Steve Collins Interview
Exclusive Steve Collins Interview: Now based in St. Albans, England, former WBO Middleweight and Super middleweight world champion Steve Collins is currently in demand as an actor. While the ‘Celtic Warrior’ was on a short trip back to Dublin Mark Wilson Smith caught up with him to discuss his aforementioned acting career, his memories of winning world titles, and defeating Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.
THE CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
So you are a two weight world champion, and that is something a lot of boxers aim for, something so many boxers want to achieve- so what I want to ask you is which world title meant more to you- Your win over Chris Pyatt, which was for your first world title, or your second world title against Chris Eubank, who was the more established, well know fighter.
Well, each title I went for was the greatest title I fought for. That began in 1988 when I won the Irish Middleweight title in the Boston Garden- for me that was great, the next title after that was the middleweight title of the United States and that was the greatest title ever at the time, then I went on to the WBA International and the WBC Intercontinental, and then when I went for the world middleweight title, that was the greatest title. Each time you go for a title it’s the best, it’s the be all and end all.
Then, all of a sudden, I didn’t plan to move up a weight, I didn’t plan for the Eubank title fight, it came about by default. That was the greatest title fight, even though I thought the others were, because of who he was, the publicity it got, and the fact that a lot of people out there thought I wouldn’t win, and a lot of people out there had facts which seemed to make sense, which carried some weight as to why I wouldn’t win, but then lots of people out there were wrong. But then lots of people aren’t the ones in the ring, there are only a handful of us fighting, that’s why lots of people come to see us.
Ok, so the first fight you obviously won, but some people say that was down to the mind games you played beforehand, so how satisfying was it to beat him the second time around ‘fair and square’?
It was harder second time around, as I had to prove it wasn’t a fluke, and it was harder second time around because he wanted his title back and he wasn’t happy. So I was more determined second time around, and he was more determined second time around- so it was a harder fight- it was very satisfying because there was no doubt then that I was the guy who deserved to take the belt and deserved to keep it because I think I proved that I had his number- not that I am better than him in anyway, but just that I had a plan, I knew the tactics on the night to beat him.
And I have said that of all my opponents that I will never turn round and say ‘I’m better than him’, but just planned better. It’s all about planning and trying to outsmart your opponent, and having the fitness and determination to go with that. I wasn’t better than him, I was probably just better prepared; I had the better strategy and planned my fight better.
So what do you remember about those two big contests with Nigel Benn? Obviously both of those ended in victory, and another big name on your CV. How does the satisfaction of beating Benn compare to beating Eubank?
It’s an equivalent. I mean when I was in America, Nigel Benn came over there and upset the whole apple cart. I was the US champion and ranked in the top ten in the world and in line for a title fight, but the new middleweights had moved in- the Hagglers, the Leonards, the Durans, the Hearns, had all retired – it was now about the Robbie Sims, the DeWitts, the Barkleys, these were the new champions and I was the contender, ranked, and waiting to fight them.
And then this guy Nigel Benn arrived on the scene and knocked everyone of them out and took the belts back to the UK. And he left me in the wilderness, so I said “I’m going to get him one day, he’s just set me back five years” [laughs] so i had to pack bags in the US and put myself back in Europe, which wasn’t easy because Britain was where the power was and I wasn’t a British fighter. The British promoters didn’t want to let me in because they knew I could beat the British fighters and what would I do with the titles? Take them back to America? Take them to Ireland? Which wasn’t good business for them, so I had to come over here, build up a reputation, which took a while, to get myself in, and I did eventually break in.
And it’s a complete turn around now because I’ve got nothing but great support, I’ve always had great support from the Irish- I am Irish and I am an Irish fighter- but in the UK I have got the British support as well- so it was nice to get that. They obviously liked my style of fighting.
You were after the Roy Jones fight for a long time and then eventually you said you lost your motivation because the fight just wasn’t happening. But around that time there was an up-and-coming boxer called Joe Calzaghe who was your number 1 contender…
Yeah there is obviously the new younger generation coming up. I can recall when I was the US champion, Sugar ray Leonard was [world] champion, and I was calling him out, and he didn’t fight me- I thought he was afraid, but he said he wasn’t going to fight me because there was no money in it, he thought I was just another kid mouthing off. History repeats itself then, I was hanging around for the Jones fight- promise after promise that it was going to happen, and then it wasn’t going to happen
and I just had no more incentive. Names were thrown in the hat, and Joe Calzaghe was one of them, there was two or three names thrown in the hat, but they weren’t names that were recognised on American TV, so they weren’t putting the money up, and Sky TV were lukewarm about it. So there was just no incentive any more to fight the new breed coming up, I just couldn’t raise myself for it, so therefore I retired.
With hindsight, is there any regret now when you look at the career Calzaghe went on to have- unified Super Middleweight champion, unbeaten record, 46-0 – does part of you now wish that you had fought him?
No, not regret. It’s unfortunate for him that he didn’t come four or five years earlier, because it took him four or five years to win the public over. It wasn’t really until the end of his career that he got the respect that he deserves
Yeah, it wasn’t until the Jeff Lacey fight.
Yeah, and that was a long time after he won the title, a long time fighting all the people out there, but it wasn’t until the end of his career that he got the recognition that he deserved. So in a way, if he had probably come in five years earlier he would have been in the mix with us because there was six or seven world champions around at the time. I mean there was Glenn Catley, Robin Reid, Ritchie Woodhall, Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, I mean it goes on. We were all there before him, I know he fought some of them when they were in the latter stages of their careers, but if he had come along four or five years earlier he would have been in that mix, he may not have lasted in that mix, but he would have been in it.
