Collins versus Eubank 25 years on: A moment of sporting history in Cork

Collins versus Eubank 25 years on: A moment of sporting history in Cork
Steve Collins lands a left on Chris Eubank's chin when Collins defeated Eubank to win the WBO World Super-Middleweight Title in Millstreet on March 18, 1995. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE.

WANT to feel old? 

OK, try this. Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the night Dublin’s Steve Collins dethroned England’s Chris Eubank at a packed Green Glens Arena in Millstreet to be crowned the WBO Super Middleweight Champion of the World.

Eubank had been undefeated going into this fight and was conducting his 15th defence of his WBO title, with a 41-0-2 record, but there had been plenty of signs in his last few fights before his Duhallow duel with Collins to suggest that he was there for the taking.

Steve Collins, left, lands a left jab onto the face of Chris Eubank in the WBO Super-Middleweight Title fight at Millstreet Arena, on March 18, 1995. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Steve Collins, left, lands a left jab onto the face of Chris Eubank in the WBO Super-Middleweight Title fight at Millstreet Arena, on March 18, 1995. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

Eubank had been a brilliant champion, being the main man in what was a golden era of British boxing in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions. He had seen off Nigel Benn and Michael Watson (twice) between 1990 and late 1991, but by 1993 cracks were beginning to emerge. 

In truth, he was never the same fighter after the second Watson fight, when Watson almost died after a 12th round knockout by Eubank. By then Sky Sports had thrown all their eggs in the Eubank basket, which meant extravagant entrances, pyrotechnic light shows and Tina Turner soundtracks were now part of all his appearances. 

Despite his clear reluctance to knockout opponents post the Watson fight, Eubank was big money, and therefore he was always going to be a hard man to beat on judges scorecards.

Belfast boxer Ray Close learned this to his cost, in his two meetings with Eubank in Glasgow in May of 1993 and Belfast in May of 1994. Close believed he won both fights, yet the judges marked the first as a controversial draw and the second as a speculative split decision win for Eubank.

As a consequence of the controversial decisions it was deemed that Close was entitled to a third shot at Eubank, but an MRI scan revealed that Close had a brain lesion and the British Boxing Board of Control refused to grant him a licence. Therefore, at relatively short notice the WBO Middleweight champion Collins was drafted in, with a small town in northwest Cork being signed up as the venue for the fight.

One Irishman’s misfortune turned out to be another Irishman’s big opportunity.

Collins had lost two world title fights earlier in the decade to top fighters Mike McCallum and Reggie Johnson but had won a low key fight against England’s Chris Pyatt in Sheffield in 1994 to become WBO Middleweight World Champion. 

To make the big bucks, though, he needed to get in the ring with the likes of Eubank and Nigel Benn in the Super Middleweight division, but they were extremely reluctant to get in the ring with him until of course Ray Close had to pull out of the 1995 bout with Eubank.

It is hard to imagine now, but Millstreet was all the rage back then. As well as the regular showjumping events, it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993, kicked off the first leg of Pearl Jam’s European tour in October 1996 and in between hosted one of the biggest nights in Irish boxing history in 1995.

Steve Collins enters the ring prior to his first fight with Chris Eubank in Millstreet, on March 18, 1995. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Steve Collins enters the ring prior to his first fight with Chris Eubank in Millstreet, on March 18, 1995. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

The build-up was dominated by Collins’ claim that he had been hypnotised into thinking he was invincible, which seemed to genuinely unsettle Eubank, who actually threatened to pull out of the fight when he heard the claim, although Collins was later to admit that it was all an elaborate hoax.

On the night of March 18, 1995, Collins arrived in the ring accompanied by the Rocky theme tune, while Eubank’s long entrance was soundtracked, as per usual, by Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the best’. Collins sat on his stool and listened to his headphones during Eubank’s protracted entrance. It was all very Hollywood.

To the fight itself, Collins took to the fight the reigning champ in front of a boisterous home support of 8,000 mainly Irish fans, who bellowed chants ‘Steve-o Steve-o’ and ‘Ole Ole’ with abandon, and he looked to be well on his way to victory when he floored Eubank with a thunderous body punch in the eighth round with a big right hand. 

However, behind his pantomime villain eccentric quirkiness and almost effeminate demeanour Eubank was one hard nut, and he wasn’t about to surrender his title without a fight. 

The champion really stepped up the effort for the final rounds and he had the Dubliner in all kinds of trouble early in round 10 when he floored Collins with a huge right that buckled the challenger's legs instantly. The ‘Celtic Warrior’ was in serious trouble at this juncture but he somehow gathered his faculties sufficiently to survive the last few rounds, to ensure that the decision went to the scorecards.

It looked all ends up that Collins had won, and the crowd made the judges well aware of who they thought had won, but having seen Close being denied in similar circumstances there would have been genuine concern that Eubank might get another dodgy decision. Thankfully for the home fans that was not the case as Collins was awarded the fight unanimously on scores of 115–111, 116–114, 114–113.

Steve Collins celebrates after a points victory over the reigning champion Chris Eubank. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Steve Collins celebrates after a points victory over the reigning champion Chris Eubank. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

The Arena was like a sauna that night with Collins collapsing in his dressing room after the fight due the effects of dehydration and exhaustion, mainly caused by the suffocating heat inside the venue on the night.

The pair were to have a rematch later that year, that would take place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and Collins would again win in front of a brilliant home crowd. 

Action from 1995 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Action from 1995 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

He would then go on to comfortably beat Nigel Benn twice in Manchester in 1996 to truly cement his place as the leading Super Middleweight this side of the Atlantic. 

Unfortunately for his bank account he would never get his much-coveted shot at American Roy Jones jr, and he duly retired as champ.

It all started for Collins in north Cork though, in those heady days when little old Millstreet found itself being the boxing capital of the world.

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