by Dermot Bolger
When Andy Lee squares off against BJ Saunders in Thomond Park later this month, it will draw a lot of comparisons with the last big outdoor fight staged in Ireland almost 20 years to the date.
The eagerly awaited Steve Collins v Chris Eubank re-match was also staged outdoors in a famous Munster sporting venue, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, on the 9th September 1995. It too had the involvement of Frank Warren from the promotional end and pitted Ireland’s finest against England’s best super middleweight with a world title at stake.
Six months earlier, the underdog Collins, out thought and out fought the long reigning champion for a deserved points win in the unique venue of the Green Glens Arena in Millsteet, Cork. Collins got the psychological edge over Eubank with his hypnosis stunt but more importantly showed he had a good boxing brain to outbox Eubank and relieve him of his title on an emotionally charged night. Those of us fortunate enough to be there, witnessed a very special sporting occasion.
This time around, Eubank vowed not to be un-nerved nor underestimate Collins. He since had two first round KO wins, and was the narrow favourite to win back his crown.
The bookies chalked Eubank up as the 8/11 favourite; Collins was even money and the draw 33/1. Collins had since made changes to his backroom team and was now under the guidance off Freddie Roach. Sky TV were in town to broadcast the bill. Ticket sales were an impressive 25,000.
The big risk with any Irish outdoor event is the weather, and at 5.30 that evening, the heavens opened and threatened to be a real spoiler. Thankfully the deluge eased up and by the time the main event was ready, the atmosphere was electric in anticipation of another epic encounter.
Eubank entered the ring in his usual manner with his signature tune “Simply the Best” blaring; he strutted, swaggered and posed proudly in his cocky manner. Collins, hooded in his tartan gown, had the glaze of a man totally focused on what was ahead. The Chieftains had composed a stirring war anthem for his entrance as he psyched himself up, repeating “still the champ” during the ring walk.
As soon as the bell sounded for the action to commence, Collins literally launched himself at Eubank. At every opportunity, he charged his foe. Over exuberant and headlong at times, he nearly went sprawling through the ropes on one occasion. He was determined to lay down a marker with Eubank.
This was a statement of intent. There would be no step backwards. It was a risky strategy as he was in danger of leaving himself open to a right hand counter. The second round was more of the same, as was the third. Collins just would not let Eubank settle and get into a rhythm. Eubank was reliant on landing single shots but not enough of them as Collins clouted and clobbered his way in on every occasion. By the time the bout concluded its sixth round, Collins was well in command. His boxing may have been ragged, but there was no let-up in his work rate. He was marching forwards throwing more punches, though his accuracy was letting him down. If Eubank was waiting for Collins to tire and present openings he got it badly wrong.
The plot changed a little towards the end of the seventh when a clash of heads left Collins with a nasty gash over the corner of his right eye. Collins was still the boss after rounds eight and nine. He was slowing but still kept pumping out the punches. Eubank was still reliant on his jab and single shots. Ronnie Davies in his corner was getting animated and even resorted to slapping Eubank across the face to try and provoke him into a better response.
The tenth and eleventh saw Eubank finally getting a good foothold in the fight. Collins was tiring and his defence getting sloppy. Eubank was getting through with a few right hands. It was all too late now though and he needed a knockout in the 12th and final round to win. He got through again with some hard right hands as the blood flowed from Collins eye. Collins however had an iron chin and a resolve to match. He met fire with fire and held his own to hear that bell.
The crowd was in no doubt .The scorecards would be academic, it was Collins all the way by at least 5 or six rounds …….or so we thought! When MC Mike Goodall announced we had a split decision there was a collective gasp.
The first scorecard announced gave it to Eubank by 115 to 114! Thankfully the remaining judges scored Collins the winner, though the 115-113 scorecards returned were a lot closer than what we had witnessed.
It would have been a scandal if the result had been nothing else other than a Collins victory. “Steve –O” was given a rapturous ovation as he was shouldered around ring with “Oro se do bheatha bhalile” blasting out on the tannoys.
It was a brave move to adopt the marauding tactics but it worked. It wasn’t his natural style but he carried out the plan brilliantly and took Eubank by surprise for a second time. He could now look forward to more big fights with the other marquee names in the division like Nigel Benn.