Lame Benn is strangely ambivalent

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The Independent Online
Nigel Benn has picked up enough citations for valour in the ring to dispute the notion that he baled out in Manchester late on Saturday when challenging Steve Collins for the World Boxing Organisation super- middleweight championship.

Surprising, however, was the absence of frustration from Benn's responses after making it clear to the referee that an ankle injury caused by a slip in the fourth round made it impossible for him to take Collins any further. "It was a big disappointment," Benn said, "but good luck to Steve [Collins]. That's the way it goes."

As Benn had yet even to share a round on the official scorecards, and failed to make any noticeable impression on the Irish champion with two powerful left hooks, a bad night, including the possibility of being knocked out, was being imagined for him when he fell off balance and limped against the ropes.

Of course it was necessary to account for the immense will Benn displayed most vividly last year when stopping Gerald McClennan in defence of the World Boxing Council 12st title (a contest that had tragic consequences for the American challenger) but doubts about commitment were raised when he did not seek the assistance of his corner men, instead calling upon the American referee, Genaro Rodriguez, to end the contest.

Having reversed a tearfully announced retirement in March after Thulane Sugar Boy Malinga outpointed him for the WBC title, Benn was mainly responsible for an attendance of over 20,000 at the Nymex Centre, and was cheered mightily to his corner, but the inescapable conclusion is that he should have stuck with the original decision.

That the majority of Benn's blows fell short of the target - the curious placement of his front foot made it practically impossible to get the range - suggested a reluctance to get in close against a taller, stronger opponent who looked far better prepared, mentally and physically.

Speaking in a confusion of tenses, first indicating that he had fought for the last time, then raising the possibility that he will be back, Benn said, "If this is the end then I can look back on a great career and I would not be leaving boxing with any worries over money."

Trouble is that Benn could be lured back by the knowledge that, Naseem Hamed apart, he is the only drawing card in British boxing, his reputation preserved by Saturday's unusual circumstances. "If Nigel wants a re-match he can have it," Collins said confidently.

Truth is that a unification bout between Collins and Vincenzo Nardiello, who earlier on Saturday took the WBC title from Malinga in a poor contest that was jeered throughout, would not draw as a main event, and the World Boxing Association champion, Frank Liles of the United States, would be no great attraction either.

"By early next year we could have one champion from these guys," the promoter, Frank Warren said. Whether this would bring about the involvement of the remarkable International Boxing Federation title-holder, Roy Jones, is altogether a different matter. The best fighter pound-for-pound at present in the ring, Jones has yet to see anyone on this side of the Atlantic who even remotely excites his attention.

Nevertheless, Collins deserves a great deal of credit for the efforts that have established him internationally in the super- middleweight division. In two contests last year he exposed the reality of Chris Eubank's limitations and has now seen off the Dark Destroyer.

From the old school of professional fighters, Collins has developed a style that made it difficult for Eubank and Benn to gain an edge and has now probably ended both their careers.

Certainly Benn should be advised against another come back. If never in the highest class, he had the will to overcome most men in the 11st 6lb and 12st divisions and was made special by the performance he gave against McClellan.

By comparison, Saturday's loss was a slightly embarrassing reminder that time waits for no fighter. "We'd like a re-match," said Benn's manager, Peter De Freitas. Pause for an echo. There wasn't one. Benn was thinking.