Enfield's Chris Evangelou (13-3) talked exclusively to BNN about his past as a boxer, his present as a personal trainer, and his future as an actor.
The Greek-Cypriot, known during his career as ‘The Flash’, won 35 from 40 fights in the amateurs and 13 from 16 in the pros. A recurring hand injury brought about his untimely retirement from the sport he so loved, but he remains positive about this as he pursues a new career away from boxing.
Here's what he had to say to Editor Tim Rickson:
Starting off with your boxing career, when did you first get into the sport? It was quite late compared to many other people that go on to be pros, wasn’t it?
“Being a boxing family, I remember us all waking up for Mike Tyson fights in the early hours of the morning, and Naseem Hamed when he was fighting in America, so it’s always been in our heritage. My dad always loved boxing, I remember the Tyson vs Bruno fight and watching Benn vs McClellan, so growing up it’s always been there, but I didn’t step foot in a boxing club until I was 17.
My eldest brother, Preston, trained with Carlton Warren and Gary Mason, so he had good mentors, and I used to watch him when he boxed in Brixton, when he was 16, so I was nine or 10, so it was a bit like monkey see-monkey do.
I first went into the gym after I had an argument outside my college when I was 17 and, although it wasn’t a fight, I didn’t deal with the confrontation very well, so I decided I wanted to learn to box myself, not so I could fight, but just so I could have the confidence to handle myself.”
You enjoyed a successful amateur career. What were your main highlights? Do you think that your style was possibly better suited to the amateurs than the pros?
“My main highlights were winning the ABA Novices in 2006. Leading up to the finals, I fought three southpaws and knocked two of them out, and then I beat Amir Unsworth in the finals, who was in the army. The amazing thing about that tournament is that I was behind on points in the last three fights leading up to finals, but I always came back and won, and I got nicknamed the ‘Comeback Kid’!
At that time, I used to think my style was better suited for pro because I used to counter punch a lot, but looking back now, it was good for amateurs because I won so many times. I only lost when there was a bad decision against a home fighter.
I look back and my style was clean and crisp counter punching, the thing I lacked was that I didn’t come forward enough but at the time I thought it was the right style, but If I could go back I would add a bit more aggression and pressure.
Going into professional game, my footwork, speed and elusiveness were the best things to take with me. You do have to take more punishment in the professional world, it was my footwork what set me apart, I think I can give myself a pat on the back because my footwork and elusiveness got me out of trouble and was probably my biggest attribute. I also had fast hands, which is why I got nicknamed ‘The Flash’”.
You were a big ticket-seller as a pro. Do you think that this possibly put undue pressure on you and maybe propelled you up the ladder too quickly, before you’d had the time to gain the requisite experience?
“Do you know what? I was saying this just yesterday, one of my biggest advice to a boxer was don’t let your fans, following, or people around you pressure you to take fights too early. You do your job and let your manager do his. Don’t listen to the rest of them because I did take unnecessary pressure, at Alexandra Palace I sold 1,000 tickets and knocked the guy out in under a minute, then everyone wants to see you boxing for titles and people are saying to you that you can beat this guy for the British belt and you think, ‘Yeah man, I want a title!’ Your older self will always tell you to calm down, get 15 fights under your belt against people that will build your record and experience up.
There’s a big gap between six rounders and title fights over 10 rounds. It’s a lot of pressure, anything can happen in those 40 minutes under those hot, bright lights, so you need to be prepared for anything and can’t go in too quickly.
So yes, there was a lot of pressure I was under because of the amount of tickets I sold, resulting in higher expectations, but you need to be mature and strong minded. If Floyd Mayweather had fought everyone he was asked to, he wouldn’t have ended unbeaten or as rich, and he would have sustained much more punishment.”
Your first loss (to Danny Connor in 2012) was a contentious one. Do you ever think about what might’ve been had you been given the decision that night? Things could’ve panned out differently for you, so do you regard that as a pivotal moment in your career?
“Yeah, of course it would have, it was one of biggest turning points of my career. People just don’t realise what comes with that decision, yes it was a controversial decision; all boxing fans, critics, and anyone who’d seen it, all gave it to me by a landslide. I came out unscathed, he didn’t hit me with one power shot, but he was resilient, and I should have pressured him more and threw the kitchen sink at him, but for whatever reason I couldn’t – having a bad right hand was a thorn in my career – you’ll see in that fight I throw much more with my left.
Eddie Hearn walked over to Darren Hamilton’s manager at ringside and said he wanted me to fight for the British title next, so it’s painful to know that I could have fought for the British had I won.
