Boxing


The Case for Nigel Benn in the Hall

nigel benn05.03.07 - By Matthew Hamill: When you think of Nigel Benn, you think of words like fury, rage, and ferocity. These were his trademarks in the ring and provided uncommon excitement and entertainment. Unfortunately, his career defining fight ended with tragic results and detracts from his entire body of work. As one writer stated, " One man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it." Let's look at that work now and see how his accomplishments stack up insofar as being a prospective inductee into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.

Record: Nigel "The Dark Destroyer" Benn, a Middleweight and Super Middleweight boxing Champion, 42 - 5 - 1 with 35 ko's (three of his defeats came at the end of his career), was born in Liford, England the son of Barbadian immigrants. As an amateur, he had a fine record of 41 wins and 1 loss. His pro ko percentage was an excellent 83%.

Style: Ostensibly an orthodox fighter, he was a ballsy and brash bomber and is still considered to be one of the hardest punchers of all time, but when he fought at the top level, he sometimes and inexplicably became somewhat unglued. Still, his ferocity and velocity were unmatched and were launched with evil intentions, the purest of rage, and often punctuated with a whirlwind of deadly hooks and uppercuts from all angles. With Nigel, the thing was his excitement and unpredictability. You knew what to expect...or maybe you didn’t.... which made him so exciting. He would come out bombing and winging and try to ko his opponents in short order usually knocking them out, but his "take no prisoner" strategy sometimes meant that he himself would be stopped. Some even called him one of boxing’s bad boys, and labeled his style as downright dirty. I'll refer to it as “win at all cost."

As to the rage that seemed to be an inherent part of his persona, a reading of his compelling autobiography "Dark Destroyer," a great boxing book, offers many clues and glimpses into what made Benn fight with such fury. It is highly recommended and rather than spoil it for you, I will keep silent as to its content. At any rate, Nigel presented an unabashedly snarling mien and personified the aura of a person you would not want to meet in a dark alley. In short, he was one tough guy!

Quality of Opposition: Excellent. Aside from the hapless Winston Burnett (who would finish with 20-98-3), Benn fought boxers with mostly decent records in his early years, a departure from the norm. Guys like Reggie Miller, Abdul Umaru Sanda, Darren Hobson, Nicky Piper, Jamaican Anthony Logan, Kid Milo, Canadian Dan Sherry, Puerto Rican Jose Quinones, American Sanderline Williams, Congolese Mbayo Wa Mbayo, David Noel, and Argentinean Hector Lescano all came in with winning records.

He then stepped up to a higher level to fight South African Thulani Malinga (twice), Italian and former WBC Super Middleweight champion Mauro Galvano (twice), former world champion Chris Eubank (twice), Juan Carlos Gimenez Ferreyra (46-6-3 coming in), future world champ and victor over "Sugar Boy" Mailnga (40-9 at the time), Vincenzo Nardiello (26-3), tough Michael Watson (21-1-1 coming in) and, of course. world champion Steve Collins (twice). While the names here might not resonate as much with an average American boxing fan as they do with one in Europe or the UK, they should strike a intimate chord with all serious boxing fans regardless of location. These fighters, along with Herol Graham and Robin Reid, represented the cream of the crop during a great era of fighters in the UK. But Benn also fought two top Americans in Iran "The Blade" Barkley (a warrior who fought in a savage manner not unlike Benn's) and the great Gerald McCllelan and beat them both by stoppage. O course, he beat Dough Dewitt as well. In short, Benn was competitive with the world's best.

Chronology: As a juvenile, he was a delinquent to say the least, but a four-year tenure as a soldier in the Royal Fusiliers, which he credits as the turning point in his life, forced him to embrace a need for self discipline. Benn turned professional in 1987 and began a remarkable streak of 22 consecutive ko wins (100% ko percentage). The streak extended until 1989 during which time he beat tough Fernin Cherino, and then won the British commonwealth Middleweight title with a win over Abdul Umaru. But he lost this title to the very tough Michael Watson by a 6th round knockout and with it, his undefeated record as well.

