The moment Nigel Benn was told by his son Conor that he was going to fight the son of his greatest rival, he started making arrangements to fly to England from his home in Australia so he could spend the whole training camp with him. The moment Chris Eubank was told by his son, Chris Jr, that the fight was on, he stopped taking his calls.
It has been nearly 30 years since Benn and Eubank came to blows in one of British sport’s fiercest rivalries, but passions still run deep. On October 8, at London’s O2 Arena, the sons of the two legends will meet in the ring, a fight that will be shown live on DAZN PPV.
Initially, it had been talked of as a bit of a fantasy fight, two sons settling their fathers’ argument. But now it is reality, Benn Sr was instantly thrilled at the prospect.
“He’s flying over, he’ll probably be a bit excited,” said Conor. “He lives his career through me now, so he is as emotionally involved in this fight as I am, probably more.
“I see a rivalry that ends. I see me handling something that my dad couldn’t. You know I am going to have to wind him up about that, don’t you? ‘Don’t worry, dad, I know you couldn’t handle it, I’ll handle it for you’. We are both confident I will come out with the victory.”
Eubank Sr won the pair’s first clash at the NEC Birmingham in 1990. Three years later, the rematch ended in an unsatisfactory draw in front of 45,000 fans at Old Trafford.
The third fight never happened, but the fire never left Benn, in particular. He even tried to come out of retirement in his fifties in the hope of getting another shot at his rival.
While Nigel plans to be involved in all of his son’s preparation, Eubank Sr, who was happy to hog the spotlight when Chris Jr first turned professional, has disappeared.
“I haven’t seen or heard from him in a few days since the fight was announced, which is shocking,” said Chris Jr. “I don’t know where he is or what he is doing, but I can’t get hold of him. That is crazy when you look at how he was, certainly early on in my career. He was super-emotionally invested in all my fights, even in my press conferences, he was always front and centre. In my corner on fight night, he was always there and, on the flip side, Conor’s dad wasn’t.
“Funny to see how the roles are reversed now, Conor’s dad is fully up for it and wants to be involved and my old man has gone MIA, missing in action. I know that he wanted me to wait. He said the fight would be bigger if you wait another year, both get a few more wins, build the fight, build the rivalry and then get it on in a football stadium next year, with more money, more exposure.
“I wasn’t willing to wait. The opportunity is here now. Yeah, we might make more money if we wait another year, but other things can happen and I wasn’t willing to give up the opportunity. There have been times in my career where things have been presented to me and I have waited and they haven’t come to fruition. So, we are going to get it on in a couple of months, with or without my father’s blessing.”
For a long time, the fight was seen of a something of a joke. Eubank is much more experienced and boxes two weights higher. But Benn has improved drastically over the past two years, exhibiting the kind of destructive style that made his father such a big star.
“I get taught day in, day out how to knock someone out,” Conor said. “The way I have that predator finish is natural, but my trainer [Tony Sims] has taught me everything I know. Tony always says to me, ‘I taught you everything you know, but I haven’t taught you everything I know’.”
While the two sons do not share the antagonism their fathers did, there is still two months of build-up for that to gently simmer. Yesterday, the two briefly came face to face at The May Fair Hotel, just off Berkeley Square, where they were doing some media interviews. Today, there is the official press conference — and things could start to get tasty.
“This really is a fantasy fight, a legacy fight, a fun fight for the public,” added Conor. “It is not even as if Eubank Jr and myself are so different from our dads, we are exactly like our dads. He carries the same persona and I am what I am.
“They were just two completely different people and there is bound to be a clash when they are that different. Even Chris Sr and my dad now don’t fully get on. And the apples don’t fall far from the tree.
“I am looking forward to the press conferences, it’s going to be funny, it’s going to be interesting. I don’t know what his approach is, he might be coming out with his smug one-liners. Listen, I don’t hate the man. He is what he is.”
This really is a fantasy fight, a legacy fight, a fun fight for the public
Eubank Jr, too, insists there is no gripe between the pair, but says that at its heart, this fight is about family pride.
“This is personal,” said Chris Jr. “Not because I don’t like Conor. I’m indifferent, he hasn’t done anything to make me dislike him. That may change. Where it becomes personal is what his father put my father through.
“There was the disrespect. That rivalry was real bad blood. He hurt my father in those fights, even the one my father won. I saw the aftermath, I saw the stress in the build-up, the time away and the injuries after. That stayed with me. His father did that to my father. I want to uphold my family name. I want to make sure the Eubank name stays on top. Because, at the moment, it is on top: one win, one draw; the Eubank name wins in boxing over the Benn name, that is just a fact.
“Nigel Benn is emotionally invested. This is his shot at redemption. His son beats me, that is how he gets over his loss to my father. I am not letting that happen, I am not doing that to my father. I am not giving his arch-nemesis that comfort. They need to know their place and the Eubanks are No1.”