He hung in there and spent a long time as an undefeated champion and he got the credit he deserved. He didn’t come around early enough for us. As a matter of fact, he is facing the same scenario himself, as Carl Froch was calling him out, and he didn’t fight him, because Carl Froch wasn’t a name to fight. Now Carl Froch is the big name, and those two still have a war of words- they still slag each other off.
Your era was an exciting time for the Super Middleweight division, the division isn’t that old, but that’s when it really came alive. Today it’s going through another boom period with the Super Six tournament and you’ve got the big names at the moment. So how do you think you would fare today if you were around now in your prime against the likes of Kessler, Ward, Froch, all these guys? Where would you fit into the mix?
I honestly believe it was a better division when I was around than it is now. These guys are great, I love Froch, I love everything about Froch, I’m a great admirer of his career and so on. Em, but you know, it’s a different generation. Maybe in our time they wouldn’t have been as successful. I don’t know. Maybe they would have been more successful, so I don’t really know. It’s the Marciano vs Ali thing, who would beat who? Everyone has got opinions, but I would like to think that if I was around now I could be world champion still, but you know, that’s the way every fighter thinks.
You were trained by Freddy Roach during your career In your mind what makes Freddie so special? Why is he one of the leading trainers today?
Em, a lot of trainers have an attitude that you have to train their way, but when I came to Freddie, and Freddie has his style, I said “let me try this”, and Freddie said “Right, let’s work with that” then he would say “that works or that doesn’t work” he wouldn’t say “no, no, no, do it this way, listen to me”. He would say “try this and if it works we will both know and we will stick to it, and if it doesn’t work we won’t”.
So he was very open minded, he is very intelligent, and he brings out the best in what you are, not what he thinks you should be. So he doesn’t have a one dimensional way of training guys, he’s open, he can help a person improve as a fighter, he can help a person improve as a boxer because he is open to what you want to do. Some fighters get in the ring and say “oh, that’s the Kronk style, or the Philadelphia style, or that’s the South-American style”, but with Freddie there is no such thing as styles, with different fighters he works with what they do, there is no pigeon-hole.
So he brings out the best of each individual fighter.
Yes, plus we had a bond- we fought on the same show together in Boston, we were both pro’s together at the same time, he has got the Boston-Irish connection, and we understand each other. We had a great arrangement. I met him in Dublin, he came over for a guy to fight Lennox Lewis, I knew he was in LA, I knew he was in Mickey Rourke’s gym at the time, and I had a chat with him, a handshake and that was it- no contract what so all. I said “this is the story”, he was on-board, and we took it from there. Which took the pressure off both of us, as it was more a companionship, no not a companionship, it was more of a friendship, a partnership, and we didn’t have to rely on a paper- we had our handshake and that was it.
THE SILVER SCREEN
We see you are returning to the world of acting this year. Obviously you were in ‘Lock, Stock’ and we saw you pop up in the U2 video, and you were in a feature film called ‘The Street’. How did you get involved in that? How did that come up?
I did a film two years ago called ‘The Kid’ , a true story, a very good story, I got a part in that and met Nick Moran in London one day, who was obviously one of the actors in Lock Stock, and he had a chat with me and said “what are you up to? do you fancy another bit of acting?” Lock Stock was great and I said “yeah, I do” So he gave me a part in this movie. It was really good fun. Yeah, I get a buzz out of this.
It’s no harm for the profile and since then I have had a lot of small things come my way that actually suited me, so I have just done them. From them it’s become a springboard from little parts and roles to something slightly bigger and better. It’s a slow process, you know? Not like Vinnie Jones who just started off and had blockbusters and has just been doing great things since ‘Lock, Stock’. He is a certain character and he is great at doing those parts, but he is the exception. It’s not as easy as people think, but if you enjoy it and get a buzz out of it, then there is no harm.
You’ve mentioned Vinnie Jones- a famous sportsman who made it to Hollywood. Is that maybe something you are looking for? What are your goals?
I have achieved all my goals in life, right now the only goals I have are to stay alive as long as I can, to survive, and try and be comfortable. Em, if bits and pieces and movies come your way, and they help your profile and help you get work and pay bills then I’ll be happy enough. Great. But personally it’s also a satisfactory element of it. I do enjoy it and there is no harm, plus I’m meeting interesting people, learning about people and life, people away from the boxing ring. So I enjoy it, I meet some good people, it’s fun and it’s something that is work, but obviously not as hard as boxing, it’s something I dedicate myself to part time, you know?
How important is it for you to be a convincing actor- to show that you are not just a world class boxer but also possibly a world class actor?
Everything I do, I try to do 100% and do it right, you know? I have to do things right. If it’s an acting role, if it’s a job, whatever it is. If I don’t believe I can do it right, then I won’t do it. If a role comes up in a film then about a month beforehand you spend, depending on how tough the role is, part of the day being that character, practising.
To end with I’ll throw this to you, favourite film and favourite actor?
Em, I love Raging Bull. I love the whole story to it, because every time I watch it I see something else in it that I can relate to. Em, I can’t say favourite actor. I love the Rocky movies, because it was just fantasy. When I fought Chris Eubank I came out to the Rocky music, and I must say, the whole thing, the 48 hours before the fight, the result, it was like a Rocky film. The whole story was too corny to be true. How I got the fight, how it came about, the event, the whole lot, and then when I came in to the Rocky music, and it was like a movie. It was too good to be true, but reality is great. I mean that was amazing and I really enjoyed that.
Steve Collins Interview