Nigel Benn: The Greatest Hits
The all-action style of “The Dark Destroyer” Nigel Benn has made him a legendary figure in British sport. Benn fought at a time when boxing was hitting a crescendo in the U.K., with his rivals Chris Eubank, Michael Watson and Steve Collins all vying for world titles, Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno were ready to reign as heavyweight champions and Naseem Hamed was emerging. Arenas and stadiums were full and TV audiences were enormous.
Last year, Benn was plotting a comeback against Sakio Bika but a shoulder injury forced its cancellation and that is that for the 56-year-old.
He had nothing to prove. He’s been in the U.K. with son Conor in recent weeks and is ready for a 14-day isolation in Australia, where he now lives, when he returns.
The Benns have been training twice each day together, but Nigel admits his fighting days are now over.
“No, I’m doing weight training,” he said. “I’ve gone from boxing to weight training. My shoulder’s hurting. It’s totally gone. I’ve had operations on both of my shoulders, two-inch tears on both of my arms behind the back of my rotator cuff. I tried to ease it with a lot of different exercises but they’re not really doing much. Both shoulders have got to be done. But boxing’s over. Boxing’s finished. I’ve handed the baton to Conor and Harley [8-1 junior middleweight] and they’ve got to run with it now.”
Conor is a 16-0 (11 knockouts) welterweight and a crowd-pleaser like his old man. He had only a brief amateur career and has faced criticism in his early goings in the pros. He’s been written off more than once already, but Nigel’s support and faith are unflinching.
“I don’t see it,” said Benn Sr., when asked whether there’s pressure attached to the surname. “Conor is his own man. He thrives on it. He doesn’t have any pressure whatsoever. People talk about his ‘0’. It’s not about the ‘0’. Listen, I remember when I had my ‘0’ when I lost to Michael Watson. I just went on and bettered myself. Conor’s like that. If Conor loses he loses. So what? It’s on the cards anyway. You’ve got to face up to it. But he’s had a short amateur career like mine, and that was fighting in Australia, it weren’t nothing big, so every fight he has he’s on a learning phase, he’s going through everything and he’s growing in stature already.”
And he’s not without support. He’s got a significant fanbase and is backed by Matchroom and Sky Sports. Word is that he’s ready to be let off the leash – when boxing resumes.
“They don’t only like the way he fights but he’s very articulate and they like the way he talks,” said the proud father. “Conor’s his own man, I don’t tell him what to do or whatever. If Conor wants me to help him I’ll help him, if he doesn’t no problem at all.”
In this downtime due to coronavirus they’ve actually sat down to watch fights for the first time. They reviewed some Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward battles.
“We don’t usually watch boxing together but we did it for the first time ever while I was sitting him down and telling him how to get more power behind his shots because he’s actually just punching with his arms,” Nigel went on. “But I’m trying to show him how to punch with his hips. I got so many knockouts because I was twisting my hips into my punches and it was really nice to spend some proper time with him, him listening to me, because he don’t [normally] listen to me…!”
He’s also suitably impressed with his son’s work ethic and his relationship with popular trainer Tony Sims.
“Sometimes I think the way Tony trains him is too much,” he said, without criticism but a nod to his son’s workrate and workload. “He trains him like a proper gladiator. There’s no comparison between the way I trained and the way Conor trains. I’d be tired after the second session. He does three sessions. Sometimes I try to slow him down because Conor’s like me, he’s so dedicated, he weighs his food, he writes everything down… That actually does my head in, but the training is different; he’s got strength and conditioning now, we never had that and food that he’s eating I didn’t even know anything about. It’s all completely different. It’s a different level and I believe he won’t be able to go on past 30, the intensity of his training… You’ve got to see what he puts in, the whole day… He’s only 23, listen to his maturity when he talks and you see he’s got an old head on young shoulders, he’s so mature. I’m 56 and when I look at him I think I can never do what he’s doing now. When you watch his training and what he eats and everything you’ll understand and you’ll know he’s going places.”
The father certainly did and here Nigel recalls his biggest nights:
Date/ Venue: December 2, 1987/ Royal Albert Hall, London
Titles: Super middleweight non-title bout
“He had me in a lot of trouble early on. He could change from southpaw to orthodox and at one point he switched and done a combination on me, but my back was against the ropes and I threw a right hand and a left hook that knocked him back. The referee tried to stop me and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Let me just get a big right hand over the top. Let me just throw a big right hand’ and that was it. I thought to myself, ‘Thank the Lord, because that was really going to be a hard fight because he was picking it up and I never had much energy left, usually after Round 5 or 6, because I don’t have a second gear, I only had one gear, I was burnt out. And like Naseem Hamed, I had the big punch to pull it out. I was thanking God that I got that one in the bag.”
