Boxing: Benn takes the lead in a glittering cast: Jonathan Rendall gauges the form of a world champion set to show class of '94

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the most illustrious boxing bills ever assembled in Britain will be unveiled at Earls Court next Saturday when Nigel Benn defends his World Boxing Council supermiddleweight title against Henry Wharton.

Underneath the main event the brilliant American, Michael Nunn, defends his World Boxing Association version of the crown, and making up the undercard are three former world champions in Mike McCallum, Dennis Andries and Lloyd Honeyghan.

Not since Benn fought Michael Watson in 1989 has there been such whispering about the bookmakers having got it wrong. Benn is 3-1 on and a lot of people say that Wharton is a very good thing indeed. Before beating Benn in Finsbury Park, London, Watson had been installed as a ridiculous 7-1 outsider to win inside the distance by the greedy bookies. Practically the entire fight trade was on Watson that night, and very grateful too.

However, it is difficult to see parallels between that fight and Saturday's. Then, Benn was touted in a blaze of hype without having done anything to justify it except knocking out a bunch of stiffs. Watson's formidable ability and more rounded education were a well-kept secret. Now, Benn is an accomplished world-class fighter who has tightened up his defences while retaining his punching power. It is Wharton who has it all to prove. His ascension to the No 1 contender's spot is something of a mystery and he has faced his own share of Aunt Sallys.

Wharton is being tipped on the basis of his relative youth - he is 26; Benn 30 - and his left hook, which is eliciting comparisons with the hammer of Thor, or at least Tony Sibson. It has so far accounted for 12 of his 17 victims inside the distance, 11 of them within the first six rounds.

The blond, rugged Wharton, one of 11 children from a York fairground family, is also a confident and engaging fellow who obviously fancies the job. So does his manager, Mickey Duff, who says he is betting his house on Wharton, although one sceptic did ask: 'Doesn't Mickey rent?'

Added to this have been the usual rumours concerning Benn's training habits, this time fuelled by a declaration that he intends to retire within a year, and by a disinclination to oblige the press on a junket arranged by the promoters, Frank Warren and the ubiquitous Don King, to the champion's camp in the Canary Isles last week.

These same rumours surfaced before his rematch with Chris Eubank, which most people except the judges thought Benn won. And if even half of what was being said about Benn before last year's fight with Lou Gent had been true, it would have been a surprise if he had been able to manage the exertion of climbing the ring steps.

In fact Benn turned in one of his best performances, annihilating Gent in four rounds; the same Gent whom Wharton could only draw with over 12. Sources say Benn is in excellent shape, illustrated by his counter-offer to Duff of a pounds 30,000 side-stake that has not, to anyone's knowledge, been taken up.

Although Wharton can hit and Benn could certainly 'go' if caught right, the suspicion is that Wharton will have neither the speed to beat him to the punch nor the defensive wiles and experience to evade Benn's bombs. I take Benn to stop him within six or seven rounds.

A match between a rampaging Benn and the cute-boxing Nunn would be a classic. Unfortunately, Nunn's challenger on Saturday, Steve Little, is not much more than a journeyman and is unlikely to test him. With McCallum and Andries - some 80 years between them - facing 'selected opponents', the best bout on the undercard should be Honeyghan's Commonwealth lightmiddleweight defence against Kevin Adamson, a talented prospect from Walthamstow, east London.

This is a classic 'move' by Adamson's management, who are taking the age-old gamble that Honeyghan's deterioration will compensate for their man's youthful inexperience. In this instance the old king should be able to turn back the young pretender, though Honeyghan does not deserve to be still lugging his worn kit-bag through the side doors of boxing arenas.