Warren at writ's end with Benn

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The Independent Online
Further proof that some of the most heated exchanges in boxing occur outside the ring came yesterday with Frank Warren's threat to sue Nigel Benn for failing to promote his defence of the World Boxing Council super- middleweight championship against the dangerous American challenger, Gerald McClellan.

Asserting that ticket sales for Saturday's contest at the London Arena - 6,000 of 12,500 have yet to be taken up - have been seriously affected by Benn's absence from the press conferences stipulated in his contract, Warren said: "Holding Benn directly responsible for what could be a loss of up to £500,000, I intend to take legal proceedings."

Warren, who is promoting in association with Don King, issued the threat at a news conference attended by Benn's principal associate, Phillip De Freitas, and ITV's head of sport, Trevor East. As the support of his employers was critical to negotiations, East is equally incensed by Benn's persistent refusal to co-operate. "Nigel is biting the hand that feeds him," East said. "He seems to forget that we have been behind him from the start of his career."

East decided against sending a unit to film Benn at his training camp in Tenerife, because there was no guarantee that the champion would make himself available. "Naturally, we wanted Nigel to figure in the pre-fight build up," he said.

East was referring to an outrageously negative response. "I could have sent people out there at a cost of £5,000 and got nothing," he added. "It simply wasn't worth the risk. However difficult Chris Eubank was to deal with coming up to a fight he always came around in the end. Nigel is one of our most popular fighters, but with his attitude he will never get the affection that is felt for Henry Cooper, Frank Bruno and Barry McGuigan."

Appearing to be more than slightly confused, De Freitas attempted to argue yesterday that Benn's obligations in his agreement with King require him to make only one promotional appearance during the week of the fight. "Three in total," he said. "One before he went into training and another after the contest."

"Five," Warren interjected. "The contract is clear enough. Benn should have been here this morning and available later in the week for a joint press conference with McClellan. McClellan came over a few days ago. If he can get to London in time to help sell the fight, why can't Benn?"

In provocatively maintaining a low profile, Benn has added to the turmoil surrounding a contest that McClellan, a ferocious puncher, is likely to approach as an odds-on favourite.

Benn's expected return today will coincide with a High Court action brought by his former trainer, Brian Lynch, that could last until the eve of the fight and involve a number of leading fighters who may be called to speak on his behalf.

Furthermore, Warren produced correspondence and figures to refute Benn's claim that there is a discrepancy, relating to VAT, in his purse money. "Along with Benn's advisors, I have been informed that as the result of no longer being resident in this country he is liable to be taxed at source. On deduction of tax at 25%, the WBC sanctioned fee of £35,000 and VAT he is left with a total of £612,500. That should put an end to the rubbish I've recently been reading."

According to De Freitas, who looked bemused when the financial details were read out, this immediately suggesting a breakdown of communication in Benn's camp, the champion is undisturbed by developments. "I've never known Nigel more relaxed," he said.

However, continuing controversy, much of it self-inflicted, especially the break with Jimmy Tibbs who brought about important technical improvements, is hardly ideal preparation for what is unquestionably the most difficult task Benn has undertaken. "There is something very odd about all this," someone said yesterday in the East End of London while waiting to observe McClellan in training. "It would not surprise me if the fight doesn't take place."

De Freitas refutes the notion utterly. "Nigel will be there," he said. "No question about it. As far as we are concerned it will happen."

Nobody should dismiss yesterday's events as mere hyperbole. Warren's anger was genuine enough. It was there in flushed features and the tone of his voice. Unless business picks up quickly, Benn may find himself with plenty to answer for.