British warrior Nigel Benn added a huge amount of raw excitement and entertainment back when he was doing his thing in the 1980s and 1990s. One of British boxing’s most consistently exciting fighters, “The Dark Destroyer” added glamour as well as thrill. In some ways, Benn carried himself very much like an American fighter. No stranger to trash-talking or flashy ring entrances, Benn was also seemingly obscessed with getting the KO each and every time he stepped into the ring.
Benn – who celebrates his 57th birthday today, and almost came back last year for a one-fight deal that would bring him “closure” – sure left his mark on the middleweight and super-middleweight divisions. Benn won a world title at each weight, really being at his best up at 168. It was as a super-middleweight that Benn went to war with greats Gerald McClellan and Chris Eubank. Benn fought the fight of his life against McClellan, quite literally, as did Gerald. While against arch-rival Eubank, Benn was denied a victory almost everyone felt he had earned; the rematch being scored a draw.
Benn was an amazing fighter in his prime. Dangerous with a capital D, and even more dangerous when he was hurt in a fight (see his simply jaw-dropping come back from near oblivion to sensationally take out Anthony Logan in a Commonwealth middleweight title defence), Benn was a fighter no fan could ever afford to take their eyes off. When he was at his best, Benn trained like a man posessed, pushing himself to the absolute limit in the gym.
His shortcomings exposed in the early part of his career, when Michael Watson’s blend of skill, savvy and toughness showed Benn he could not get by on raw punching power alone, the former soldier relocated to the US, went up eight pounds and reached his peak. It was here that Benn won the WBC title, making an impressive nine title retentions, and it was in the mid-1990s when Benn scored his ill-fated yet career-biggest win. Fans will never forget the Benn-McClellan battle, for a number of reasons.
Benn showed everything that night: desire, heart, chin, withering power, the ability to dig far deeper than anyone who had seen him go over from a Watson jab in 1989 would ever have believed possible. It’s such a crying shame that that February 1995 fight is best remembered because of the damage McClellan picked up. If not for that, many more fans would gladly list this fight as their personal favourite. Now, however, due to what happened, it’s tough for any decent person to “enjoy” watching the fight.
But Benn had scored the win he needed. In doing so, his greatness was secure, as were his finances. Benn went on too long, losing his last three fights, yet his prime years are acknowledged as having been very special.
Imagine Benn, a fighter with venemous power, great speed, incredible courage and desire, combined with an often leaky defence, going in with today’s best at 160 and 168. The mind boggles over what we would have witnessed had the peak Benn gone to war with the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez and one or two other current stars of those weight divisions. Benn, with his vicious punching power and his constant willingness to “have a tear up,” would have had a shot against any of them and in no way woud these fights have been anything but electryfying.
Today, Conor Benn, Nigel’s son, is carrying on the family’s proud fighting name. He sure has some massive shoes to fill.