Boxing: Fighting fans mar Benn's triumph

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The Independent Online
NIGEL BENN made a successful sixth defence of his World Boxing Council super-middleweight title here at the National Exhibition Centre last night with a unanimous points victory over the Paraguayan challenger, Juan Carlos Gimenez, with a performance which was as much a tribute to his powers of concentration as to his technical ability.

Rioting erupted around the ring during the fourth and fifth rounds as fans of the British light-middleweight champion Robert McCracken battled with supporters of his opponent, Steve Foster of Salford, but Benn and Gimenez showed consummate professionalism to stick to their work as chairs were hurled by the rival factions and stewards battled to restore order.

Benn won with the kind of controlled aggression which, at an age when most of his contemporaries are starting the steady slide towards retirement, has led him to box better than ever.

He has added craft and guile to the raw power which once carried him to 22 consecutive knock-outs, and is a more complete performer because of it. The old Dark Destroyer would probably have whacked and flailed away at Gimenez's arms and gloves until he had punched himself into exhaustion but hard losses to Michael Watson and Chris Eubank have taught him differently.

Last night he struck the right balance between aggression and cagey defensive work to take an overwhelming 117-112, 118-115 and 118-112 victory. Benn looked unlucky to get no better than a draw with Eubank in their rematch and can now consider himself second only to James Toney, the intimidating American who holds the International Boxing Federation version of the title. Boxing politics make it virtually impossible for Benn to disprove Toney's claims to be No 1, since Toney is promoted by Bob Arum and Benn by Arum's arch-rival, Don King, in association with Frank Warren.

But in a world in which John Major accepts the inevitability of sitting down with Gerry Adams, even boxing's problems can seem capable of solution - provided the money is right.

The American MC, Jimmy Lennon, imported from California to give an American flavour to the telecast, described the crowd troubles wryly as 'culturally enlightening'. His late father, Jimmy Senior, veteran of many a Mexican riot at the notorious Los Angeles Olympic auditorium, could have told him that Britain does not have a monopoly on yobs.

There were no knockdowns, although the durable challenger had to absorb some heavy right- handers in the later rounds which would surely have floored most super-middleweights. The closest Benn came to an inside- the-distance win was in the 11th, when two right hooks and a left jarred the challenger so severely that a spasm seemed to shoot through him. But the astonishingly resilient Paraguayan shook it off immediately and actually had Benn under pressure against the ropes as the round ended.

After the fight, Benn criticised the ringside hooliganism. 'It affected me badly,' he said. 'I came here for a fight, to give people value for money and they have their own tear-up. I don't want that - go down the boozer if you want to have a fight.'

McCracken's manager, Mickey Duff, said: 'It's only a tiny minority, but they are jeopardising his career. Promotors are becoming reluctant to put him on because of the fear of trouble.'