Boxing: Showdown time for Benn: Nick Halling on a British fighter's world-title prospects

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The Independent Online
NIGEL BENN embarks on his second assault on a world title when he challenges Mauro Galvano, of Italy, for the World Boxing Council super-middleweight crown in the Roman suburb of Marino tonight.

History suggests the task may be beyond him. Few British fighters have left Italy with anything more substantial than an aggrieved sense of injustice, Italian boxers having come to accept as normal generous decisions in their favour.

Not that Galvano is in need of assistance from the judges. The 28-year-old is unbeaten in a six-year, 24-fight career, and while he may not be the most powerful puncher, he is technically proficient and difficult to hit.

It seems odd for Benn, at a crucial stage in his career, to risk his future by travelling to Italy. The self-styed 'Dark Destroyer', once the game's biggest box-office attraction, has seen his star on the wane following some unconvincing showings. Failure against Galvano will reinforce the suspicion that, on a world stage, his is a talent in decline.

Benn's reputation was built on a combination of a devastating ability to flatten opponents - 20 of his first 22 victims failed to survive three rounds - and a swaggering, high-profile persona away from the ring.

Along with his former business manager, Ambrose Mendy, he cultivated a lucrative image as boxing's nastiest piece of work. In his early career 'Big Bad Benn' was never far from the public eye, living it up in the fast lane, backing up his boasts with spectacular results in the ring.

Things changed, however, when he defended his Commonwealth middleweight title against the then unknown Londoner, Michael Watson, in May 1989.

Benn had always been able to remove rivals simply by the power of his punches. When Watson, a technically accomplished craftsman, covered up, Benn's spirit wilted, and he looked broken when he failed to rise in the sixth having been knocked down by nothing more substantial than a left jab.

The bully had been tamed. Many thought that, having been found out, Benn would quietly disappear. Instead, he moved to Miami where, under new trainer Vic Andreeti, he learned to harness his power, bringing a more considered, intelligent approach to his work.

The improvement yielded its dividend in April 1990, when he stopped the durable Canadian, Doug Dewitt, in eight rounds to become the World Boxing Organisation's middleweight champion.

The dark side of his character, though, was still evident. When the British Boxing Board of Control, which did not then recognise the WBO, refused to acknowledge him as a world champion, the fighter tore up his licence in front of television cameras, an act he subsequently regretted.

In a return to his old style, he successfully bowled over Iran Barkley inside a round, before facing Chris Eubank in November 1990. In one of the best British fights in recent years, Eubank prevailed after nine hard rounds, bringing Benn's brief reign to a close.

The Ilford man clamoured for a rematch, following Benn into the super-middleweight division. Age, however, had begun to mellow him. After knocking out the American Robbie Sims in April 1991, he renounced his 'Dark Destroyer' tag. 'It's time for somebody else to be the bad guy,' he said.

Call it coincidence, but he has not looked the same since. A year ago, he struggled to a points victory oyer the Detroit fighter, Lenzie Morgan, and looked fortunate to be given the verdict over Thulane 'Sugar Boy' Malinga, of South Africa, in his last contest.

Having initially resisted Benn's demands for a return engagement Eubank had a change of heart, deciding after all that it was a risk worth taking. In a similarly abrupt switch, Benn opted instead to challenge Galvano.

He has yet to convince in the super-middleweight division, his power seemingly having less effect against heavier opponents. Against a quality champion like Galvano a stoppage is his only hope, and on recent evidence, it looks a forlorn one.

(Photograph omitted)