Tom Gray

Froch-Groves reminiscent of UK’s super middleweight glory days

Oct. 9, 1993 – Nigel Benn Draw 12 Chris Eubank, Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England

Many a great fighter has thrown punches on British soil. Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Marvelous Marvin Hagler all ventured to the UK for paid work, but the unification rematch between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn could rival any of those occasions for hype.

The venue was an outdoor soccer stadium and a capacity crowd of 42,000, as well as an astonishing global television audience, estimated at 500 million, watched the action unfold. Prior to the free to air British broadcast a one-hour primetime feature called “The Best of Enemies” was attended by a spate of television and boxing luminaries and set the stage for a super fight that was three years in the making.

Eubank had scored an electrifying ninth-round stoppage of Benn in November 1990 to claim the WBO middleweight title, but the bad blood between the pair continued to simmer. When Eubank moved north to 168 pounds he won the WBO championship in his fateful bout with Watson but, a year later, was put on notice by Benn, who annexed the WBC version by dethroning Mauro Galvano.

A rematch was as natural as the change of seasons.

“I went home and cried for months,” said Benn recalling the first fight. “I asked myself, where did I go wrong? At the end of the day Eubank prepared like the champion, and I didn’t, so I paid the price – badly. Now, I’ve waited three years, and I’m ready for him.”

Eubank, for once understated, said simply, “He can’t win, and I can’t lose.”

Both men were cautious in the first three rounds but Benn broke through in the fourth with a busting right hand to the jaw. Eubank staggered momentarily but his concrete chin seemed impenetrable, even against a powerful knockout artist like Benn, and he recovered his poise and shape in a matter of seconds.

Eubank upped the pace in round five and struck Benn with a quick combination, but “The Dark Destroyer” responded furiously and motioned for his rival to bring more of the same. Benn by this point in his career had firmly established himself as the ultimate wounded lion and Eubank, who respected that reputation immensely, backed off.

Still, Benn remained far more disciplined than he was in the first fight. The WBC titlist moved his head adeptly and launched fierce uppercuts and body shots on the counter. In one such exchange, however, Benn was docked a point by referee Larry O’Connell and the deduction would prove pivotal in terms of the result.

“Simply the Best” had been far from his best over the first half of the fight but, displaying the heart of a champion, he roared back at Benn from the midway point. Never one to appreciate a fast pace, Eubank defied convention and released dozens of punches in Benn’s direction, forcing his adversary to battle for every scrap of success.

In the 10th Benn landed a superb left hook lead, arguably the best punch of the fight, and the blow had an immediate effect. Benn followed up but Eubank, as always, recovered fully and matched his rival punch for punch as the championship rounds approached.

Benn came out blazing again in the 11th but Eubank was absorbing or deflecting the incoming and firing back with equal fury. Neither man could seize the advantage but Benn had to absorb a quality left hook from Eubank, before biting down on his mouth piece and trading fire with fire.

It all came down to the last round and both traded words as well as punches. Benn took the first minute with a volley of sustained combinations that had Eubank reeling along the ropes. Eubank’s balance, never a strong point, was very poor but he kept pumping out the work and ringside opinion was split on the outcome.

The official verdict was a split decision draw; 115-113 Eubank, 115-113 Benn and 114-114. If Benn hadn’t been deducted a point in the sixth, he would have been unified WBC/ WBO champion.

“The Dark Destroyer” was aghast and left the ring immediately after the decision was announced, but over time his ill feeling dissipated. He had proven that he could match his longtime rival, retained his title and, in an ironic twist, both he and Eubank avoided a contractual obligation to fight for Don King, who had co-promoted the event with Frank Warren.

The paperwork for the rematch had included a requirement for winner and loser to appear on a Don King show but, unfortunately for the controversial promoter, there were no obligations for either man if the bout ended in a tie. King, who had been looking towards another unification match with IBF titlist Michael Nunn, was frozen out and far from happy.

A third fight between Benn and Eubank was discussed for months, but both men invariably went in opposite directions. Years after their respective retirements they became friends and the bad blood which fueled immense sporting occasions was replaced with a mutual respect that can only be shared between fighters of their quality.

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