Every drop in the water has a ripple effect, I lost confidence after losing, I thought my boxing was broken, so I went away to try to fix it. I trained at the Mayweather gym for that fight and sparred every day for 14 days and they made it as tough as possible for me. It was actually one of my best fights, in the seventh or eighth round my brother, Andreas, you can hear him – he would shout out boxers’ names and I would copy their style – and he was shouting out names and I was changing my style three or four times during that round.”
Looking back on your career, do you regret being ‘fast-tracked’ into high-profile fights on TV under a big promoter, because of the added pressure that brought? Or do you look back on it with positivity, as some fighters never get the opportunity to feature on such platforms?
“By far with positivity, definitely. I was always a showman and it was a pleasure for me to box on Sky Sports, one guy I knocked out in the first round live on Sky, it was an honour and a privilege to box on Sky Sports, how many fighters get to say that?
I should have been more cautious and patient, and understand that a boxing career is a marathon, not a sprint. I never look back negatively because everything happens for a reason. But you have to think about you, losing a fight doesn’t change anyone else’s life, their lives continue, they won’t be crying over your loss, but you will be. You taking the fight everyone else tells you to won’t affect them when they lose; you need to have tough skin, it’s your career and no one else’s.”
Why did you decide to retire from the sport? How hard was this decision to make?
“The decision to retire wasn’t an overnight decision, it was a fire fading out, I didn’t stamp it out completely, and I wanted it to reignite, but it didn’t.
It was a very hard decision because you have to understand the world knows me as ‘Chris Evangleou, the fighter’, so giving up that is giving up a part of you. It’s in my blood, it’s a part of me, and nothing comes close in life to having your hand raised after a fight. I felt like a celebrity in the ring after knocking someone out, so giving all that up is a lot to let go of and a very tough thing to do.
However, I didn’t want to retire prematurely, then make a comeback, so I wanted it to be absolutely certain. I’m all or nothing in life, so that was a very hard decision to make.”
You’ve been open about your mental health struggles in the past. Was this a result of the difficulties you experienced in transitioning away from being a pro boxer?
“The last couple of years of my boxing career, it started then. Struggling with an injury that wasn’t healing, then breaking my hand, I was always boxing with only one hand working – my left hand – then when my right hand broke that was the start of my mental health spiralling downwards. When I lost the title fight to Connor, I felt disheartened, even though not everything is your fault in life, I felt like I let myself down and, even worse, I felt I let other people down and I loathed myself for that, but really you’re not letting anyone down at all.
Then, when I was walking away from boxing, yes, it got worse. I felt like I was losing my identity. It felt like breaking a pearl necklace where all the pearls scatter everywhere and you’ve got no control. You need to have a goal to aim for, to have a light at the end of the tunnel otherwise you’re in complete darkness.”
You’ve said that acting was your first love. When did you first start acting? Did you always believe that you’d come back to acting one day, even when you were boxing professionally?
“I’ve always been a showman, always wanted to be the centre of attention, I was a talkative kid, really active, little bit naughty! My first memories of acting was in my church, doing sketches to make people laugh but with a biblical theme behind it.
I got an award in my GCSE Drama for getting a 100% grade as I was the first ever student to achieve that. I always wanted to be an actor growing up, then when I had that argument on the street, then stepped into the gym for the first time, I thought ‘Wow, this is cool’.
When my dad took me to the boxing club, I saw his eyes widen when he saw how good I was, and I thought, ‘Man, I’m making my dad proud’, and he said he would back me in my boxing career if it’s what I want to do.
When I was 17 going on 18, I was a boxer and actor at the same time, then I had a spar planned with a pro and I was really sluggish and didn’t perform well because I had an acting job the day before and they had kept me there for 14 hours, so I had to decide between the two – either acting or boxing, I can’t do both, again, with my 100% mentality, it’s all or nothing. As boxing is a young man’s sport, I decided to put on the shelf and didn’t do another acting job for 10 years while I focused on boxing.”
What are your acting credits so far?
“I think the highlights so far was my first commercial for Samsung. It was the first ever thing where I felt like a proper actor. My agent called and I couldn’t believe I had got it, they sent me to Prague and I got paid good money for the first time and got looked after, so that was big for me.
The biggest thing I’ve done is Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentleman’. To be a part of something so big was special to me, I actually had a character, not just ‘gang member no.4’, I was ‘Primetime’ and I was an integral part of that film because I was the catalyst for why so many things go wrong in the plot.
It was such a proud moment for me, because I was at bottom of the ladder in the acting profession, with my boxing career just finished behind me, so it was big for me, as I’m now in the cinemas and it was a comfort to know I’d made the right decision and I was proud of myself too.
