1. September 21, 1991 – Chris Eubank KO 12 Michael Watson II, White Hart Lane, London, England
Just 91 days after Eubank scored a majority decision over Watson to retain his WBO middleweight title, they met again with the WBO super middleweight belt last held by Thomas Hearns at stake. More than a few observers believed Watson had done enough to beat Eubank the first time around and both men made their mutual contempt perfectly clear. The more than 18,000 that crowded into the home of the Tottenham Football Club were eager to see if the rematch would live up to the grudge fight billing.
While the first fight took several rounds to percolate, the second act produced instant action – and never let up. Watson, normally a thoughtful technical boxer, took the fight right to the 2-to-1 favorite and initiated bristling exchanges at point-blank range. His emotions spilled over after the opening round bell as he yelled in Eubank’s ear.
Eubank adjusted to his surroundings quickly, stunning Watson with a hook in round two. The man who called himself “Simply the Best” absorbed Watson’s punishment with aplomb and used his heavier hands to seize every opportunity Watson’s buzzsaw attack presented, much the same strategy he employed in chopping down Nigel Benn 10 months earlier. Meanwhile Watson, driven by vengeance, ambition and determination, smothered Eubank in darkness every time his opponent struggled to create daylight.
Watson knew Eubank was unaccustomed to fighting this hard for this long. By the seventh Eubank’s technique became ragged and during the rare clinches he tried to sneak in deep breaths. Still, he fought on and Watson, who was also feeling the pace, nevertheless piled on the pressure and punishment.
As the fight headed toward the championship causeway the intensity continued to escalate. A pair of rights in the 10th briefly stunned Eubank and a third hurt him momentarily. His left eye, initially cut in the fourth, also started to swell.
The 11th was electricity personified. Eubank, sensing the fight’s outcome still hung in the balance, produced a sudden mid-round explosion that had Watson badly hurt. The effort only served to deplete his gas tank and Watson had his reply ready and waiting. A blistering one-two instantly froze Eubank, then a curling right dropped him on all fours. Then came a most shocking turn: Seconds after rising at two, Eubank marched forward and blasted a right uppercut that propelled Watson backward, the back of his head striking the bottom rope. Watson arose at three but the bell saved him from further punishment – at least for the next 60 seconds.
The unseen damage quickly mounted inside Watson’s body and by the time he answered the bell for the final round he was descending into dangerous territory. Referee Roy Francis had to lead Watson to ring center for the ceremonial touching of gloves, after which Eubank fired 26 unanswered punches. That barrage against Watson’s corner pad was enough to end the contest with Watson still on his feet, but Watson’s battle was nowhere near over.
Watson slipped into unconsciousness and would undergo six brain surgeries and years of struggle before achieving an extraordinary recovery.
In 2003 he took part in the London Marathon, walking two hours each morning and afternoon for six days and sleeping in a support bus. Waiting for him at the finish line was Eubank, who by then had become friends with his old foe. Though their fight yielded a horrific result, their story ended in an equally inspirational triumph.
Photos / Getty Images Sport staff (Eubank and Watson in London Marathon by Paul Gilham)
Lee Groves, a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va., can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including a first-place for News Story in 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.