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

- By RIATH ALSAMARRAI

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.

 ??  ?? Fam­ily af­fair: Nigel Benn im­parts ad­vice to son Conor
Fam­ily af­fair: Nigel Benn im­parts ad­vice to son Conor
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 ?? PIC­TURE: ?? KEVIN QUIGLEY
PIC­TURE: KEVIN QUIGLEY

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