‘Shadow Boxer’, although not a big Hollywood film, is my proudest achievement because it was something that I produced, so it’s close to my heart. It begun as two A4 pages of thoughts and scribbles from my mind and then turned into an epic short film, starring my friend and mentor, Games of Thrones actor James Cosmo. It’s based on personal experiences during my life and boxing career, so will always be close to my heart.”
How did you land your role in The Gentlemen? It must’ve been an incredible feeling when you found out that you’d got the part.
“It was organic and exactly how any actor would be cast in any film. I remember the day I was told, just driving home, I got a message form my agent about a casting for a Guy Ritchie film. Then I was sent the script about a guy called Charlie who was training and talking in a boxing gym about a robbery, so it was literally the part that came along and was made for me. I done well in the audition, then walked out and forgot all about it, which is common because sometimes you don’t even hear back from most of them, but then a few weeks later when I was getting my haircut my agent rung me to say I got the role! At first, I said ‘What role?!’ because I do so many auditions, but then I got really emotional about it! I called my girlfriend and she started crying and it felt like I had won the lottery.”
On the set of The Gentlemen, did you have many chances to sit down with your big-name co-stars and pick their brains for advice?
“Yeah, for sure, the main one was Colin Farrell. One scene takes hours to set up so you get a lot of downtime and I was there with Colin and he told me all about how he got his big break on ‘Tigerland’. I had an opportunity to literally pick the brain of a Hollywood star, so it’s like having a sit down with Oscar De La Hoya and being able ask them anything and getting the blueprint, so that’s why its so good to pick their brains. Colin was giving me a lot of encouragement, he said you’re in this big film, so just carry on acting, just keep going. When he said that to me, it was an amazing feeling.”
Have you based yourself or do you have plans to base yourself in Los Angeles in order to pursue more opportunities in the movie industry? What do you make of it over there compared to London?
“So at the moment im working onn my O1 visa which allows you to act in America, its pending but hopefully im booked to go to LA in November, that ws my plan to go to America not necessarity to live nbut to cast my net wonder. I feel tis might not be the case in LA most people you talk to either are themselves or are close to someone who woks in the film industry. If you are there for just a month you will network so much more than you could in London because everyone there is connected somehow. When I go there its solely to network so its all my time everyday. Youre more likely to meet people who can help you, in two weeks in LA networked more than three yers of acting. When you go out there everyone is involved in film and can talk to so many people.”
You’ve packed on quite a bit of muscle since your days as a 140/147-pounder. Was this for a specific role, or just because weight training is something that you enjoy?
“Bit of both, really. As an actor, you have a type. When people look at me, a Caucasian that has black curly hair, I get typecast as an English gangster, or Latino, a fighter, athlete, boxer, tough guy, so all my training is poised towards that.
I tend to get sporty roles, for example, I went to a casting for a Lucozade commercial and when I’m there the other guys are all looking strong and muscly, so I have to work on my body so that people pick me. I want to look the best so that’s why I’m weight training, so I’m trying to be the best looking to land those roles.”
What are the main similarities you have noticed between being a boxer and being an actor (eg. Dedication to your craft, keeping in shape, sacrificing time with family and friends etc)?
“Confidence. You need to have the confidence to be able to say to yourself that you can do this – when you go into the ring or into the casting room.
Dedication and discipline – as an actor you need to go to classes and workshops and work on your ability, the same as a boxer has to go to the gym to work on their ability. You have to train in both and make improvements all the time; you can’t be lazy, no ones going to come along and say, ‘Here’s your title or here’s your next big role’.
In boxing, you need to sacrifice your time, you can’t go on holiday with the lads or have a normal Christmas like everyone else. I always say that boxing is a prison where you hold the key.
As an actor, it’s different, you also need to sacrifice your time, so that could be your work hours or events, to go to a casting, but it’s more loose, you can enjoy your time off more. In three years, I managed to get in a guy Ritchie film and that’s because of my dedication and sacrifices, I do something every single day for my acting career.”
What do you miss most about being a boxer? And what don’t you miss?
“I miss the excitement and the thrill when I’m in the ring and I’m winning the fight and I know I’m comfortably better than the other guy and can show off my skills. I get calls and texts from people afterwards congratulating me and it’s the most amazing feeling.
I absolutely don’t miss the dieting at all! Never, ever do I ever want to make weight ever again!”
Can you see yourself ever becoming involved in boxing again in the future, either as a trainer or manager or promoter?
“Never say never, I’ve had people ask me to get back involved in other capacities, I do train boxers – amateur and pro – for their fights. Fighting again for a charity event, I will consider, but not competitively. Maybe if Justin Bieber calls me out, then I will!”