His next fight with limited Jorge Amparo was his first abroad. After two more wins, he got his initial opportunity at a world championship and made the most of it. He duked it out for the WBO World Middleweight champion with Doug Dewitt. Benn captured the crown by knocking out the resilient and granite-chin DeWitt (who had lasted 12 rounds against Thomas Hearns) in the 8th round. His first defense came against former world champion Iran "The Blade" Barkley and after being badly rocked himself, he knocked out Barkley in round one in a furious and savage shoot-out which was Benn's trademark. Eventually, however, he lost the world title when he was stopped in 1990 by the flamboyant Chris Eubank.
in round nine of a very close battle in Birmingham.

In 1991, he ko'd the vastly underrated Robbie Sims and half-brother of Marvin Hagler. Sims had beaten Roberto Duran and many other top level fighters like Tony Chiaverini, Doug Dewitt, and John Collins. Reflective of Benn's power, that loss would be Robbie's only career stoppage defeat. He then embarked on another undefeated streak, this time reaching fifteen. After beating his future conqueror and world champion "Sugar Boy" Malinga by a 10 round decision, he won the WBC's world Super Middleweight title with a knockout in round four over defending world champion Mauro Galvano. After two more wins, he fought a rematch in 1993 with Eubank and retained his title with a twelve round draw before 42,000 fans in Manchester. Next came tough Henry Wharton (undefeated coming in) and Juan Carlos Gimenez, both of whom he beat by decision.

I am not going to dwell on Benn's next fight (with the great bomber Gerald McClellan), for it has already received voluminous treatment, but I will not ignore it either and in this regard I quote Ian McNeilly who poignantly said, "The fight was one of the best and worst to ever take place. A triumphant and tragic microcosm of boxing." Clearly, it would change Nigel's life forever:....according to his trainer, the tragic results of that fight took away Nigel's fighting spirit.

Quoting McNeilly again, "The story of Gerald McClellan is a painful one, one that fighters, boxing writers and fans seem to find it easy not to discuss............This is because he is a living embodiment of the risks fighters take every time they step through the ropes, a reminder of the dangers that are ignored at peril. To dwell on cases like Gerald McClellan would destroy the sport. To ignore him is to debase ourselves." Hopefully, no serious boxing fan would ever ignore Gerald MeClellan.

The "Black Destroyer" would go on to beat future world champion Vincenzo Niardiello and game Danny Perez before losing to "Sugar Boy" Malinga the second time around by a 12 round decision. In so doing, he also would lose his WBC world title. Then, he was given a another chance at a world title.....this time the WBO's world title, but he lost to Steve Collins by 4th round knockout in Manchester (a fight in which controversy arose as to an injury to Benn's ankle)....and after losing the rematch, it was clear Nigel had come to the end of his glorious career. As writer Jack Dunne once said, ".....he lost to Steve Collins, twice by way of TKO, guess what? It was just Nigel's time, NOBODY fights forever. Father Time is STILL the undefeated, undisputed champion of the fight game, all times, all divisions."

Some say that Nigel Benn is mostly a "forgotten warrior" perhaps because he will forever be linked to Gerald McClellan and it is admittedly painful to think of him without remembering their tragic fight. But if so, that is manifestly unfair. Any assesment of Benn must be based on his entertaining style and accomplishments in the ring. Again, to quote McNeilly, "...the many who watched saw a man [Benn] reach down into his inner being and summon something to destroy a force [McClellan] supposedly greater than himself [Gerald was a 4-1 favorite]. And as we looked on, amazed and enthralled, we cheered as life slipped away from a fellow man slumped, defeated, in his corner."

Whether he gets into the International Boxing Hall of Fame remains to be seen, but if he fails, it will not be because of his lack of providing incredible excitement and indelible memories for boxing fans throughout the world. Nigel Benn was an eccentric, a one of a kind and will not soon be forgotten by boxing aficionados.

He reportedly now lives with his family on the Spanish island of Mallorca where he became a Born-again Christian and, later on, an ordained pastor.

Well there it is. I cannot help but feel Nigel Benn chances for the Hall are pretty darn good. After all, he was a two-time world champion who fought the best of UK competition at a time when that competition was keen and perhaps the best in the world, he beat two great American fighters, he always gave the crowd its money worth, and he finished with a great ko percentage.

As for those who say, "if you have to wonder about it, then he doesn’t belong," I say poppycock.....because I'll show you any number of fighters in the Hall where I have to "wonder about it."

"The British press hate a winner who's British. They don't like any British man to have balls as big as a cow's like I have.” Nigel Benn

Article posted on 05.03.2007



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