The magnitude of this rematch between two of Britain’s best-ever boxing talents and personalities is not to be underestimated.
It eclipses the domestic scale and is regarded as one of biggest boxing events ever staged as 42,000 fans crammed into Old Trafford, Manchester while it is believed half a billion people watched on globally to see this personal, spiteful super-middleweight rivalry settled.
This rivalry needs no introduction; quite simply it is the best and most engaging rivalry in British boxing history – potentially beyond our shores too. The pair first met three years prior to this blockbuster, in November 1990 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham as Nigel Benn put his WBO middleweight championship on the line against the flamboyant Eubank, who had been calling for a clash with the Dark Destroyer for many years in the build-up.
In one of the most infamous press conferences, Benn declared he “did actually hate” Eubank, who managed to remain coy and insist he was only interested in the WBO title. Eubank managed to keep that cool head in the fight and pull off what most people considered to be an upset victory, after displaying a chin capable of withstanding some of Benn’s best shots, he managed to stop his bitter rival in the ninth round. Still heralded as a classic fight, referee Richard Steele would call it “the most dramatic fight I’ve ever refereed.”
Eubank would go on to defend his new title three times before vacating to fight Michael Watson for the WBO super middleweight title in an unfortunate contest which put Watson in a coma. Benn had also gone up in weight to Super Middleweight and was crowned the WBC champion after beating Mauro Galvano in Italy.
All roads led to a super middleweight unification bout, promoted by none other than Don King, where it was written into the contract that he would sign both the winner and the loser of the bout. There had not been a more anticipated fight in British boxing for a long time.
Chris Eubank was the first to make the monster ring walk across the Old Trafford pitch, coming out to his signature Simply the Best tune, flanked closely by his promoter Barry Hearn. Nigel Benn made his entrance after the iconic Big Ben chimes to a club tune which again showed the differences in taste between the two adversaries. Just before the first bell, both fighters postured towards each other from opposing corners, an iconic image in British boxing.
Predictably, Benn started the fight as the aggressor, the bitter loss three years ago still fresh in his memory, landing some ripping hooks to the body and you would have to award him the first round based off his work rate alone, although Eubank was far from troubled.
Eubank started the second much better, looking supremely focused, landing his own body shots and his supreme footwork was enough to evade Benn for the first half of the round. Benn did elicit some cheers from the crowd by landing a handful of left hooks to the head but Eubank still remained sharp. Eubank landed the shot of the fight in an otherwise quiet third round, a straight right hand which certainly shook Benn.
After a couple of low shots by either fighter, Benn landed his second low hook on Eubank and was lucky to escape without losing a point early in the fourth. That let-off seemed to galvanize Benn as he landed a heavy left hook and straight right combination which sent Eubank staggering back into the ropes – the best work of the fight so far. Benn finished the round strong too, marching forward as the fight really began to heat up after a tentative start.
The fifth round started in furious fashion, a real tear up between both men with Eubank getting the better of it, trapping Benn in the corner who unbelievably encouraged his opponent to keep pouring on the punishment. Both men were happy to exchange freely in the center of the ring, with mixed accuracy but the more composed work coming again from Eubank.
In the sixth, Benn was deducted a point for yet another low shot and you had the sense this could be vital in such a close fight which was going to come down to interpretation. Benn continued to try and walk Eubank down but with limited success and it was Eubank who landed the better combinations. Benn would find himself falling out of the ring towards the end of the round, but he carried on undeterred and finished the round strong, maybe just enough to steal the round (not counting the docked point).
After a scrappy seventh, the eighth was livelier with Benn yet again the more aggressive fighter, sending Eubank stumbling across the ring towards the end of the round. Benn really looked like the stronger finisher in the ninth, landing a wicked left hook as he continued to make Eubank miss who resorted to persistent holding.
Benn continued to impress in the tenth, landing a stinging left hook and there was a bit more calculated patience behind his approach than normal. Eubank remained ineffective on the whole despite being given the license to come forward by Benn. Eubank soon seemed to realise he had work to do as he came out far more aggressively in the penultimate round and he enjoyed his most success for a while as the pace may have caught up with Benn.
Both fighters felt like they needed to win the last round to take the fight and Benn started it better with a couple of ferocious flurries as fans were treated to the sort of action they were expecting throughout the whole fight. Eubank finished the round stronger, punishing Benn against the ropes with some spiteful body shots as both fighters celebrated when the bell rang to end proceedings.
My scorecard – Eubank 113 – 114 Benn
The official scorecard – A Draw
Nigel Benn certainly looked the more disappointed fighter out of the two as the decision was announced and I feel like he had reason to be. He was constantly on the front foot and he managed to put more punches together than Eubank, who was constantly made to miss and left frustrated by the Dark Destroyer. Benn did not hang around to give his interview as he was so upset with the decision.
In his post-fight assessment, Eubank admitted: “He was scoring with shots. I was expecting to knock him out but he isn’t the man I thought he was. I’m pleased to keep my unbeaten record and my championship. I haven’t got any complaints with a draw.”
Although most people seemed to agree Benn had edged it, the fight didn’t have the aura of being a robbery of such, probably due to the competitiveness of the rounds and the sheer disdain both fighters appeared to have for each other. Also, most people felt like the issue would be settled in an inevitable third and final bout between the pair.
In addition, a draw meant that both fighters evaded the clutches of Don King as that outcome was not included in the contract stipulation.
Nigel Benn would go on to make five successful defenses of his WBC super-middleweight title before losing it to Thulani Malinga in Newcastle, a city close to his heart after his spell in the British Army. He would then endure two back-to-back losses to WBO super middleweight champion Steve Collins which brought his career to an end.
Steve Collins had won that WBO title from Chris Eubank and Eubank would also go on to lose again to the Irishman. Eubank would continue his career a couple of years longer than Benn but would end it in similar fashion, with a loss to Joe Calzaghe and then back-to-back loses to Carl Thompson.
However, both Eubank and Benn couldn’t get out of each other’s shadows and despite their names almost becoming inseparable from one another’s, that trilogy fight did not materialize.
Incredibly, Eubank did go on to say he felt Benn did enough to win the rematch several years later, telling ITV’s Sport Life Stories: “Even though he hit me low and lost a point, he still did enough to win the fight. And a fighter knows.” A fascinating, honest admission that sums up the nature of this rivalry, as respectful as it is fierce and something I doubt we will ever see again.