Benn banishes the ghosts

It was the same ring at the London Arena and it was the same old Nigel Benn. On Saturday night Italy's comically flawed Vincenzo Nardiello was sent tumbling six times before his compassionate father, Raffaele, threw in a white towel in the eighth round.

Benn retained his World Boxing Council super-middleweight title for the eighth time and appeared relaxed throughout.

Nardiello was not hurt but he could have been, because Benn was starting to land punches with alarming regularity. After the fight the Italian continued joking and insisted that his smooth-soled boots and not Benn's fists led to his inevitable downfall. "Is he having a laugh? He went down from good shots," Benn said.

There may have been funny moments but before the pair entered the ring another boxer, Orlin Norris, was carried out by nervous paramedics with an oxygen mask strapped to his face and taken by ambulance to the Royal London Hospital. In February Benn's punches left the American Gerald McClellan in need of a similarly sinister shuttle. McClellan underwent a brain operation to remove a blood clot and is now recovering.

Thankfully, Norris, who lost his World Boxing Association cruiserweight title when a fellow American Nate Miller knocked him out in round eight, was only suffering from severe heat exhaustion. He was released after checks and returned to his hotel near the venue. "It was real hot in that ring. I really did not expect that sort of heat," he said yesterday morning at breakfast. His departure was a chilling reminder that boxing can truly be the hardest and most demanding of sports.

There was a momentary sense of foreboding in the lull between the departure of Norris and the arrival of Nardiello. However, the Italian's smiling face appeared to calm people down.

By the time Benn emerged from an illusionary laser corridor, the crowd had driven the spectre of Norris far from their minds. Benn's entrance was spectacular evidence of boxing's raw attraction. Inside the venue the heat was intolerable and many of the fans had stripped off their shirts, creating an odd carnival-like atmosphere. They were there to see Benn.

Very few fight fans shout "Kill him" as a form of encouragement but the combined energies of the paying public on Saturday night suggests a lawman would have few difficulties rounding up a posse. By the time the boxers were face to face and nudging each other during the national anthem, everything had been forgotten: McClellan, Norris and the unbearable heat. They were there for a fight and they knew Benn would not let them down.

In the fifth round, Nardiello went down for the first time. In round seven he fell another three times and was over twice in round eight before his father's intervention. It may not have been vintage Benn, his timing was off, but the result was very familiar.

"I came back, same arena, different man, same hurt game and I just did what I do. Before the McClellan fight, people were worried. Since that fight other people say I should quit but I think people should just keep their noses out of my business. I know what is best for Nigel Benn," said the Ilford-born champion who served terms in Northern Ireland when he was in the British army.

Long after the fight had ended and the condition of Norris was confirmed as not life-threatening, both Benn and Nardiello shared a few jokes. "I think he is absolutely crazy but he can fight a bit, don't worry about that," Benn insisted.

Now Benn plans a quick defence in September and then possibly two more before retiring at the end of the year. No opponents have yet been named but a long list of potential men includes Roy Jones, the International Boxing Federation champion. Now that would be a fight.