‘When Eubank wanted to rest, I made him busy, when he wanted space, I’d crowd him,’ says Steve Collins about a famous psychological victory
MY greatest night was the first fight with Chris Eubank, at the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, Ireland, and it came on St Patrick’s weekend in March 1995. It was my big chance: my opportunity to establish myself and make it into the big time.
I was 31 years old and had been contemplating retirement. I’d been boxing pro for 10 years and had the WBO middleweight title, but I was struggling making the weight and had had three title defences cancelled: I was completely demoralised. It seemed there was no big fights out there for me so I was going to get back to working full-time as an electrician because I had no money and I had kids. Life was changing: I didn’t own my house and it was time for me to get sensible.
Eubank was at the top of his game; he was the best-known and biggest attraction in boxing. He was the best thing that happened to the super-middleweight division, believe me. Some saw him as unbeatable, and some saw him as arrogant, but everybody knew who he was, even if they weren’t a boxing fan.
I could see he was beatable, and I knew how to beat him; I thought he’d been very sensible in picking the right fights. Like Eubank, I was promoted by Barry Hearn, and I believed Hearn wanted what was best for business, which was for Eubank to retain his WBO super-middle title.
At this point in my career I was trained by Freddie King but I based myself in Las Vegas for this fight – living alone – and King spent very little time with me because he was away with Herbie Hide. I was mostly on my own and got help from local trainers.
I studied Eubank, and I saw what his strengths were, and what his weaknesses were; I knew he was all about mind games. I could match him physically but I had to take away his psychological edge. That’s where the sports psychology and my hypnotist, Tony Quinn, came into it.
I made sure Eubank was aware of me using that, and blew it out of proportion, scaring him into thinking that not only had I taken away his edge, but that I had super-human powers. I took that advantage away, and brought it down to raw physicality and boxing ability.
At the weigh-in, I’d planned for my behaviour to be strange because I wanted him to know my mindset: I wanted him to ask questions.
When he arrived I was skipping because I was a pound overweight and I was trying to skip if off; he made a comment about me not being professional and making weight so I dropped my rope, went right up into his face and started talking to him, repeating – like a mantra – what was going to happen.
I just had a strangeness about me; he’d met me before and knew I was quite laidback but this time I was intense.
He couldn’t understand what was going on and later asked ‘What’s going on with Steve Collins?’ My hypnotist had hung around and waited for that, and said, ‘He’s been hypnotised.’ Eubank’s curiosity took over, and he started asking questions, which he shouldn’t have because he played right into our hands. He told him, ‘I’ve hypnotised Steve into not feeling pain, not getting tired, into punching harder…’ And Eubank believed all this, and it totally disorientated him. But let me tell you now: I felt the pain.
My pre-fight changing room was very intense. There was no entourage; it was me, my trainer, and his assistant. Nobody would come in; nobody was allowed in.
I just wanted to get it on.
I believed in my heart and soul I was going to win. I knew I was going to be pushed and tested to the limit, but I believed I had the game plan, and ability, to win. I could never be too fired up; the more fired up I was the better and I’d believe I was unbeatable.
King was in my corner on the night; he wanted me to win. When the bell rang he wanted to be the trainer who beat Chris Eubank.
In the ring, I knew Eubank’s entrance was a major psychological asset – it could undermine an opponent and win the crowd over, and give him an edge of superiority – so the final obstacle was to take that entrance away, so I put my hood up, my earphones in, and sat down in the corner listening to a tape and waiting for the referee to call me. But I was aware of everything. I could hear his music. I could feel his arms on the ropes, him jump over the ropes; I felt him in the ring, I could hear the introductions, the fireworks. Everything. But when Eubank came into the ring, it wasn’t all about him: he was looking at me, I wasn’t looking at him, so I was the centre of attention.
I couldn’t wait to get it on, but once the bell went he landed a big right hand and I thought, ‘That hurt: okay, this is going to be tough’. I knew, to win, I had to begin every round like it was the first; my game plan would basically start all over again.
For every punch he landed, I landed two. When he wanted to rest, I made him busy. When he wanted to move one way I was there waiting for him; when he wanted space I’d crowd him.
But he threw shots. His body shots hurt, his head shots hurt, and I’ll tell you what: I landed big shots, and it surprised me just how tough, and durable, and strong, he was. He wanted me to watch him, and react to him, but that’s not what happened: I made him watch me. I just had to maintain it and never let him know how I felt and see I was tiring. It was all about keeping that face up, that control.
I put him down in the eighth round with a shot I’d practised in training, which I stole from Bruce Lee, the one-inch punch. I trained in martial arts for that, and practised it because I knew it was a shot that would work on him. I threw the right to the body, and I practised throwing the left hook after it, and I put everything into it: I honestly think if that left had landed it’d have knocked him out, but it missed him because he went over. I knew the fight wasn’t over though and that he was going to come back and try and jump on me, and that’s exactly what he done because, in the 10th round, he put me over.
He caught me square with a right hand I didn’t see.
I went down, but it didn’t hurt. I nodded at Eubank and thought, ‘Good shot’, but I was never in danger; I just seemed to have an ability to absorb punishment.
After that, I was tired – the heat in that place was unbelievable – and I just kept telling myself, ‘Dig deep, you’re the new champ, this is your big moment’, and I threw everything I had into it. At one stage towards the end he was getting desperate, and saying, ‘Come on.’ I took my arms out and said, ‘Chris, I’m winning, you come to me, I’m in control.’
One thing anyone who shared the ring with Eubank will tell you is until the last second of the last round he was always dangerous. He had that strength and power, and wanted to win. In the last round, stupidly, I went and stood toe-to-toe with him. I wasn’t going to let him walk away thinking he could have had me in the last round. It probably wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did, and then at the final bell I knew I’d won. I knew, he knew, the crowd knew.
In the dressing room afterwards I collapsed and four medics had to come in and put me on oxygen.
My body temperature rose and they covered me in ice; they were going to take me off in an ambulance but it calmed down. It was just total exhaustion.
A lot of great fighters are around forever and don’t get the chance to showcase themselves, against a big name, in a big fight. This was the big name, the big fight. And I had it, and I won.