rivalry that not only gripped boxing, but Britain itself, and even as the animosity ebbs away with age, you sense it would never take much to get them at it again.
These were two big personalities that just clashed, rubbed each other up the wrongest of ways. We were fortunate to witness it, they could do nothing but play it out in public and history will always set their grudge apart from the rest.