Conor Benn deserves contender status after beating critics and veterans alike

Emerging from the shadow of his iconic father has taken time, patience, dedication and victories

<p>In Benn’s last three fights he has beaten in style three perfectly picked veterans of the game</p>

In Benn’s last three fights he has beaten in style three perfectly picked veterans of the game

The old man against the young man is now a familiar part of Conor Benn’s transition from novice to genuine contender.

On Saturday night at the Manchester Arena, the theme continues when he fights South African Chris Van Heerden for a sparkly belt over 12 rounds. It’s not the belts, but it is all about the men that he has been crushing in the last year that matter.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Benn was scorned and ridiculed and considered nothing more than a raw, sideshow attraction with an impressive name. It was a burden, a label that took a lot of years to shake. The kid is now a hard man of 25.

The dance act at the end of easy fights with his father, Nigel Benn, and his position high up on big bills was under scrutiny. It was always overlooked and conveniently ignored that when he turned professional, he was a kid, a novice, a boy in a foreign land living in a room with a tiny bed at his nan’s house. He looked a million dollars, but had about a tenner in his pocket on a daily basis.

His father was a great fighter, a fearless man with wins and losses that shaped the British boxing business. Nigel was king, the boy Conor was just a child with gloves and a few familiar moves. He was called a cheap version of his father, a fake, a poseur and he was accused of not wanting to be a fighter. It was a harsh apprenticeship on the safe side of the ropes.

Conor Benn did what his father would have done: he trained harder, he dedicated himself, he made sacrifices. It was a desire they shared and I saw both up close and personal at the start of their careers. They each wanted to prove the doubters wrong and to do what people said they would never do.

The stupid talk has stopped now, thankfully.

In Benn’s last three fights he has beaten in style three perfectly picked veterans of the game. Van Heerden is a step up; the gamble is that Van Heerden has left enough behind in the rings and gyms and in life to give the edge to Benn. It looks that way.

“I’ve seen something in his eyes,” Benn said in Manchester this week. “I want to fight now – right now.” He looked like he was ready.

“I know he can fight; I know he is special,” confirmed Van Heerden, who is 34 and has lost just twice in 32 fights. “I guess I will find out how good he is – I know I’m the better boxer. I know that.” Van Heerden is also the first official southpaw that Benn has faced – he leads with his right hand. It might cause a few problems, but the sparring in Benn’s Essex retreat would have been heavy with southpaws.

Last April, in what was his biggest test, Benn stopped Samuel Vargas in one round; the praise was slow, but a first-round win was impressive. In September, he won just about every round of 10 against Adrian Granados and finished the final round screaming at Granados to stand and fight. The best of the three wins in 2021 was in December when Benn knocked out Chris Algieri in the fourth. Algieri was out cold, one perfect punch. Sure, Benn was expected to win all three, but they were quality wins; Benn was getting the recognition and now, after 20 fights and in his seventh years as a pro, he is clear of all shadows. He should be clear of all the critics.

On Saturday night in the ancient ring at what has become the fabled home of big fights here in Britain, Benn will add Van Heerden to the list; Van Heerden will go down swinging and bloody. And then, Benn will be free to fight anybody – he will also be able to pack out venues. He is living a boxing dream that few ever believed would come true.

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