Scottish Daily Mail
MY BOY HAS MORE TALENT AT JUST 19 THAN I EVER DID
Nigel Benn reveals violent sparring with son Conor, who can reignite feud with Eubank
THE son nudges his famous father in the ribs, asking the old fighter to explain what happened when they walked into an empty gym in Australia four months earlier.
‘Dad,’ he says. ‘Show them the video.’
The father is having none of it. ‘When you’re the world champion I’ll show it and not before,’ he replies. ‘Cheeky t***.’
‘I love you really, dad,’ says the son. He’s laughing.
‘That’s how you show it?’ says the father. ‘Doing that to your dad?’
The contents of the video, hidden away inside an iPad, remain unseen. But the footage is one reason why Nigel Benn, the ‘Dark Destroyer’ of the Eighties and Nineties, believes his 19-year-old boy is ready to take the next step.
It is time, they have decided, for Conor to stake his claim on one of the most evocative names in British boxing history.
THE story goes back to a youth club in Blacktown, Sydney, Australia, on a quiet Sunday morning in June. Conor Benn’s suitcases were packed, with flights to England booked for the next day.
The plan, he agreed with his dad, was to work with Ricky Hatton and fight at the Amateur Boxing Association championships next year. If the amateur adventure works out, he will ultimately take a swing at the pros. But before he took his final sleep in the family home, the son walked up to his father with a suggestion.
‘I told him: “Dad, we need to spar”,’ recalls Conor. ‘Over all the years growing up, we had only ever had one spar, when I was 15. If I’m going off to be a boxer, me and my dad surely had to have at least one proper spar.
‘Dad was like: “I don’t want to hurt you again, son”. I was saying, “Bring it on”.’
A previous sparring session, in the garage when Conor was 15, had left the son with a chipped tooth. The re-match four years on, with Conor having since won 20 of his 22 amateur fights as a lightwelterweight, turns out to be a little more dramatic.
Conor: ‘Dad wasn’t interested. When I told mum, she was like: “Fight your dad? He’ll hurt you”. I wasn’t having it. I said, “Look dad, let’s bet £300 — I’ll beat you.’
Nigel: ‘I told him, “What you talking about? Spar? With me? Listen to your mother, boy, I’ve boxed a bit before”. So Conor then starts staring at me with this hungry look in his eyes. He wants to go for it. I’m thinking: “Oh, OK, so you want to go after dad, do you? Careful what you ask for, boy”.’
The gym was empty so the father took out his iPad and mounted it next to the ring before stripping down.
Conor says: ‘It was eerie. Neither of us were speaking, just circling each other in this ring, both stripped to the waist, him wearing a headguard but not me.’
Nigel recalls: ‘He is snarling at me and I’m thinking: “Yeah, it’s time son. Time to learn from dad”. But before I knew it, he hit me so hard my headguard flew off!
‘I hit him back, a right hand across his face and it was like the Matrix, everything in slow motion, him spitting everywhere. “Fight with dad, eh?” But then he throws a combination right back.’
Conor says: ‘It was four rounds of crazy punches. Not a single jab. I just about won.’
The father, according to Conor, is yet to pay his son the £300 he owes him. Nigel is shaking his head about the whole episode. ‘I couldn’t lift my arms for five weeks,’ he says.
‘I actually had a cancer check and I was wondering if the stiffness I was feeling around my shoulders was a sign of something bad. Then I thought: “No, it was that cheeky t***, he did this to his dad”. No one will see the video unless he becomes champion.’
The former two-weight champion of the world stops laughing. ‘If I look at where I was at 18 or 19 he surpasses me by far,’ he says. ‘I honestly mean that. He has the DNA and a little bit more.’
But then he holds himself back. He doesn’t want to sound like the other guy. NIGEL BENN is getting animated. The name that always comes up in his interviews has surfaced again. On November 18 it will be 25 years to the day since he first fought Chris Eubank and, incredibly, the business between them might not be finished.
Benn was involved in detailed negotiations for three years to make a third fight against the man who beat him once and escaped with a slightly fortunate draw in the 1993 rematch. It has been on and off and somehow passed largely under the radar.
A £20million trilogy fight is currently off the table and Benn, a 51-year-old grandfather in immaculate shape, is exasperated as he thinks about why. He is shaking his head when it is pointed out that Eubank prefers to be known by the name ‘English’ these days.
‘English?’ Benn says. ‘What the....? Honestly where is his head at? I’m not calling him English. Your name is Chris, come on man. What?’
His son starts laughing. ‘Everything good between you guys, dad?’
