No Middle Ground: Eubank, Benn, Watson and the Last Golden era of British Boxing
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2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of Nigel Benn and Michael Watson stepping into a purpose built tent in Finsbury Park to contest the WBO Middleweight Championship, marking the start of an epic saga in British Boxing. No Middle Ground will do for this golden era of the sport what George Kimball's Four King's did for American boxing. Between 1989 and 1993, Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Michael Watson fought each other repeatedly for the World Middle-weight championship belt. The first fight took place a month after the Hillsborough disaster and each fight was screened live on TV. It was a time when boxing was seen in a brighter light than most other sports, when kids could stay up late to watch 12 rounds of hate-fuelled madness. It was also the last Golden Era of British Boxing. No Middle Ground is the story of the greatest, and last, rivalry between three of the most talented fighters Britain has ever produced. Rivalries exist in every sport, but put it in the ring, in the form of the prancing, gleaming Eubank or the heavy set of The Dark Destroyer (Nigel Benn) and suddenly it becomes something more, a war of wills. But this is what the British public tuned in for. And they certainly got it, with Michael Watson comatosed on the canvas at the end of one brutal fight. Sanjeev Shetty takes us back to when these three boxers graced the heavy bags and tells their story as well as that of Britain's love affair with the sport. He traces their journeys to center stage and tells the story of the dark side of Thatcher's nation - the blood, the sweat, and the dangerous hatred that fuelled these men before pantomime took over and revealed a new age of boxers crafted not from the salt of the earth, but from brand-managers flipcharts and the sport disappeared behind a curtain of advertisements forever.
just worked hard and was very old-school. He didn’t boast or brag and therefore probably wasn’t as easy to market,’ says Boxing Monthly’s Glyn Leach. It would come as no surprise that Watson would one day go to Ambrose Mendy for advice on where to take his career, having watched ‘the Dark Destroyer’ gain a reputation for constant excitement and value for money, two qualities he believed he also possessed. Building up inside Watson now was a sense of both resentment and envy – how could he, for
get him to the airport on time. ‘Crazy, crazy. Wow. We got away with murder back then. Going to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace and meeting Prince Charles and all.’ Even with that stardom, Benn knew he had a problem with Watson, because he struggled to find anything to hate about the challenger. ‘Good-looking guy, classic man. How could you hate him? Handsome-looking man, he was a gentleman. He just got on my nerves because everything about him was perfect. He was just lovely and you
be world champion if you fight like that,’ Newbon told Eubank. ‘If that’s what your view is, you know nothing about boxing,’ the boxer replied. He had won a unanimous decision that convinced no one he could be a future world champion. The only people who still had belief were Eubank, and Hearn. That lack of credibility would suit the pair when it came to negotiating the big fight that they’d face at the end of the year – a challenge for the WBO middleweight title, now held by Nigel Benn. The
like trance, drum and bass, acid jazz and hip hop. Clubs around Britain were alive to this new sound and being a DJ carried huge kudos. Nigel Benn was part of a new breed of boxer who trained to these sounds, eschewing the traditional Rocky anthems which had helped form the stereotypical image of boxers. The other aspect of the new wave of dance music was its association with Class A drugs, all of which were very much part of the club culture. When not training, Benn could be seen at clubs,
interviewing Sir Henry Cooper. I asked him for his prediction on an upcoming bout. After he’d told me, he added: ‘I just hope whoever loses, if they get knocked out, I hope it’s clean. Just one shot.’ The clean knockouts look scary, but more often than not the fighter gets up, shakes his head and then asks his trainer what happened. Michael Watson might well have been knocked out cold if his head hadn’t hit the third rope. Bad enough to have taken a punch with the force of a speeding car but now