Boxing: Rioting at Benn fight

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The Independent Online
THE FUTURE of world championship boxing in Britain is under a cloud again after the wild, chair-throwing riot which marred last night's world super- middleweight championship fight between Nigel Benn and the Paraguayan Juan Carlos Gimenez at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre.

The trouble was caused by rival fans of British light-middleweight champion Robert McCracken and his challenger, Steve Foster of Salford, who were scheduled to meet after the Benn fight. It bore more resemblance to a 1970s football riot than anything previously seen at a British boxing show. Sporadic brawling broke out before the main event after a group of McCracken fans chanting 'Blue Army' - to show their Birmingham City allegiance - broke down an entrance at the arena to attack Foster's fans. Promoter Frank Warren's threat to abandon the McCracken fight unless the rioting ceased seemed to have the desired effect, until early in the fourth round of the Benn fight when trouble erupted in a corner of the arena.

Chairs were ripped out and hurled at the rival fans as spectators fled for cover. The fighting raged as Benn and Gimenez did their best to get on with their job but when it continued into the fifth round, the British Boxing Board of Control secretary, John Morris, proposed calling a five-minute break. But McCracken's brother, Max, a former professional boxer, made an emotional appeal to the brawlers and finally order was restored.

Trouble had been feared between the volatile groups, who each have a violent history, and promoter Warren took the unprecedented step of segregating fans for the first time in a British arena. The bars were closed early, but unfortunately by then the damage had been done. Fans whose chairs had been seized by the rioting fans had to stand around the ringside area for the remainder of the Benn fight, which the British boxer won on points to retain his world title.