Boxing: Benn's desire fuelled by sense of injustice: Ken Jones reports on the motivations driving the protagonists in tonight's WBO super-middleweight title bout

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MAYBE manufactured paranoia is the only viable fuel for the meanness Nigel Benn believes he must have to survive as a champion in the ring.

What else are we to think in view of the obscene gesture he hysterically directed at occupants of the press seats in Italy two months ago after overwhelming a miserably inadequate Mauro Galvano for the World Boxing Council super- middleweight championship?

What else were we to think this week when Benn, back from a month's preparation at altitude in Tenerife, failed to put in an appearance at a press conference to drum up business for tonight's title defence at Alexandra Palace against Nicky Piper, the Mensa man from Cardiff?

There has been no shortage of evidence to suggest that Benn has sensed the hobgoblins of injustice crowding in ever since Chris Eubank stopped him in nine brutal rounds two years ago to win the World Boxing Organisation middleweight championship.

The source of his dismay? Unquestionably the fortune Eubank has piled up since two hard contests against the ill-fated Michael Watson by shamelessly defending the WBO 12st title against hand-picked opponents who have mysteriously leaped into the ratings.

In Benn's mind a unifying contest against Eubank would pay for all, so tonight's endeavours carry more than the risk he would normally be taking against an opponent capable of inducing a state of mind commonly known as unconsciousness.

Whether Piper, with a 12-second knockout (the quickest in a British ring) and 13 stoppages on his record carries the same power at this level remains to be seen, but he appears confident and relaxed. 'Either Benn or Eubank. It didn't matter at all to me,' he said this week. 'Of the two, I respect Benn the most because Eubank never seems to miss an opportunity of putting boxing down. In any case, I think myself capable of beating them. There has always been a suspicion about Benn's stamina which probably explains why he has reverted to his original style, trying to get opponents out of the way quickly.'

A popular view is that Piper has not gained enough experience in 19 professional contests to take advantage of Benn's impetuosity and that his slender frame will not easily withstand the effect of serious body punching.

He may well be finding it difficult to comfortably make 12st, although a WBC rule that allows for a weigh-in 24 hours before the contest makes this less of a problem. In fact, Frank Warren, who manages Piper and once had Benn under contract, believes that it gives his man an important edge. 'By fight time Nicky will be well above the weight and Benn remains a natural middleweight,' he said.

On its bruised and battered face, professional boxing often appears to be as repugnant as any sport can be, beset by gross mismatches and the public's curious acceptance of the cynicism advanced by Eubank in the super- middelweight division.

Happiness for Benn would be a conclusive victory that might persuade Eubank to place pride above his accumulating bank balance. 'It's not going to happen,' Piper insisted. 'I'll beat Benn and then go for Eubank.' Bold stuff that does not account for a tendency to keep his chin high and uncovered; and the champion's firepower.

As for confidence, Benn has accepted an invitation to lunch with the Boxing Writers' Club next week in recognition of the victory that brought him the WBC title. With one quick punch Piper could play havoc with the proceedings, but the feeling here is that Benn will not feel inclined to cancel the appointment.

(Photograph omitted)