It is 17 years ago today since two-division former champion Steve Collins' last fight. The Cabra, Ireland-born fighter stopped Craig Cummings in three rounds in what was to be his seventh and final defense of the WBO super middleweight crown. A bout with future Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe was proposed for the fall of 1997 but never came to pass.
"Joe wasn't even heard of then," Collins told RingTV.com from near his home in St. Albans, England "I had one fight left and it was against Roy Jones Jr. There was nowhere to go because the big names were beaten or retired.
"I'd reached a stage of my career where I'd won everything beyond what I'd anticipated, made quite a lot of money and there was no one left to fight. There was a whole trust of up and coming young guys the Robin Reids, the Joes, loads of them, and they were all chomping at the bit to move in and there was nowhere else for me to go other than Jones or retirement."
Looking back, "The Celtic Warrior" has no regrets about not facing the Welshman.
"No, because if that fight had happened he would have been just another guy that I beat and he'd probably never have achieved what he achieved,” Collins said."Five years later he was the man to fight, but then he was just another contender, which is a shame for him because if he had come around five years earlier he could have mixed with the big names.
"If you don't believe you're the best in your time and in any time you don't really have the confidence to go all the way. I believe I would have beat anyone put in front of me. The arrogance you have to have – you can't have any doubts."
Collins would box twelve rounds for the first time, taking home the belt after scoring a unanimous decision, though had to suffer the ignominy of getting off the canvas.
After beating future three-time world title challenger Tony Thornton, Collins found himself challenging for a version of the world title when he met Mike McCallum in early 1990.
"He was the best middleweight of his time," said Collins. "Sugar Ray Leonard was always stating in public he wouldn't fight him because he was good enough to beat any of us (The Fabulous Four: Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Hagler) but there was no money in the fight. So therefore he didn't want the fight.
"For me I only had 16, 17 fights under my belt, I was USBA champion [and] I was a raw novice but I was of the attitude and belief I can beat anyone. I think it was bad management for me to accept that fight against such an accomplished and experienced fighter, but in hindsight it was probably the best thing to happen to me because I proved I belonged at that level and I thought I won the fight. It was a good lesson for me in boxing and established me as a genuine contender."
Collins met Reggie Johnson and lost a razor-thin majority decision.
"I thought I did enough to win," he said, "but by that stage I'd outgrown the middleweight division.
"I was weak. As an amateur I fought internationally at light heavyweight. I was getting older and I was a ranked middleweight and I wanted to remain there. It got [to] the stage where I couldn't stand toe to toe with guys and I couldn't push them back. I always felt weaker than them. Fights against tough guys, I just didn't have anything in reserve to impose myself on them."
Collins came up short in his next fight as well, against seasoned veteran Sumbu Kalumbay in Italy for the European title.
"Similar to Reggie Johnson, close fight, could have went the other way. I didn't have the imposing strength I should have had. It wasn't my day,” said Collins.
Collins aligned himself with Barry Hearn's Matchroom and took to the road, winning six fights. Only one lasted the distance, setting up a WBO middleweight title shot at newly minted Chris Pyatt. It wasn't an opportunity the Irishman was going to let pass.
"I know Chris, I'd sparred him in the past," said Collins. "Chris was a light middleweight, big welterweight, I was a boiled-down super middleweight. To be perfectly honest with you, if Chris had jumped on me he'd have pushed me around. He could have manhandled me – I was so weak.
"I knew it was my last fight at middleweight but I took it because it was a world title fight. I knew I was big enough and powerful enough that if could catch him I'd knock him out because I couldn't fight twelve hard rounds."
The fight took place on St. Patrick's Day 1995 at The Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, Ireland. Collins thrived on the occasion, using mind games to psych out his adversary.
"You study your opponents, you get to know them physically and mentally. You find out where their weaknesses are,” said the cerebral Irishman. “I knew what Eubank was all about. I knew he was about mind games. I said if I can take the mind games from him, take that advantage away, it's then down to two guys fighting and I know I've got more experience and knowledge than him and I can beat him. So I took away that advantage and feeling of control.
"At the weigh-in I told him I was hypnotized and I was gonna knock him out. I kept going through all different mantras and he thought I was behaving very weird. It unnerved him, and then I said if you don't believe me talk to the hypnotist. I left the room and he started asking what's going on and he (the hypnotist) told him (Eubank) Steve will be punching harder than ever, he'll be stronger than ever before, he wont feel pain, if he cuts he won't bleed. It totally scared him and blew him away. He didn't want to fight.
"It was great but I still had to fight him. At the end of the day he's a warrior, he'll dig down deep. He hit me thirty seconds in and I thought, “That hurt! (laughs) I do feel pain."
“It was St Patrick's Day weekend. It's very spiritual in Ireland and it was way out in the west of Ireland, the weather's cold, he was the only black guy in the area. It was my ground, my territory, my rules, plus I always believed I had the mindset, experience and knowledge to beat him," said Collins.
The two met in an eagerly anticipated rematch six months later. Collins repeated the trick, winning another close contest, this time taking a split decision.
"Totally different fight,” said Collins on the rematch. “The first fight I boxed very clever. The second fight I jumped on him and harassed him in a controlled way. I realized there's no tricks, I played my trump card [in the first fight]. This time I'm going to do something totally unexpected, give him angles and jump all over him and upset him in everyway I can. He's very tough, you won't knock him out. He's very durable and he hits very hard. I've never trained as hard in my life as I did in that fight and it paid off."
"The Nigel Benn fight was the one fight for me at home before I went back to the states because Eubank and Benn were naturals. Outside of those it was Roy Jones."
When asked if perhaps Nigel Benn had seen better days, the Irishman retorted, “He didn't hit you with a left hook. I know Nigel personally and Nigel only hits one way and that's hard. People say that because they're jealous and begrudging.”
Collins remained active but unable to coax his only significant rival at super middleweight, Jones, into a meeting before bidding farewell to boxing with a record of 36-3 with 21 stoppages.
"It's the media, I have absolutely no interest in boxing," he said.
His son, Steve Jr., is at the fledgling stage of his own career. A rugby player, he decided to try fighting and found he was a natural, and so gave up the sport to pursue his boxing dreams.
Collins is an active member of St. Albans Polo Club http://www.stalbanspoloclub.co.uk/ which also helps him do various charity work.