June Butler enters the ring for Andrew Gallimore’s One Night in Millstreet

One Night in Millstreet is a fitting documentary to conjure up the zeitgeist of one of the greatest boxing fights of all time. It isn’t Rumble in the Jungle (1974) nor is it the Thrilla in Manila (1975), however as matches go, this film is up there with the best. 

Director Andrew Gallimore tells the story of an unlikely bout between boxers Steve Collins and Chris Eubank in a venue just outside Millstreet, County Cork, in a space once used as a location for the Eurovision Song Contest. Gallimore’s visionary documentary not only covers the sparring duo, but also the people who made it happen. 

Born in 1964, Steve Collins hailed from Cabra on the Northside of Dublin City and started his boxing career in the Corinthian Boxing Club. He entered a tournament when he was eight years old, going on to win the competition. Afterwards, Collins announced his intention of becoming a world champion in the sport. It was this which led his father to consider letting the young boy down gently. In Steve’s own words, his father, concerned that his son’s ambitions might exceed his abilities, tried to talk him out of the dream. Undeterred, Collins continued to train, eventually becoming the most successful male Irish boxer in more recent times, winning the World Boxing Organisation middleweight and super-middleweight titles simultaneously.  Between the years 1986 to 1997, Collins never lost a fight as reigning champion with his first nineteen professional bouts fought in the United States.  

Collins is considered to have an orthodox stance (also known as a northpaw stance) in which the fighter places their left foot in front, bringing that side of the body closer to an opponent. This strategy allows the boxer greater rotation and lends itself to a higher degree of acceleration – all the better to draw the fist in an arc and strike out with far more power in the blow. Chris Eubank by contrast, learned his craft using a different approach. A key difference between the two men, is that while both are considered to have an orthodox style, Eubank’s footwork mirrored the movements of the great Dennis Cruz who was a southpaw. 

Born 1966 Dulwich, South London, Eubank spent his early years living in Jamaica, returning to London where his family eventually settled in Peckham. Peckham’s image has improved in more recent times, but in the 70s and 80s this neighbourhood known for its high levels of crime and gang violence. There, Chris was exposed to a degree of anarchy that placed him firmly at odds with the English judicial system and on-course for some serious legal headaches. In his teens, Eubank was suspended at least 18 times over a period of a single school year – the young boxer asserted that he was coming to the defence of other teens who were being bullied. Thomas Calton Secondary School failed to agree with Eubank’s version of events however, and he was finally expelled in 1981. Eubank confessed that he was not exactly a law-abiding citizen –in a time when the average weekly wage was £60, Eubank was bringing in upwards of £1000 due to his prolificacy as a high-end shoplifter. A legal net started to tighten, and realising there was a real possibility of incarceration, Chris impulsively decided to skip bail and head stateside to live with his mother in New York. 

Eubank commenced training at the Jerome Boxing Club under the tutelage of Maximo Pierret. He always maintained that the drive to excel in boxing came from a need for acceptance from his peers. Having endured a degree of bullying from his older brothers, Peter and Simon, Eubank felt compelled to succeed despite unenthusiastic predictions from family and schoolteachers. One thing that stands out in the film is Eubank’s lifelong thirst for recognition and respect. When Pierret started to train the teen, Chris endeavoured to emulate the style of their top boxer Dennis Cruz. He followed this goal up with an attempt to master the left hook, reckoning that if he could attain this, Pierret would accept him. And if he could move like Dennis Cruz, the rest of the gym would follow suit. 

On 21st September 1991, Chris Eubank and British boxer Michael Watson met in White Hart Lane with Watson there to defend his WBO super-middleweight title. At the end of the tenth round, Eubank was behind on all scorecards and was knocked down 18 seconds before the bell sounded. Chris rose from the canvas and delivered a crushing uppercut to Watson’s jaw, causing Watson to fall backwards where his head and neck struck the ring ropes. The fight continued and to everyone observing, it was evident that Eubank needed to knock Watson out in order to win. By round twelve, with Watson clearly struggling, the fight was stopped as Watson submitted to a flurry of punches from Eubank. Moments later, Watson collapsed in the corner of the ring. There were no paramedics or ambulances at the event. When Watson finally arrived at hospital, a total of 28 minutes had elapsed. He was in a coma for 40 days and was left with life changing injuries that ended his career. Chris Eubank felt enormous guilt for what had occurred. He continued to box but the spectre of his actions in the ring that night weighed heavily on him. 

