Boxing legend NIGEL BENN will come out of retirement to box an exhibition at Lancaster and Morecambe College this Saturday night. GREG LAMBERT found out why the former world middleweight and super middleweight champion is lacing up the gloves in such an unlikely setting.
GL: You’ve come over to the UK from your home in Majorca for a short tour. What else will you be doing while you’re back home?
NB: Well, I landed at Stansted on Wednesday night and tonight (Thursday) I’m in Great Yarmouth for a boxing dinner with (fight legend) Roberto Duran. I’ve brought my son Conor with me too, he wants to be a boxer. I’ve also got shows in Birmingham and Middlesbrough, and I’ll be training at a gym in Blackpool.
GL: What made you decide to get back into the ring?
NB: It’s a laugh. Even though I’ve finished boxing, I’m always in shape, always training. The EBF (European Boxing Federation) wanted to bring me over so I thought, why not? It’s something new.
GL: Money will be raised on the night of the Morecambe show for a local charity called The Twins Appeal. This is to help 15-year-old Lancaster twins Katie and Emma Sutcliffe, who both have spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and need to raise £85,000 for life-changing surgery in America which may help them walk again. They have raised £53,000 so far.
NB: I love doing anything for worthy causes. I didn’t know what the charity was until you mentioned it but I certainly wish them all the best. It’s absolutely good news they are so far along to their target. I do a lot of charity work and it’s good to be able to help people.
GL: Have you met your opponent on December 1 before? He’s local ex-pro, boxing trainer and promoter Frank Harrington.
NB: No, no, I don’t think so. How old is he?
GL: Frank is 50.
NB: Well I’m (nearly) 49, so that’s good...he’s in my age group! We’ll be the old fuddy-duddys together! (laughs)
GL: Frank is training hard for the fight and he says he’s going to do himself justice. What can people expect from ‘The Dark Destroyer’ on the night?
NB: Look, it’s not a ‘fight’. It’s an exhibition. I’ve been a two-time world champion. I’ve fought Chris Eubank, Iran Barkley, Michael Watson, Doug De Witt. We’re not talking about the same kind of thing here. Let’s not make it out to be something it’s not. This will be three, two-minute rounds. I can do that in my sleep.
GL: There will be a number of young local boxers fighting on the undercard and I’m sure it’s a great honour for them. Will you give them some advice?
NB: Absolutely, it will be good to speak to them personally. I’ll tell them to enjoy what they do and you’ve got to be dedicated. Boxing isn’t something you can just do now and again. That’s what I tell my son too.
GL: Your old rival Chris Eubank’s son has recently turned professional. If Conor eventually follows suit, could we see Benn v Eubank - the next generation?
NB: Why not? There’s an age difference there but that won’t matter. I know my son. He’ll be his own man.
GL: You had a bitter rivalry with Chris during the early 1990s. He stopped you at the NEC Birmingham in a thrilling contest in 1990, then you fought a draw in the Manchester rematch in 1993 - a fight many thought you won. But over the years, you seem to have mellowed towards Chris.
NB: When we were fighting, we were in our 20s. Now I’m nearly 50. I ain’t got nothing to prove. I had a great career. So more power to Chris. We had those two big fights, sold out Old Trafford football ground, which was a big thrill for me because they are my team. So all I can say is thank you, Chris!
GL: You support Manchester United then?
NB: Yeah, I’ve been a Man United fan since Alex Ferguson became manager. I like a manager who takes control. You saw the way he dealt with Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy; no one player is bigger than the club. He has passion. Having been in the army, I respect those kind of people who believe in discipline. He’s like a sergeant major.
GL: As we speak, it’s 48 hours before Ricky Hatton has his big comeback fight in Manchester. It’s been three years since he was last in the ring and his comeback has sparked controversy. What’s your view on it?
NB: I’m actually going to the fight to support Ricky. I think he just wants to redeem himself. Once he gets rid of his demons he’ll be fine. A lot of people say he shouldn’t be doing it. But by fighting, he will finally get rid of whatever is bothering him.
GL: So now you’re back in the ring, Nigel, how about a third bout with Eubank?
NB: Chris actually wanted to come on this tour with me. But I wouldn’t do it with him. The reason was, it would actually be a proper fight between me and him. Me and him can’t do exhibitions. It would bring back all those things that used to be between us. It’s not something we can do at our age. I’ve got to look at what happened to Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan (NOTE - Watson suffered a brain injury during a fight with Eubank in 1991, as did McClellan in his fight with Benn in 1995). I don’t want to put myself in that position ever again.
As well as the exhibition between Nigel Benn and Frank Harrington there will be four other fights, a meal, a comedian and an after dinner speech by Benn. For tickets, which are £70, call Frank on 07789 261768.