Classic Irish Boxing-May 2001- Steve Collins the early years

On Saturday the 18th of March 1995, Steve Collins finally found fame and fortune when he became the first man to defeat the reigning W.B.O. Super Middleweight champion Chris “Simply the Best” Eubank. To many of the general public Collins had seemed to come out of nowhere. Many believed Collins to be an upstart who had cashed in on fellow Irishman Ray Close’s misfortune when he had to withdraw from his scheduled fight with Eubank due to a brain scan irregularity. The unknown and unfancied Dubliner Collins was quick to seize the chance of a lifetime.

However unbeknown to the non-boxing fraternity was the fact that Collins was an extremely tough, seasoned, determined and talented challenger who had long paid his dues in the pro game and was already the reigning W.B.O. Middleweight champ, a fact still forgotten/unknown by many to the present day.

The Celtic Warrior was born into a fighting family, his Uncle Jack O’ Rourke was the Irish Middleweight and Heavyweight champion in the 60’s, Steve’s father took part in the first fight to be broadcast live on RTE (Ireland’s national television station). Another Uncle of Steve’s Terry Collins defeated the infamous Reggie Kray as an amateur. Indeed to this day the Collins’ remain a sporting family, Steve’s younger brother Paschal is still in the early stages of his pro career and older brother Roddy is the manager of Bohemians, one of Ireland’s highest profile soccer clubs.

Steve began boxing at the age of 8 but became disillusioned with the sport for a time after the sudden death of his father when Steve was just 17. Instead he began to concentrate on his training as an apprentice electrician at the Guinness brewery in Dublin, a job his late father had obtained for him. Soon though the urge to get back in the ring again proved too strong and Steve got himself back into shape sneaking out of work now and again to go for a jog in the nearby Phoenix Park.

A few months later and the hard work was rewarded with the Irish Middleweight title, the same title that his Uncle Jack had held some 20 years previously. Collins had fulfilled his amateur ambitions, now he wanted to try his luck making a living in the sport he loved. After getting married to his long time girlfriend Gemma in 1986 the newlyweds made the tough decision to emigrate to the United States so that Steve could fulfil his ambition of being trained by the Boston based Petronelli brothers who trained his idol Marvellous Marvin Hagler.

Living the American dream was to prove tough, Steve took a succession of low paid jobs to keep the rent paid while waiting for his career to take off. After 3 years as a pro the statistics were impressive, 12 fights and 12 wins, yet coming into 1989 Collins was still taking odd jobs and was almost broke. He now had a family to support as well with the birth of his daughter Caoimhe.

After thrashing out his grievances with the Petronelli’s on the direction (or lack of direction) that his career was taking 1989 was a much better year for the Dubliner, four high profile wins and four impressive victories showcased Collins’ talent and gained him valuable TV exposure. In defeating highly rated fighters such as Paul McPeak, Kevin “Killer” Watts, Tony Thornton and Roberto Rosiles, Collins won the U.S. Middleweight title and the respect of American fight fans although his achievements caused little more than a ripple in the Irish national media.

In February of 1990 a world title shot finally materialised, the task though was a formidable one. W.B.A. champion Mike McCallum was considered to be one of the greatest light-middleweight’s of all time, a reputation cemented by his frightening knockout of the highly touted Donald “The Cobra” Curry. In moving up to middleweight and winning the W.B.A. middleweight title McCallum was fighting for legendary status. It was thought that the tough but raw Collins would be easily brushed aside by McCallum who was known as the “Bodysnatcher” due to his excellence at the forgotten art of body punching.

Collins himself admitted to being overawed at the beginning of the fight but as the rounds passed Collins confidence soared and McCallum was forced to dig deep to weather the Irishman’s assault. However after 12 rounds McCallum emerged victorious with a close decision and quickly let it be known that no amount of money would entice him back into a ring with Collins again.

After the fight Collins returned to a job as a Barman and prepared to climb the mountain again. Neither the Petronelli’s or (understandably) McCallum seemed eager for a rematch so it seemed that Collins would once again have to bide his time. Collins returned with an impressive 6 round stoppage victory over Fermin Chirino (who would later take Roy Jones Jr. the full 10 rounds). After one more fight (a lethargic points win) Collins decided to return home and cut his ties with the Petronelli brothers.

Steve signed with Belfast’s Barney Eastwood who duly delivered Collins a second world title shot, this time against American Reggie Johnson in 1992 once again for the W.B.A. middleweight title. However Collins dropped a narrow and controversial decision. Once again a dejected Collins had to start over again and in his next fight Collins faced the tough task of challenging the world class Sumbu Kalambay in Kalambay’s adopted home of Italy. Surprise, surprise Collins dropped yet another close decision. He seemed destined to be always the nearly man and at this stage his career prospects looked limited to journeyman status or retirement. Collins childhood dream of being a World Champion looked to be a million miles away. However the Celtic Warrior was still only preparing for battle.

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Integral part of the Irish boxing community for over 13 years