Benn has a quick rethink

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The Independent Online
Boxing

The morning after brought second thoughts for Nigel Benn. A bare few hours after one of the most public and emotional retirement announcements possible, Benn was already reconsidering his future yesterday.

Notwithstanding defeat in Newcastle by the resolute, disciplined South African, "Sugar Boy" Malinga which broke his hold on the World Council super-middleweight title on Saturday night, he is clearly reluctant to end a thrilling and compelling savage career, although who and at what level he might fight is open to question.

Close to tears after a points defeat, Benn announced in the ring that he had fought his last fight. Now it seems that may not be the case. "I acted in an emotional state," Benn said yesterday. "I'm going on holiday to think about it and talk it over with my girlfriend Caroline. I'll also talk to my manager and my trainer.

"I will decide when I come back from holiday. I realise that wasn't me in the ring. I was mentally complacent. I thought it was going to be an easy night.

"My training camp in Tenerife was a circus with so many holidaymakers around. I just didn't have the fear factor, which is what I need to perform at my best.

"It feels funny not being a world champion after this long. I feel naked. I had become complacent and maybe this is the kick up the backside I needed. I never thought I would go out like this - it is hard to stomach."

The impression remains, though, that this was probably one fight too far. It is easy to conclude that now, reflecting on Malinga's perfectly executed game plan, but Benn went in as the favourite. He had beaten Malinga before four years ago in a tough, troublesome confrontation and the time and the fighting which had elapsed since had surely been kinder to the champion.

Benn, 32, was superbly fit and insisted he was still hungry. Although he had been taken to the edge by Gerald McClellan in their contest a year ago, he had responded magnificently, sadly inflicting serious brain damage on the American, but his two fights since had seemed straightforward enough. Malinga, it was judged, was 36, had lost nine of his fights and despite the five successive wins he had compiled before coming to Newcastle, had not suggested he was up to the calculated savagery awaiting him.

But he was an authentic challenger all right. He jabbed from a distance, he never presented Benn with a static target. There was not much in an unhurried beginning to suggest that these tactics would go the distance because Benn had adjusted his style dramatically over a nine-year career, at the beginning of which every fight came into the category of a tear- up.

From the moment Benn's right eye shut in the fourth round, however, the game was probably up. He unleashed a devastating right in the next round which briefly toppled the South African. But with restricted vision, it was increasingly hard for him to get inside.

Benn's zip was absent but even then it had to be suspected that he might suddenly unleash a burst of irrepressible hostility as he had done so often before. It was not in him and Malinga, continuing the phenomenal success of his country's sportsmen since the Rainbow Nation was inaugurated, did not allow it to be in him. As ever, Benn received magnificent support enhanced by his donning of the black and white stripes of Newcastle United FC. But the magic of that strip failed to rub off.

It was Benn's third defeat in 46 contests, the others having been to Chris Eubank in Birmingham nearly six years ago and to Michael Watson in 1989. Watson's career was brought to an abruptly tragic end at the hands of Eubank. The horrific injuries inflicted on him that night have not prevented his continuing to be absorbed in the fight game and he was at ring side to see Benn, his old adversary and friend, vanquished. It was wholly appropriate that Benn should embrace him as he departed.

If that is not a permanent move, and had he won on Saturday, the 47th fight in Benn's long haul, already pencilled in before Saturday night, would have been against Steve Collins, the World Organisation champion, and the 48th, against Roy Jones, the International Federation title holder. These would be cause for concern. He may have struggled past Malinga - one of the judges, for instance, bizarrely found in his favour - but there is surely no more mileage left in his body to compete at that level. His record of 35 stoppages in 42 wins is remarkable, as was his willingness to relearn his craft when it became clear early on that his barnstorming style could prove as destructive to him as to his opponents. He always packed thunder in his gloves, but has become a canny fighter too.

Benn's final act in the ring on Saturday was to get down on his knees - not a posture familiar to him - and to propose to his girlfriend, Caroline. If the marriage proves to be as enduring and successful as his fighting career - whether or not he continues - he should be a happy man.

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