Boxing: Eubank has edge in grudge match: Challenger Benn must take it on the chin in tonight's world super-middleweight title fight

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The Independent Online
IF TONIGHT'S contest between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank at Old Trafford does not carry the global importance spuriously claimed by the promoters, there can be no doubt that it harbours the harshest realities of professional boxing.

The fact that Benn and Eubank are contesting only a quarter-share of the world super-middleweight championship, the World Boxing Council version held by Benn (Eubank's World Boxing Organisation title is not immediately at risk), is of little relevance when set against the deep-rooted grudge they will bear to the ring.

Anybody who saw Eubank stop Benn in the ninth round to gain the WBO middleweight title at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, almost three years ago, could not fail to acknowlege that fighters are never involved in a game, especially when the proceedings are spiked by extremes of mutual resentment.

If not in the highest class the contest was hard by any standards, so relentlessly brutal that no censure accompanied the suspicion that both men might have been close to capitulation before the referee, Richard Steele, decided that Benn, whose left eye was completely closed, could not be allowed to continue.

The subsequent revelation that Benn was well over the stipulated limit only a day before stepping on the scales, and Eubank, too, could no longer make the weight comfortably, meant that if a rematch ever came about it probably would be in the 12-stone division.

Eubank arrived there in September 1991 by winning the vacant WBO championship in a second contest with Michael Watson that had tragic consequences for the Londoner. Benn officially moved up in October last year when he took the WBC title from Mario Galvano, of Italy, on a technical knock-out in the fourth round.

As Galvano's reputation as a puncher more or less corresponds with Switzerland's as a naval power, there was no small amount of consternation earlier this year when he wobbled Benn in the closing seconds of a rematch he could not possibly hope to win at that stage other than by stopping the champion or rendering him unconscious.

Because it was not the first time Benn had shown clear signs of being suspect around the chin and his power is clearly less potent at super-middleweight, Eubank's confident assertions about the outcome of tonight's hostilities are perhaps understandable.

However, Eubank has not put himself at risk for two years, shamelessly taking a succession of WBO defences that could only be listed under the heading of protective matchmaking. Made possible by the public's gullibility, they did a lot for his bank balance but little to support the status extravagantly advanced for him by the Independent Television network. While Eubank claimed to be simply the best, the opposite conclusion could be reached about some of those opponents.

It raises the possibility that Eubank has been so far removed from the grimmer demands of prize-fighting that he might find it difficult to cope with Benn's swarming attacks, especially in the early stages of a contest that holds plenty of thrilling potential for the 35,000 spectators expected at the Manchester United football ground.

While the force is still with him Benn will not permit Eubank to take breathers with the out-of-range posing that has hinted at deficiencies in stamina. As the challenger insists he has been paying more attention to the fundamentals of preparation, spending a lot more time on the road, endurance probably is the key factor.

Benn had Eubank down in their first contest but could not keep him there. Eubank recovered from a knock-down against the ill-fated Watson, immediately retaliating with an uppercut that tragically compounded the effect of previous punishment.

So far, Eubank has been able to survive every crisis, and on the basis of an unquestionable will, is entitled to be a short-priced favourite.

If it comes down to who wants it most, there will be little between them. Neither can be accorded a specific advantage, but Eubank's all-round qualities give him a distinct edge.

Benn pins his faith in power, but Nicky Piper, the articulate Welshman who was stopped in the 11th round when challenging for the WBC championship last year, says: 'It was lack of experience, not knowing how to properly pace a fight, rather than Nigel's firepower that caused me to wilt. I was never really hurt by one blow.'

Gruelling preparation in the Canary Islands has brought Benn to the peak of condition, but as they say in boxing, no amount of hard work can put muscles on a man's chin.

Unless two years of comparative idleness has eroded Eubank's competitive instincts, he can be expected to repeat the victory gained in Birmingham, and again without needing to rely on the scorecards.

There were no dramatics when the fighters weighed in at 6pm last night. As in most of his recent contests, Eubank scaled exactly 12 stone, the super-middleweight limit. Benn was 1lb lighter.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Tale of the Tape ----------------------------------------------------------------- BENN EUBANK 29 Age 27 5ft 10in Height 5ft 11in 11st 13lb Weight 12st 73in Reach 73in 42in Chest (n) 43in 43in Chest (ex) 45in 17in Biceps 17in 12in Forearm 13in 32in Waist 32in 24in Thigh 24in 14in Calf 15in 16in Neck 17in 6 1/2in Wrist 7in 8in Ankle 9 1/2in 39 Fights 36 37-2-0 Record 35-0-1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)