An inherited rivalry shouldn’t overshadow a British boxing classic as Conor Benn faces Chris Eubank Jr

‘The story has the epic and crazy qualities of a comic’: Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn  (Getty Images)
‘The story has the epic and crazy qualities of a comic’: Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn (Getty Images)

The brutal truth is that back in 1990 Chris Eubank had done absolutely nothing in the ring to deserve his fight with Nigel Benn.

Truth, however, is close to a meaningless concept in the boxing business.

Eubank had beaten Kid Milo in Brighton in September and Benn was fresh from a first-round stoppage of Iran Barkley in Las Vegas. Benn had retained the WBO middleweight title, Eubank became the king of the seaside.

The pair looked like they were from different fighting planets, but boxing has always been a deceptive game.

Eubank beat Benn in their first fight; the rivalry started, the rematch in 1993 was a draw and this Saturday, at the O2, their sons continue the feuding bloodline. The story has the epic and crazy qualities of a comic; boys becoming men and knowing from an early age that they were part of something bigger, something deeper.

At the end of the summer in 1990, Barry Hearn, the promoter, performed a nice little bit of magic to move Benn, the WBO middleweight champion, closer to a defence against Eubank, an untested boxer with a growing profile. It was the summer when Donald Trump, then a promoter, tried to arrange a fight or two for Benn. Make no mistake, Benn was in demand, box office, the attraction; Eubank was not selling out York Hall.

Eubank simply talked his way into the fight by goading Benn; Hearn turned the growing festival of hate into the event.

It was the night when British boxing lost its black and white image. Benn was favourite, the crowd paid 200 quid for ringside seats, it was an event, a place to have your face. Benn was stopped on his feet but finished in the ninth; he was leading on points. The fight changed British boxing.

The draw was fought in front of 42,000 at Old Trafford and then the pair raised the stakes on hate. There were more fights, skirmishes planned, but they never got back in the ring. They fought in a fake coliseum and that turned nasty, they clashed repeatedly and then, as they turned 40, they mellowed slightly. Only slightly.

Both their sons had giant and heavy shadows to fight under. The fathers were at their sides, in the ring with them; the critics were often far too harsh on the boys.

The truth is that both Eubank and Benn, the fathers, were crude fighters at the start of their careers. They became great fighters, smart pros, the hard way, the old way. It is exactly the same with Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr – they have both had to learn and adapt in careers under an unfair spotlight.

Similarities between fathers and sons are more pronounced if the comparisons are made between the boxers in the early stages of their respective careers. The fathers were not the finished article when they fought in 1990.

On Saturday there is growing anticipation at the planned cameos of the warring fathers; Nigel will be there and has been part of his son’s long training camp. Chris, meanwhile, will not be in his son’s corner, having run out of time to renew his licence. Instead, expect a lot of preening at ringside. And a great fight in the ring – and that is something that has been lost in the weeks since it was announced; this is far more than just a continuation of boxing’s greatest British rivalry, it is a terrific fight.

Conor Benn is undefeated in 21 fights (Getty Images)
Conor Benn is undefeated in 21 fights (Getty Images)

Eubank is bigger, but has to lose a few pounds, and Benn is smaller and needs to gain a few. The weird science in the noble art is getting the weight right; Benn will not want to come in heavy for the sake of it and Eubank will want to be strong at a specific weight he has not made for about 15 years. Eubank has to lose only three, while Benn has to gain as much as 13 pounds.

Benn is undefeated in 21 fights and Eubank became a better boxer in the two defeats he has suffered in his 34. Benn is seven years younger at 25, but Eubank is still fresh. Both have the same ambition that pushed their fathers to the very limits. The dads suffered in both of the savage fights they shared; the sons have the same desires and pride.

This would still be a massive boxing event even if their fathers had never known each other. Conor and Chris Jr are both attractions and top operators – they have each fought hard to slip the shadows and expectations of their names.

On Saturday, the old ways will take over when the boys continue the wars of their fathers. It feels like 1990 all over again.