Conor Benn returns Saturday, eyes future Eubank Jr. match, despite lingering PED controversy
Matchroom will move to revive the fight between Chris Eubank Jr. and Conor Benn should Benn come through Saturday’s comeback fight against Rodolfo “Sinaloita” Orozco.
The 26-year-old returns to the ring at 154 pounds on Saturday at Caribe Royale Orlando in Florida, on the undercard of the fight between Richardson Hitchins and Jose Zepeda, despite him not yet having been cleared of any wrongdoing over his twice testing positive for clomifene.
It was in April 2022, when stopping Chris van Heerden at 147 pounds, when Benn last fought. He had been scheduled to fight Eubank Jr. at a catchweight of 157 pounds last October, but three days before their date at London’s O2 Arena news of him testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug broke.
A ruling, in Benn’s favor, by the independent National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) in July meant his suspension being lifted, but UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), who had provisionally suspended Benn, have not yet officially cleared him, and confirmed that they were launching an appeal against the ruling from the NADP.
Matchroom and Benn have repeatedly spoken of him having been “cleared,” but the fact remains that he twice tested positive for clomifene, a female fertility drug that raises testosterone, under separate tests conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA). By proceeding to fight while acknowledging that there may yet be a ruling to contend with, Benn and those around him risk him being seen as fighting when he is either yet to serve a suitable punishment or prove that he is clean.
Benn and those around him were regardless, for a reckless period, also willing to attempt to proceed with the fight with Eubank Jr. despite his positive test. The often ill-advised attempts to rehabilitate his reputation via interviews, social media posts, statements and explanations founded on eating contaminated eggs have most recently brought him to Orlando – he has not held a license with the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) since the aftermath of his positive tests.
“That’s currently what’s being dealt with,” Benn responded when asked if he knows how clomifene made its way into his system, before proceeding to insist that anti-doping agencies should change their stance towards it. “That’s what’s being made public. I’m just letting my team deal with that.
“I’ve always been diligent with everything I’ve done in my career. But if you’re eating a banana, and it says it’s a banana, and it looks like a banana; it tastes like a banana… how can that be strict liability? There should be more duty of care for athletes, because not everyone has the resources to fight this.
“People need to look further but how can that be strict liability, if it’s in our food? You can’t stop that. How is this not common knowledge? There’ll be more fighters who test positive for this.”
“When he tested positive, we were immediately contacted by the UFC,” said Eddie Hearn, “to let us know that they’ve had they’ve had a similar problem with athletes and clomiphene. And they’ve conducted various different research, etc, etc.”
Clomifene is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). On their website, regardless, exists a study – one referenced by Benn – conducted by the German Sports University that explores how contaminated food can be responsible for potential adverse findings of clomifene.
“I hope I can change the law on testing for clomifene,” Benn continued. “I still want to work with UKAD. Hopefully everything I’ve been through changes how they test for clomifene, because other athletes may not have the resources – what about these other fighters that come through? You’ve got to look at it from the bigger picture.”
Eubank Jr.’s value is again significant, even beyond the context of a fight with Benn, after he revived his career aged 34 earlier this month by stopping Liam Smith. The only fight between British fighters that would prove bigger and more lucrative would involve Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua and is considerably less likely; to that end, Hearn – towards the end of a year in which a positive test for Dillian Whyte denied Matchroom and broadcasters DAZN Joshua-Whyte II – hopes that it is next.
“Our plan, ideally, is to fight Chris Eubank Jr. in the UK in December,” he said. “We’ve already had offers from a number of international venues to stage that fight, but I would like to try and make that fight in the UK. We’ll be making an offer to Kalle [Sauerland, Eubank Jr.’s promoter] and their team straight after this fight.
“We were made aware that there would be an appeal. We’ve heard nothing more – no dates. We’re not sure if that appeal will take place, or when. We will be speaking to the Board straight after this fight.”
Hearn was at pains to stress that the relevant authorities in the U.S. – the Texas State Athletic Commission; the Florida Athletic Commission (which approved the horrific fight between Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort in 2021); the Association of Boxing Commissions – have collectively received approval from the BBBC, but at no point mentions Matchroom doing so directly, potentially because it has long been accepted that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
The most unusual claim of all came from the emotional Benn, who spoke of “employing the three best scientists in the world on this” in his attempts to clear his name. Even those closest to him seem unlikely to have been able to help him do so – and it should not be overlooked that his respected trainer Tony Sims has joined him in Florida, temporarily leaving Jordan Thompson in Essex during the final days of his preparation for the fight with Ring Magazine/IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia.
“If the science comes back and it’s proven doping, ban for life,” Benn, a significant favorite against his 24-year-old Mexican opponent, responded when asked about his wider stance on the use of PEDs. “There is no room for it. But if you are innocent don’t let it be trial by media or politics.”