Result: Benn KO 7
Date/ Venue: May 21, 1989/ Supertent, Finsbury Park
Titles: Commonwealth middleweight
“Michael was a good boxer. Michael had the capacity to beat me because Mickey Duff said to him, ‘All you’ve got to do is cover up and this guy will burn himself out.’ And that’s what actually happened. Michael threw a jab at me and I didn’t feel the punch. I didn’t feel anything. I remember my cornermen were there and said, ‘Go out there and steam him’ after Round 5. I looked in the boxing pamphlets, ‘Steam him, steam him… I can’t find it in here, mate.’ I was exhausted. Michael just threw a jab at me and I went down. I was exhausted. I had nothing left. I was throwing everything and Michael just covered up. I remember my dad saying, God rest his soul, that Michael winked at him as if to say, ‘I’ve got your boy.’ And one thing about Michael, I never had a bad word to say about Michael. Not like the other person [Chris Eubank]. He was just a nice, humble guy. A lovely guy. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Michael. He never slagged anyone off, he was just a class act, really. He took away my ‘0’ and that was really hard to stomach but thank God he did because it made me really ask, ‘Am I going to be a world champion?’ And that’s when I left everything in England and moved to Miami. That’s not a bad move. I had the first fight there with Jorge Amparo, he was tough, really strong so I learnt from that defeat and I’d done 10 rounds because I was always worried, ‘Can I do 10 rounds.’ Once I’d done two 10 round fights in America, I wasn’t scared of going 10 rounds anymore. I didn’t know how to pace myself.”
Result: Watson KO 6
Date/ Venue: April 29, 1990/Caesars, Atlantic City
Titles: WBO middleweight
“I never hit anyone as hard as I hit Doug DeWitt and in them days we had eight-ounce gloves, it was like nothing, it was like a bit of padding around your knuckle and when I hit him I could actually feel my knuckles sinking into his face. I was just whacking him. I actually felt the power. I was fast, wild, but I just know from when I was hitting him – I was hitting him with everything. In the second round he threw a left hook, I threw a left hook and he hit me and I went down. It was bang on the money but it was so perfect I didn’t feel anything. And I remember looking at the referee as I got up and in the next round I bashed the granny out of him and I put him down. But I knew I was hurting him, he wasn’t hurting me. He said, ‘I’ve been in with this person, I’ve been in with that person, so what can Benn do to me?’ But none of them were as ferocious as me. Regardless, you might have been in with Tommy Hearns and all them but I know me. From the beginning, at the press conference we got face to face and he said to me, ‘You’re going down.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I might go down, but I’m not going to stay down.’ I remember saying that to him and I remember when the fight finished the referee had never seen an ear like Doug DeWitt’s. His ear was maroon, blue and all battered. It was so manky. I was hitting him with everything. No one comes close with how hard I was hitting. No one had me to win. No one. It was actually easy. It wasn’t a hard fight at all. Not at all. Not in the slightest.”
Result: Benn KO 8
Date/ Venue: August 18, 1990/ Bally’s, Las Vegas
Titles: WBO middleweight
“Listen, you see what it is with Americans, when it gets put on them they always complain. Once I hit him on the ground, that was wrong, but the other one he was on the ropes and I banged him in there but I knew he couldn’t hurt me. I didn’t want the referee to use the three-knockdown rule, I wanted to knock him out. Just before that he fought Tommy Hearns (TKO 3), Roberto Duran (Lost SD 12) and Michael Nunn (Lost MD12). Sometimes people don’t realise that I make some of these fights look easy. I wanted to have a war with him. I didn’t want the referee to stop it with the three-knockdown rule because I know for a fact I was ready to annihilate him. When I hit him when he was down, that was an accident, pure adrenaline… One thing is I’m not a dirty fighter [which Barkley would claim], I’ll have a war, I might have a roughhouse, but I’m not a dirty fighter. I’m not elbowing anybody, I just want to have a fight with you. I wasn’t scared of him either. I’ve never been in the ring and been scared of anybody. This is how I knew I had him. At the press conference I was looking at him right in the eyes and saying, ‘You want it? Come on. I’ll have it.’ And he looked down on the ground. When he took his eyes off me, that’s when I knew I had him. The first punch I threw, I did a hop, skip and a jump and I threw straight at him. I didn’t waste time because I knew I had him. He hit me, he kind of knocked me back into the ropes and once I had my back on the ropes I knew I was going to bob and weave and I wasn’t going to miss him, left hooks, right hands and I was going to catch him. I was not scared of him whatsoever.”