Ray Close, a Belfast born boxer was scheduled to fight Eubank in 1995 – it was the final of three matches; the first meeting had been declared a draw and in the second, Eubank beat Close on a split-points decision. The third fight now beckoned, and it was gearing up to be a titanic clash between the two champions. However, immediately prior to the match, the British Boxing Board of Control revoked Close’s licence because he had failed an MRI scan. Close was found to have several lesions on his brain. For Eubank, the news would have hit him hard – coming only a few short years after the Watson near-fatal injury, Chris must have felt Ray Close to be a harbinger of disaster and it brought home to him how tenuous the life of a boxer could be. After Michael Watson’s collapse, Eubank was only too aware of his own mortality.  

In the aftermath of the failed event, various names were touted as next in line to fight Eubank but the one person who rose head and shoulders above all other contenders, was Steve Collins. Collins was without a trainer at the time, and he enlisted Tony Quinn, a lifestyle coach, hypnotist, and entrepreneur, to assist. Fans of Collins were sceptical of Quinn’s influence, but Collins (and Quinn) proved them wrong. Acutely conscious of how powerful autosuggestion could be, Eubank angrily shot down Quinn’s presence in the Collin’s camp – maintaining that Quinn was performing some sort of illegal practice and Collins was gaining an unfair advantage. Back and forth the arguments raged – Eubanks’s loud accusations versus Collins and Quinn’s continuing interaction. In the melee, newspaper headlines proclaimed the latest update and statements from each side. As the adage states, there’s no such thing as bad publicity and hype about the match intensified. Barry Hearn, one of the leading boxing promoters of the time, made enquiries about a possible venue. When scouting for a suitable location, Hearn encountered Noel C. Duggan, a Millstreet native and building contractor. Duggan was responsible for developing the Green Glens Arena for Eurovision ’93. Ever cognisant of an opportunity, Noel met with Barry Hearn and proposed that the upcoming fight take place at the Arena. Duggan was determined to pull off the coup of the decade by obtaining the contract to hold the match at Green Glens. Such were Duggan’s powers of persuasion, after dealing with the contractor, Hearn quipped that he checked to make sure he still had all five fingers on both hands. Barry McGuigan and Roddy Collins (Steve’s brother), provide a fascinating overview of Ireland during the heady years where the Celtic Tiger had just reached its zenith. 

Chris Eubank, known for his formal appearances and sartorial elegance, arrived (unusually for him), on time to a press conference prior to the fight. He chuckles when he recalled that Collins appeared after 45 minutes had elapsed, wearing a flat cap, tailored tweed suit and driving a Jaguar with a (borrowed) Irish Wolfhound in tow. Steve then proceeded to speak to the media only in Irish. Hilariously, Barry Hearn can be seen seated between Collins and Eubanks, hoping against hope that neither party would attempt to start the bout there and then. In the documentary, Eubank generously gives Collins a massive thumbs up for his ingenious tactics.  The upshot, however, was that by now, Collins was well and truly inside Eubank’s head and had rattled the normally stoic fighter. 

The Millstreet fight signified far more than a single sporting event between two boxing heroes – Chris Eubank and Steve Collins epitomised the true meaning of honour and gallantry. Both fought with passion, but their combat was fair and it was clear there was a huge degree of mutual respect between the parties. Gallimore’s documentary tells a dramatic tale – one of courage and finding humanity in the most unlikely of places. 

When truly seismic events occur, everyone always recall those moments of greatness, and this was a lightning rod that roared into being across a few glorious hours and was then snuffed out. But for the 8,000 people in the Green Glens Arena on the 18th of March, 1995, the legend will continue to be told with quickened voices and shining eyes. They will remember One Night in Millstreet and how they stood, linking arms, side by side, on the shoulders of giants, laying the trail so that we could follow. 

One Night in Millstreet is in cinemas from 5th April 2024. 

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