Benn warms to his theme. ‘English?’ he repeats. ‘Get a grip.
‘People don’t know it but almost everything was in place for that third fight. We would make £5million to £10million each, everything split evenly. Not one word of a lie. We spent three bloody years talking. But Chris. That man. Impossible.’
Benn throws his hands in the air and says he has moved on from one of the most exhilarating rivalries in sport. He is a preacher these days, a man who smoked 20 fags a day at his best and attempted suicide at his worst. He has lived through the killing of his older brother, when
Benn was only eight, and had addictions to sex and drugs. Now, having found God, he says he is ‘a man at peace’.
But that one name just keeps flipping the switch in his mind. ‘Eubank says yes, then he says no — nothing is easy,’ Benn says. ‘After three years of his rubbish I have had enough. I don’t need that fight. Where is his head? Oh, you know what, I’m done with that man.’
Except he isn’t. All roads tend to lead to Eubank.
IT is lost on no one that Chris Eubank Jnr is a long way down the road as a professional middleweight on the title trail. In Junior’s corner and in his ear and in his press conferences is his own famous father.
Nigel Benn wants to take a different approach. ‘Conor is not emulating me,’ says Benn.
‘He has to be his own man and learn his trade from the start. He will fight in the amateurs and then, if it works, the pros.
‘I will go back to Australia and will give him advice, but that’s it.’
With that, Eubank is back on his mind. ‘What is Chris doing to his son?’ he says. ‘I met Junior a few weeks back and he seems a nice kid. I told Junior: “I don’t understand why you are copying what your dad does — jumping over the ropes, coming in to Tina Turner music”. He needs to be himself.
‘Chris, you had your day. Step off, stop nicking his limelight. I’ll advise Conor and that’s it.’
Conor nods along. He is one of Benn’s eight children, some born away from his marriage to Carolyne, Conor’s mother. ‘I trust him with every inch of my life,’ Conor says. ‘I couldn’t have a better mentor than my dad. He has lived it.’
Benn’s personal story is dramatic, the tale of the bereaved child who joined the army to save himself from prison, and then become one of the most devastating punchers in British boxing history.
He won world titles at two weights before retiring in 1996. Despite his success, he frequently struggled to control himself during and after his career.
‘I want Conor to avoid the mistakes I made,’ Benn says. ‘The drug addiction, the sex addiction, all that.
‘But look, I didn’t have a normal childhood. My brother (Andy) was my hero and he was killed when I was eight and he was 17.
‘He was pushed through a window by racists and cut his groin and bled to death. I don’t mind talking about it because I have gone from a life of destruction to one of peace.
‘I found peace through God but not until I had driven myself to the edge.’
There was one night in 1999, when the guilt of his infidelities got too much and he attempted suicide. Benn parked Carolyne’s car next to Streatham Common in south London and washed down sleeping tablets with white wine, having fed a hosepipe from his exhaust and through a window.
The pipe kept coming loose and Benn went home.
‘I turned to God but for a while I wasn’t doing it properly,’ says Benn.
‘I would be rolling a joint and saying: “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus”. To do it right you have to confess — I confessed everything to Carolyne and she threw me out for a year.’
Today, Benn says he is a different man. He preaches in Australia and has joined the Voice of the Child campaign for underprivileged children over here.
‘Carolyne took me back and the last few years have been my best. Boxing, all that money, all that fame, it can break you. I’ve learned a lot the hard way. I know from experience what Conor has to avoid.’
CONOR is excited. His journey is about to begin for real as he lives away from home for the first time.
‘I remember I had a streetfight once when I was a kid,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want dad to know from the cuts and that so when I got home I said I had been jumped.
‘Man, he didn’t sleep for days. He went out on his bike looking for them one day. When I finally told him, he was like, “Well, did you at least win”?
‘Dad thought I was hopeless when I started boxing. He would look at me when I was a kid trying it and say: “There’s nothing that can be done here, son”.’
Father and son start laughing again. It is far too early, by Conor’s admission, to know if he has serious potential.
He says he beat Australia’s No 1 amateur in only his seventh fight and Kevin Mitchell, a multiple title contender, reckons he has the ‘movement and explosiveness’ of his dad.
If he has a reasonable fraction of the talent, it could be a fun ride. But right now is a time for fascinating possibilities.
‘I have a long way to go,’ Conor says. The obvious question has been hanging for a while.
‘Would I rather a fight with Chris Eubank Jnr down the line over any world-title fight? Yeah, I think I would. We need to bring that win back home.’
That video, should it ever materialise, would not be nearly so hard to get off his father.