Boxing: Benn sticks to script as Nunn slips: Wharton overpowered

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IN Don King's mind boxing is a double-headed coin. Yes, Nigel Benn would be kept busy and there was no reason for Henry Wharton to feel downhearted, his chance will come again. Back to the sweat shop for Michael Nunn, who sloppily allowed Steve Little to outpoint him for the World Boxing Association super- middleweight title, and let Little speak for himself. 'I'm happy to let Don work things out for me,' said Little, somewhat bemused by his new- found stature.

It was just past midnight yesterday and King was wearing a benevolent smile, his hands curled around a monopoly. Almost. 'Are we likely to see Nigel and Chris Eubank in a third fight?' somebody asked. King delved into his personal lexicon and came up with a favourite word. 'Eubank and Barry Hearn (Eubank's promoter) are involved in trickeration,' he said.

King thought he had Eubank locked into a unification pattern, but the World Boxing Organisation's 12st champion wriggled free. 'Trickeration,' repeated King.

So what now in a division that is less than it has been made out to be? Benn versus Nunn would have been a lucrative payday for the Dark Destroyer. He kept his end of the bargain by clearly outpointing Wharton, but Nunn made a mess of things, paying a severe penalty for neglectful preparation.

Disgracefully, just a day before being called to the scales he was four pounds over the stipulated limit. Nunn stood to one side of the assembly looking suitably forlorn. 'Michael has some serious thinking to do,' King said pointedly.

All Benn could think about was the next handsome purse. At 30, he has hinted at retirement, possibly by the end of this year but for all its occasional ferocity, especially in the later rounds, Saturday's defence was no great problem for him. 'I wasn't really up for it, not like I was for Eubank,' he said. 'A lot of the time I was playing around.'

This was not quite the impression gained at ringside and Benn went on to contradict himself. 'Henry (Wharton) hurt me a few times,' he said. At the bell to end the fifth round, Benn was felled by a short right and the referee, Tony Perez, signalled a knockdown. The punch did not hurt Benn unduly, but it went against him on the official scorecards, a rare success for Wharton.

Encouraged by this and frantically urged to attack by his cornermen, Wharton took the next session too, forcing the champion to give ground for the first time in the contest. Consequently, Wharton's supporters sent up a great roar, but though the action continued to be lively he was too far behind and lacked the technique seriously to trouble Benn.

Suckering Wharton into leaving openings for a right hand, Benn twice sent the challenger's gumshield flying. Predictably, there was not enough variety in Wharton's work. He was no more than an adequate challenger in a contest that fell considerably short of true world championship class. Twenty years ago it might have passed for a decent domestic squabble.

Unfortunately, that is now the way of things in boxing. The great Sugar Ray Robinson first won a title, the undisputed welterweight championship, in his 74th professional bout. 'By then there wasn't anything left for him to learn,' the famed trainer, Eddie Futch, said. 'These days, 10, 15 contests and you're in there.'

Wharton went in there undefeated, with one draw in 18 fights. He was not totally outclassed by Benn and the official scoring did not insult his efforts. All three judges gave it clearly to the champion and Rudy Ortega, of California, probably was closest to the mark with a score of 117-112.

Earlier in the proceedings, Oliver McCall, who will fight for the World Boxing Council heavyweight title if Lennox Lewis gets past a voluntary defence against Phil Jackson in May, knocked over 'Irish' Dan Murphy in 73 seconds. McCall is a King fighter. Stand by for more trickeration.