Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank: Britain's best domestic rivalry

Planet Sport takes an in-depth look at the feud between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank during the 1990s.

Britain's status as a top boxing nation is demonstrated by some of its greatest domestic rivalries. 

Carl Froch and George Groves met twice at super middleweight between 2013 and 2014, encapsulating the nation with their war of words. Froch ultimately beat his rival on both occasions - and he doesn’t want fans to forget it.

At heavyweight, Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis garnered public attention in the 1990s. Bruno got the ball rolling by claiming Lewis 'wasn't British' for representing Canada at the Olympics. Lewis ultimately had the final say with a TKO victory in their world title bout.

But arguably the most bitter, and in turn entertaining, domestic rivalry from UK shores involved Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.

The pair were two of the biggest names in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions during the 1990s. They met twice in the ring, with the build-up to their first fight in particular causing a stir.

Here, Planet Sport takes a look at their rivalry and two fights which shaped their careers.

Background and Boxing Rise

Eubank is an enigma in the boxing world. One of the most intriguing fighters of all-time, he had no trouble nicknaming himself 'Simply the Best'.

Eubank seems to pride himself on his gentleman-like style, which relies on impeccable suits and a well-spoken tone. But his upbringing could not be further from that representation.

Born in Dulwich, South London, Eubank spent most of his early years in Jamaica. He returned to England at age six and soon became part of the care system. His school life was affected by suspensions and expulsions.

When he turned 16, he moved to New York to be with his mother. Eubank attributes much of his resilience to this spell across the pond, where he resided in the tough South Bronx area.

It was here where he fell in love with boxing. Training out of the Jerome Boxing Club, he made his pro debut in October 1985. He amassed a devastating unbeaten record to set himself up for a shot at the WBC international middleweight title. After winning the belt in 1990 and defending it on multiple occasions, he targeted a bout against world champion Benn.

In contrast, Benn was brought up in a loving household in Essex. He was sent off the rails by the death of an older brother, forcing him to join the armed forces as an 18-year-old to change his ways. This was where he realised his knockout potential. He won numerous titles in the army and even fought at heavyweight.

Benn joined West Ham's Amateur Boxing Club after leaving the army and turned pro in 1987. He picked up a strong unbeaten record before losing his Commonwealth middleweight title to Michael Watson. He got his career back on track with a WBO world title victory over Doug DeWitt in America in 1990.

Call-outs and Start of Rivalry

Their feud began with Eubank calling out Benn and insulting him during interviews, despite being a step below his level.

Eubank looked down on Benn, as if he were too good for his rival. He referred to himself as a 'society brain', while claiming his opponent had a 'street brain'.

Benn, nicknamed 'The Dark Destroyer', noted his compatriot's behaviour: "What annoyed me most was the way he looked down his nose at everybody. He thought he was a different class."

It therefore became pivotal to Benn's training that he would bring Eubank down a peg or two.

'The Dark Destroyer' was the more experienced of the two ahead of their first fight and aimed to use this to his advantage.

He said at the contract signing: "He's all hype and I can't wait to give him a good hiding. Now you're with the big boys, I'm there already. He's got to prove himself, not me."

Eubank refused to even face his opponent, claiming he would do the talking in the ring.

He added: "I find the man intolerable, he's wild. I have no time for such people."

Benn v Eubank I

They finally fought on November 18 1990, at the NEC in Birmingham.

It got off to an electric start as both men went straight for power punches. Eubank was looking to frustrate his opponent with his languid, unorthodox style.

Eubank's chin got tested in the second as he survived a solid hook from Benn. He replied with his own combination, forcing 'The Dark Destroyer' against the ropes. 

The fight continued to be evenly matched over the next few rounds. A few big right hands from Eubank in the fourth caused some swelling on Benn's eye. It proved to be a problem for him as he got caught more often in the following round.

By the seventh, Eubank had grown in confidence and started to get the edge. He caught his opponent with some swift combinations before escaping without reply. However, Benn still remained in the contest.

Round eight saw Benn score a knockdown, although Eubank protested by calling it a slip. The crowd sensed a knockout and began chants of 'Nigel'.

Things came to an end in the ninth. 'Simply the best' threw a stunning right-left combination which stunned Benn, before following it up with a left hook. Benn tried to carry on but looked out on his feet, forcing the referee to wave off the contest.

Aftermath

Victory saw Eubank crowned as a world champion for the first time, stealing Benn's WBO middleweight crown. He defended the strap on three occasions before moving up a division.

His first fight at super middleweight was against Michael Watson, who had beaten Benn in 1989. He won the WBO belt via TKO to make himself a two-weight world champion although tragic circumstances followed for Watson.

Eubank defended the title six times before being held to a draw in May 1993. His rivalry with Benn remained and Britain sensed a rematch was in the offing.

Benn, meanwhile, recovered from the defeat with multiple victories. He also stepped up to 168 pounds and won the WBC world championship against Mauro Galvano, which he would take into the Eubank rematch.

Benn v Eubank II

After plenty of hype, the rematch was eventually settled. It took place on October 9, 1993, in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford. Over 42,000 fans packed into the arena with the hope of seeing another great fight.

Such was the excitement over the bout that a reported 500 million people watched it around the globe.

Benn's WBC belt was on the line, as was Eubank's WBO version. The media build-up was once again entertaining, with Eubank saying: "I don't mean to be impolite Nigel but I've always thought you were a fraud."

I 'can't stand' his adversary's cocky nature, Benn said in reply.

It was cagey from the start this time around as both fighters settled into the occasion. Eubank landed the more telling shots in the second but soon got caught with a big right hand, forcing him backwards.

By the end of the fourth it was clear that both fighters were more reserved than in their first meeting, perhaps not wanting to risk an early knockout.

The bout sparked into life in the fifth as both fighters went searching. Exchanges involved big shots and immediate replies from the pair, with Eubank seemingly getting the better of Benn. The end of the fifth received huge applause from the crowd.

Nigel Benn was looking to avenge his defeat to Chris Eubank at Old Trafford
Nigel Benn was looking to avenge his defeat to Chris Eubank at Old Trafford

Benn got pushed out of the ring in the following round, although it wasn't scored as a knockdown. Both fighters were warned for low blows as it started to settle down again.

By the latter rounds they were cancelling each other out and it seemed destined to end in a stalemate.

But shortly before the twelfth, both fighters were told that they had to win the final round to be victorious.

That set up a stunning three minutes as the pair went looking for a knockout. 

Neither managed to land the winning shot and it ended in a split-decision draw.

The result meant Eubank retained his WBO strap while Benn kept his WBC world championship.

Trilogy rumours

Many fans and pundits were rooting for a third bout as Benn thought he had done enough to win. There were rumours of a £6million fight at Wembley Stadium, as part of Eubank's major deal with Sky Sports, but it never materialised.

What's happened since?

Benn defended his strap five more times between 1993 and 1995 but ended his career with three straight losses, including two on the bounce to Steve Collins.

Eubank had notably more fights than his foe after their 1993 clash. He achieved six straight title defences but also ended his career with three consecutive defeats. Joe Calzaghe outpointed him for the WBO super middleweight title before Carl Thompson beat Eubank in two fights for the WBO cruiserweight strap.

Both names still remain in the fight game. Conor Benn, son of 'The Dark Destroyer', impressed in a recent TKO victory over Samuel Vargas. His record is 18-0 (12 KOs) at the time of writing.

Eubank is helping Chris Eubank Jr. to forge his own career. His best win came against 2008 Olympic champion James DeGale in 2019, and he recently beat Marcus Morrison via unanimous decision in a domestic clash.

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