How do you feel about the state of British boxing today compared to your day?
Well, that’s for other people to say according to being compared to my day. In my day you had some supremely talented boxers to watch like Herol Graham and a young Colin McMillan and a young Naseem Hamed. You also had very very hard top fighters like the terrific Barry McGuigan and Paul Hodkinson.
Today, it’s so much easier to win and keep a championship because it seems there are more titles than there are fighters!
People don’t box anymore, there aren’t boxing gyms on the street corners of the cities like there used to be; for both sides of the Atlantic I’m speaking.
Nigel Benn, Naz – two of the greatest punchers of the world, if truth be told.
In Lennox Lewis you had a master boxer and sledgehammer puncher and big performer, who would go on to be a great fighter.
Other big guys, Frank Bruno, Herbie Hide; they had the punching abilities in them to shake up anyone, as David Haye has today. But there were three of them back then.
To have guys like Mike McCallum to have to contend with, I mean man. Some of the best fighters ever, in their prime, wouldn’t go near this particular man, apparently so. I, personally, certainly wasn’t going to risk my livelihood with that guy unless he was mandated – and there are no Mike McCallum’s around today, believe you me. And I kid you not, my friend.
But no, I mean. David Haye. David Haye is excellent. Amir Khan has done excellent and Carl Froch is doing well. And they’re all doing well.
You’re very honest in stating that you avoided the likes of McCallum and others like James Toney for instance. Do you think other fighters have that honesty?
Facts don’t lie, objectivities don’t lie. I never dodged a fighter. Of course I wasn’t going to defend against McCallum or fight Toney unless it was worth my while, if it wasn’t mandated.
To put yourself in my shoes, it means giving yourself up to loneliness from 16 to 25 or 16 to 30 and surrendering your life every day. By loneliness I mean zero social interactions, no recreational substances of any kind. You only do that to actually gain something in return, and for me that something was money, and I was always honest about that. That’s my integrity.
Do you think there should only be one world champion?
Of course there should. It hurts the integrity of boxing as a sport that there’s not one champion of the world per stipulated weight-class. And that is why I don’t view it as sport, I view it as a business. Because that’s what it is. And a brutal blood business at that! Which is just truth.
Many people feel that apart from Nigel Benn, the opposition you fought was maybe lacking?
Well, that’s crap! Excuse my base wording and bad language, but that is very crap… very crap. A professional boxer is dangerous, he knows how to punch with full rotation of his body. The man in the street wouldn’t last 15 seconds with 97.5% of all professional boxers all around the world, ever, in or out of the ring.
More relatively, then, compared to your peers and the attention you got as champion in your day?
I don’t know, I mean that’s obviously a subjective view. From my subjective view, Benn wasn’t the best that I fought. Michael Watson in our second fight was very nearly unbeatable that night.
You say relatively? I had about a dozen fights in fighting Anthony Logan and Randy Smith, no money, and they’d given all the world’s leading middleweights difficulties when the middleweights were pound-for-pound the best boxers and punchers.
Ron Essett was more slippery a fighter than any of the Americans Nigel Benn ever fought in his career.
Graciano Rocchigiani was 35 fights, 35 wins and a giant for the weight in his backyard overseas and a southpaw on top of that.
I had some very difficult tasks and I never took a break.
Just talk to us about Benn and Watson for abit, because they are your signature fights…
What do you want to know?
Was it apparent they’d be rivals of yours?
Oh yeah, I mean I was studying those two about three or four years before I fought them. I knew they’d come. I was ringside when they fought each other and I didn’t miss a millisecond of it!
Nigel was arguably the most dangerous puncher out there and he tried knocking Michael out with everything, so for me Michael had the best defense out there that wasn’t evasive.
So they were mighty tasks, to overcome these men. In the rematches against these men, against me, the return matches; Watson improved his offense tenfold and Benn improved his defense tenfold.
So all four of those fights were such mighty mighty tasks for me, they really were, and it fills me with pride to this day and will always that I beat them both and didn’t lose.
They were my age, they were my race, they were my nationality, they were in my profession, and they excelled at what they did. They kept me in the gym and gave me a pretty good life! I thank them both for that.
How do you recall the Joe Calzaghe fight?
The main thing I remember about Calzaghe was how hard he punched. I thought he had bricks in his gloves at one point. On top of that – he was big, he was strong, he was hearty, he had fast hand speed and he had a very awkward southpaw stance.
He was unbeaten, he didn’t know how to lose. I actually lost 20 pounds in a week and was preparing for a righty light-heavyweight. (Laughs) Has there ever been many more difficult tasks?
On top of all that, he puts me down in the opening 15 seconds, for only the second clean knockdown of my life. (Laughs)
Joe obviously went on to be an exceptionally great world champion.
Who was the hardest man you fought?
Henry Wharton. I hit him with everything, over and again, and he just soaked it all up with hardness on the way in.
What stands out for you, Chris, in terms of you, looking back on your boxing life now?
I think the meteoricness of what I did. I first started boxing when I was nearly 17 years old in New York, I was 18 and just turned 19 when I was getting on television screens as an amateur and professional, in the Madison Square Gardens and Casino/hotels.
I defended my world championship against certain men that I used to watch on television when I was still a school kid, as championship fighters or in world-class fights.
I don’t think anybody really did what I did, in a meteoric sense. Not just boxers. From being homeless and penniless at age 22, to being a millionaire at age 24, for example. It’s a little bit ‘out’.