Lee Groves

10: Eligible Fighters Not on IBHOF Ballot

Chris Eubank, 1985-1998, 45-5-2 (23 KOs)

Titles: WBO middleweight (November 18, 1990-June 22, 1991, vacated), WBO super middleweight (September 21, 1991-March 18, 1995)

First Full Year of IBHOF Eligibility: 2004

To his supporters, the man nicknamed “Simply The Best” was confident, charismatic and unconventional while his detractors called him arrogant, elitist and pompous. No matter how fans and media perceived him, Eubank’s showmanship was first rate. His over-the-top ring entrances and peacock-like posturing injected fresh life into the fight game and he backed it up with excellent skill, enviable composure and extensive success at the sport’s highest levels.

Of course, Eubank’s inclusion on this list could be rendered moot. This past Saturday, the 45-year-old Eubank hinted at a ring return so he could fight Benn a third time on the same bill as his son, 4-0 (2) middleweight Chris Jr. The moment Eubank steps inside the ring, his theoretical eligibility clock resets to zero, as would Benn’s.

Points In His Favor: Like arch-rival Benn – who he stopped in a titanic title tilt in 1990 – Eubank’s  time as WBO middleweight champion was relatively brief (three defenses over seven months) while his tenure at super middleweight establishes the foundation for potential nomination. His 14 defenses over three-and-a-half years rates third on the division’s all-time list and his best victories came against Michael Watson (an ill-fated off-the-floor KO 12) and decisions over future champs Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga and Graciano Rocchigiani, perennial contenders Lindell Holmes, Tony Thornton, Ron Essett and Juan Carlos Gimenez as well as once-beaten Henry Wharton.

Following two defeats to Steve Collins and a failed attempt to regain his vacant WBO 168-pound belt against Calzaghe, Eubank nearly pulled off a then-unprecedented feat – a title jump from super middleweight to cruiserweight (James Toney later achieved it against Vassiliy Jirov). In April 1998 Eubank dropped the much larger defending champion Carl Thompson in round four only to lose a narrow unanimous decision. Because the first fight was a certified cruiserweight classic, the pair met again just three months later. Eubank led on two of the three cards after nine rounds but the ringside physician stopped the fight because Eubank’s left eye had slammed shut. Still, his unlikely and impressive effort mitigated any negative effects on his legacy.

What Hurts His Cause: More than a few of Eubank’s victories at 160 and 168 were perceived to be judicial gifts. Many believed Watson deserved the nod in their first encounter at 160, and felt similarly about his fights against Malinga, Dan Schommer, Ray Close (both the draw and the rematch decision) and Nigel Benn (the rematch draw).

By fighting only as hard as necessary to squeak by, he also courted disaster against Graciano Rocchigiani in Germany (he won by one and two points on two cards), Benn in fight one (Eubank trailed by one point on two cards) and Watson in fight two (he was behind by one, three and six points entering the final round). What made it all the more frustrating for fans was that when Eubank decided to crank up the volume he was capable of producing enormously entertaining action.

Finally, Eubank had more than a few battles with the media and like fellow showman Hamed his ring persona may work against him with a sizable portion of the IBHOF voting electorate.

Other names to consider (first eligible year in parenthesis):Koichi Wajima (1983), Luis Estaba (1984), Alfredo Escalera (1989), Prince Charles Williams (2002), Julian Jackson (2004), Orzubek Nazarov (2004), Juan Martin Coggi (2005), Raul Perez (2006), Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson (2008), Jorge Paez (2009), Vuyani Bungu (2011), Saman Sorjaturong (2011), Johnny Nelson (2011), Masamori Tokuyama (2012), Tim Austin (2012), Gianfranco Rosi (2012).

 

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Photo / John Gichigi-Getty Images

Lee Groves, a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va., can be emailed at l.groves@frontier.com. 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.

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