Benn back on familiar territory

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The Independent Online

Victory by half a point over Thulane "Sugar Boy" Malinga in their first meeting in Birmingham nearly four years ago was the prelude to a memorable and lucrative 41-month phase in Nigel Benn's career.

Benn beat Italy's Mauro Galvano in his next fight in Rome to land the World Council super-middleweight title and now, second time around against the 36-year-old South African in the 10th defence of his title at the Newcastle Arena tonight, Benn knows exactly what is on his agenda - a big money unification fight against Ireland's Steve Collins in late May or June.

Then, maybe, a match with the International Federation champion, Roy Jones, if the politics of the American cable networks can be overcome. Or perhaps a third fight with Chris Eubank if he makes a ring return.

At yesterday's weigh-in at the Metro Centre in Gateshead, Benn weighed in at 11st 12lb 10oz, comfortably inside the 12st limit and 14oz heavier than Malinga, the man from Ladysmith, Natal.

"At the end of the day everybody's entitled to one close decision at the office, but then I went out and put it all right," said the 32-year- old Benn.

"I don't recall too much about Malinga apart from the fact that he's a strong boy, but I don't want to take anything away from him. He definitely wanted to win that night.

"We had a close fight and it could have gone either way, but I got it and I'm very thankful for that. I didn't have chance to train long enough for that one, but now I'm world champion I train hard for six to eight weeks properly. You'll see a new Nigel Benn, that's for sure.

"I think 1996 will go for me exactly as 1995. I'm not ready to relinquish my title - the belt is staying in England until the day I retire. I still feel new. I feel I can go as long as I want. I still feel there are four or five good fights left in me. I don't like losing, and the thought of losing drives me on."

Malinga has not fought since labouring to beat Leicester's Trevor Ambrose on the Benn-Vincenzo Nardiello undercard at the London Arena last July.

That was Malinga's only fight in the past year, and only two contests in 18 months makes it puzzling why he claimed the WBC's mandatory challenger's spot. But Malinga has, at least, had five successive wins since being outclassed and knocked out in six rounds by Jones in August 1993 - his only stoppage in 49 fights.

This will be Malinga's fourth attempt to win a world title, having lost to Germany's Graciano Rocchigiani (IBF), the American Lindell Holmes (IBF) and Eubank (World Organisation).

n Joe Bugner's WBO Inter-continental heavyweight title challenge against Brighton's Scott Welch will now go ahead in Berlin on 16 March. After two failed attempts to get Bugner licensed by the British Board of Control, the promoter Frank Warren has managed to get the fight switched to Germany. It will appear on the same show as Ralf Rocchigiani's next WBO cruiserweight title defence.