Result: Benn TKO 1
Date/ Venue: August 18, 1990/Bally’s, Las Vegas
Titles: WBO middleweight
“The first fight was better than the second fight because we were very wary of each other [in the second]. I just knew I couldn’t lose to him again because you know the way he carries on, it just does my head in. But he’s got the best physique going, he’s got a jaw made out of granite, what can I really say about him? I really detested him. I couldn’t stand him, the way he thought the Queen should be living in Hove [where Eubank lives] and he should be living in Buckingham Palace with the way he conducted himself. You’ve got to say he’s a smart dresser… I think I really knew how to beat him but in the first fight I was just too aggressive and he can punch, he can actually really punch hard, I don’t know how many times he stiffened my legs up in the fight. I didn’t underestimate him. I should have worked his body more but I was head-hunting. It was his night. It was really hard to stomach but he was the better fighter that night. He came out like the champion. Then, at Old Trafford [a draw in the rematch], I know I won the fight. They say I gave him a low blow. He used to wear his shots by his chest, pulled right up to his chest, his shorts were so high up they said it was a low blow but I know I won the fight. I won it by about two rounds at least. But I’m not going to complain. There have been much worse decisions than me and Eubank and as long as I still had my belt I still had a million pounds around my waist. He doesn’t really push my buttons now. We’re just two completely different people. I respect him more now because I’m retired, but I thank God that He brought him along at that time because who would I have had as a nemesis instead of someone like Chris? Hopefully when we meet up one day we can remember the good times we had. We packed 46,000 in at Old Trafford, over 18.5 million watched on TV in (the U.K.) and there were another half-a-billion worldwide. Wow! How good is that? Imagine if it was pay-per-view then! If I saw Chris now, I’d take my hat off to him and show him respect. I’m not going to knock him because I think I needed him as much as he needed me. There’s no bad feelings because all we’ve got to do now is support our kids.”
Result: Eubank TKO 9
Date/ Venue: February 25, 1995/London Arena, London
Titles: WBC super middleweight
“It’s something tragic that happened. They brought him over here to bash me up. I said that after the fight. I was going to fight Michael Nunn instead but Don King said I had to take a hundred grand off. I said, ‘I’m not taking a hundred grand off.’ This is what he said to my manager, he said, ‘Well if he don’t we’re going to bring a mini-Mike Tyson,’ meaning Gerald McClellan. ‘Oh, I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared.’ I don’t work like that. I’m an ex-squaddie, been in the army, if I’m going out, I’m going out on my shield.
“He came over here like he thought he was ‘It’. Sorry, I don’t work like that. I’m not one of these Brits that’s going to lie down and think you’re going to bash me up and that’s it. No, no, no, no. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. I’m a warrior. I had no fear. If you look back, I come straight out to that ring, looked him right in the eye and said, ‘You know what, I’m ready.’ I was at a place in my life where I thought to myself, ‘I don’t care what happens, mate. You ain’t beating me.’
“What really got me going was he said to my dad at the press conference, ‘I’m gonna hurt your boy.’ My dad said, ‘You got to do what you got to do.’ But how disrespectful, and you know he meant it. He was a very spiteful man.”
“I got back in the ring (Benn was knocked through the ropes in the first round), I got hit and the next thing was, ‘Hold on a minute, I’m on the floor.’ He hit me up on the head but I got in on time and if I was one of those guys that was going to lie down… I got back in the ring, started fighting and in the second round pulled myself together. ‘Come on, you want it? Let’s have it.’ That was my attitude. And then it was me chasing him around. His gumshield was hanging out and I was saying, ‘I’m here. I’m here. You ain’t got to look for me.’ When he fought everybody he had to look for them. He didn’t have to look for me, I was there in his face and I was not scared whatsoever.
“And it was actually [cutman, the late] Dennie Mancini who changed my whole outlook [during the fight]. What happened, he said to me, ‘Look at the state he’s in.’ If you look at the first round and then watch what happened in the second round. I’m chasing him around. He’s just bashed the granny out of me in the first round, but Dennie said something that went into my subconscious that I didn’t even know. I just went after him. I didn’t care. I wasn’t scared. He was hitting me and I didn’t feel anything. Even when he put me down in Round 8 it was a half punch but go back and look at the punch I hit him with straight afterwards. It stopped him in his tracks. I was ready. This was a big, hard man but he knew for a fact I had his number.
“(McClellan started blinking during the fight and would suffer life-changing injuries) I wasn’t thinking about him. You’ve got to understand, I’m thinking ‘You’re stopping me from getting my kids what I want. You and Don King think you’re coming over here to bash me up, it’s not happening’. That was my whole attitude. He was hitting me with some good shots but it’s like I was shut off to it. I’ve never been in a fight like that where I still remember everything. I just knew I had him. I just knew I was going to win.”
Result: Benn KO 10