Eastman's Bid Evokes Memories Of Nigel Benn

26.01.05 - By Richard Fletcher: HOWARD Eastman's impending challenge to Bernard Hopkins has got me reminiscing about the last British middleweight to make waves in America. Like Eastman, Nigel Benn was known but doubted in the U.S. until a couple of big wins in the spring and summer of 1990 propelled him to prominence and almost into a superfight.

Flashy and exciting, Benn blasted his way to 22 straight KOs in the UK before collapsing, utterly punched out, in the sixth round of his fight with compatriot Michael Watson in a supertent in north London. Exposed, Benn could have given up but instead went to the States to prove himself. Three wins, including two over the ten-round distance (Benn had never previously gone beyond the seventh), earned him a WBO title fight against the rugged Canadian Doug DeWitt in Atlantic City.

Benn was the underdog but, showing new resolve, recovered from a knockdown in the second round to floor DeWitt four times on the way to his first world title.

If that wasn't enough, Benn caused an even bigger stir four months later when he defended against the menacing Iran Barkley in a breathless battle of punchers in Las Vegas.

From the first bell, Benn seized the initiative, hammering Barkley to the floor almost immediately then hitting the American while he was down.

Benn was wobbled midway through the round but rebounded to deck Barkley twice more before referee Carlos Padilla, somewhat hesistantly, waved the fight over under the WBO's three-knockdown rule.

Hoisted aloft, Benn showed his fierce patriotism in victory before, paradoxically, ripping up his boxing licence in front of the TV cameras in protest at the refusal of British regulators to recognise the organisation whose title he held.

Afterwards, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns were both mentioned as potential opponents before Benn lost his next fight to bitter rival Chris Eubank back in England.

Benn carried on, soon moving up to super middleweight and, just over four years later, won a torrid and ultimately tragic struggle with Gerald McClellan, who sustained serious and lasting brain damage trying to win the Londoner's WBC title.

It was Benn's greatest triumph but finished him as a fighter. Speculation about a meeting with Roy Jones Jr came to nothing and the following year, Benn suffered three defeats in the space of eight months before retiring. But his legacy was already assured.

I met Benn three years after his last fight and he hadn't changed. But I experienced a warm, accommodating side to his personality that opponents rarely saw.

Eastman, reserved and unglamorous, is a contrasting character in and out of the ring but will be no less deserving of credit if he defies the odds and dethrones Hopkins in Los Angeles on February 19. But it is doubtful even a victory of that magnitude would earn Eastman the sort of attention and respect Benn once commanded on both sides of the Atlantic.

Article posted on 26.01.2005

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