By James Slater – As those fans who were lucky enough to have seen him fight live, in the flesh (really lucky!) or from their armchair (must-see T.V!), Great Britain’s great middleweight/super-middleweight Nigel Benn rarely if ever disappointed in the action stakes.
Today, long after “The Dark Destroyer’s” final fight (a disappointing corner retirement loss to a Steve Collins who twice caught up with Benn at a time when he was way past his best) fans on both sides of The Atlantic remain interested in the whole Benn mystique. Far more than just a slugger (although Benn’s power was legendary), Nigel had heart, guts, skill and a far better chin than it was once thought (“this man ain’t chinny!” insisted former arch-rival Chris Eubank after the first of their two epic encounters had just come to it’s violent conclusion.)
There really was plenty to enjoy when Benn was in action:
Who can forget his amazing Oct. 1988 battle with Jamaican-born Anthony Logan? Defending his Commonwealth middleweight title for the first time, Benn almost came a cropper. Decked heavily towards the end of the 1st-round, Benn was still shaky in the 2nd. Under real fire – “Benn, floored in the 1st-round and on the receiving end of a 22-punch flurry in the 2nd, pulls out a left hook to knock out Logan,” is how Boxrec describes the action – Benn scored the first, and arguably most dramatic, desperation KO of his career.
“Benn in most dangerous when he’s hurt,” former lightweight king turned commentator Jim Watt once said of Benn. How right he was!
Known after the Logan rumble (a fight KO magazine later called a “British Hagler-Hearns”) as a vulnerable big puncher, Benn, refusing to change his style any, finally lost due to his hot-headedness. Going in with the accomplished Michael Watson in another Commonwealth title showdown, Benn punched himself out in the early rounds and was decked by a stiff jab in the 6th. Benn was embarrassed and relocated to the U.S soon after the epic that had gone down inside “The Super Tent.”
Now realising his raw power and incredible physical strength were not enough against the elite fighters, Benn came back with a new, patient attitude. Sure, he still scored a number of quick and savage KO’s (see his Dec. 1989 KO of Jose Quinones, his second comeback fight), but Benn was also content to go the distance – as he did against Jorge Amparo and Sanderline Williams.
An up from the floor win over the iron-chinned Doug DeWitt saw Benn win a “world” title in April of 1990, and a brutal one-round win over Iran “The Blade” Barkley saw Benn repeat his impressive American form that August. Now bigger than ever, Benn was about to meet his nemesis. Enter Chris Eubank.
Hating the eccentric, monocle-wearing Brighton man from the get-go, Benn made the mistake of punching himself out once again (as he had against Watson) once the all-British grudge-match took place. Wanting, he said post-fight “to retire, but my manager don’t want me to,” Benn again managed to launch a fine comeback. It would be 16 fights before Benn lost again. How pleased he must be that the 9th-round TKO loss to “Simply The Best” didn’t end his career.
Quality comeback opponents Kid Milo and “Sugar Boy” Malinga were beaten (although the points win over Malinga was seen as a bad case of home-cooking), before Benn, now aged almost 30 and at his absolute peak as things turned out, won his second “world title,” this one up at super-middleweight.
Italy’s Mauro Galvano was relieved of his WBC belt (after some blatant attempts by Galvano to keep his belt, claiming the cuts he had suffered were due to intentional butts by Benn. They were not), and Benn went on to retain the crown an amazing nine times. Included in his lost of opponents during this time: Chris Eubank (a 12-round draw most people had Benn winning), Henry Wharton (who Benn out-pointed, later saying Wharton was the toughest guy he’d ever faced) and, in his most famous and sadly most tragic fight, Gerald McClellan (who Benn stopped in the 10th, as if any fan could forget).
The win over “The G-Man” saw the best of Benn, but that fight should also have signalled Benn’s retirement. Both men went through sheer hell, neither being the same again (Gerald in particular of course). Benn fought on, defending his belt against good men Vincenzo Nardiello and Danny Perez, before he fought the tricky “Sugar Boy” again; losing a 12-round split decision.
That should have been the end but Benn, by now out of bullets, had two losing fights with Irish hard man Steve Collins. Benn quit in both fights.
This is not how Benn is remembered, however. Not by a long shot.
One of the gutsiest, most wickedly powerful and most consistently thrilling fighters of his generation, “The Dark Destroyer” is surely a fighter who will enter The Hall Of Fame one day.
Benn’s final record reads 42-5-1(35). Today, Benn and his wife live a quiet, deeply religious existence. Nigel and Chris (Eubank) have healed their past wounds and are now friends. Nigel and Gerald McClellan’s family have also made peace.
Today a popular star of the after dinner circuit, Benn will make his next appearance on October 31st in South Shields. Fans lucky enough to be there will be able to ask the now deeply religious former warrior all the questions they’ve had on their minds. I wonder which of his many great fights Benn himself is most proud of?