Conor Benn interview: ‘This is for legacy’ – Sons fired up for revival of bitter family feud

Conor Benn - Conor Benn interview: ‘This is for legacy’ – Sons fired up for revival of bitter family feud - ACTION IMAGES
Conor Benn - Conor Benn interview: ‘This is for legacy’ – Sons fired up for revival of bitter family feud - ACTION IMAGES

Conor Benn sits on the ring apron at the gym of his trainer Tony Sims, deep in the Essex countryside. Benn’s father, Nigel, is on his right, and between them is Conor’s toddler son, Eli Clay. It is just a few days before a historic rivalry reignites between two warring families. The Benns and the Eubanks. After two epic fights three decades ago between the fathers, the sons will meet. The O2 Arena in London sold out for this encounter within an hour and broadcaster DAZN is expecting one of its biggest pay-per-view hauls for Saturday’s event that has been named “Born Rivals”.

Conor, celebrating his 26th birthday on the day we meet, and his father, 58, are discussing legacy, as Conor contemplates the feud that runs back to 1990, and even earlier. A British television audience of 17 million tuned in for “Eubank – Benn II, Judgement Day” in 1993 between two of the best, and most bitter, rivals British boxing has ever seen. Eubank won their first encounter in Birmingham; the second, three years later at Old Trafford, was a disputed split-decision draw, many believing Benn should have won.

Conor says: “There is legacy on the line here, family legacy, it’s such a big fight. But I look at it as just another fight as well. I have to. It’s a fantasy fight, I’m jumping up two weight divisions and it excites me.”

Family ties and loyalty run deep here: cool, calculated Sims was a sparring partner of Nigel in his wild days; “Eli Clay” is tattooed in small letters vertically down the right side of Conor’s face, alongside his ear. “I don’t think a world-title fight would bring this sort of traction,” reflects the 21-fight undefeated welterweight, stepping up to 157lb catchweight (just below the middleweight limit) for this prize fight. “It’s such a fascinating fight. I can’t say it’s bigger than a world-title fight because a world title is still the goal for me. But I’ve deviated from the plan slightly because when an opportunity comes up like this to make history, you can’t really pass up on it.”

Benn remains the underdog with the bookmakers. But not in this trusted circle. “It’s a big challenge but I believe true fighters love a challenge and it’s safe to say this is my first 50-50 fight.

Nigel Benn and Conor Benn - Conor Benn interview: ‘This is for legacy’ – Sons fired up for revival of bitter family feud - ACTION IMAGES
Nigel Benn and Conor Benn - Conor Benn interview: ‘This is for legacy’ – Sons fired up for revival of bitter family feud - ACTION IMAGES

Some people say I’m the favourite, and then some say I’m massively the underdog. The fight is so split in so many people’s opinions. I don’t care about any of Eubank’s antics about cutting to make weight, or what his father says...”

It is the cue for Nigel to interject that Eubank “is a plodder”, and says his son “after five rounds” will “wear Eubank down”. Conor adds: “I believe my style gives anyone problems, I’m an aggressive, spiteful fighter. It comes from my angles. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a spiteful fighter, too, he’s explosive, he’s athletic, he’s experienced, he’s got size. It’s like I don’t look at it like that, though, I look at it as that makes it more of an exciting fight. But he’s an underachiever, for sure.”

Nigel Benn: ‘I’m actually relaxed. I’m not actually worried, not at all’

Eubank Snr has said he is “worried” about his son making the 157lb limit, the lightest of his career, but the Benns just smile. Is Nigel concerned about his son stepping up in weight?

“I’m not nervous in the slightest and this is the first time I’ve not been nervous whatsoever, not at all,” Nigel says. “Because I watched how he trained, how he prepared for this camp, and watching him, to be honest with you, since I watched him spar with Felix [Cash, a huge middleweight] doing 12 hard rounds sparring with Felix and him going for it, I’m actually relaxed. I’m not actually worried, not at all.”

Conor listens intently. “It always means a lot to have my dad in camp. Why should there be any nerves ? Why should he be nervous? I’ve put the work in, that’s it. I’m up training at 5am, putting the work in, I’m eating right, doing my nutrition right. We’re so united, we’ve been on the same page my whole career. I am a product of my team, that’s key. We make decisions as a team, we train as a team. I have a united front, my whole career I’ve been with Tony, and I will see my whole career out with Tony.”

So, how will the fight play out, they are asked. Nigel urges caution for the first five rounds. “Because I believe that’s when Eubank is dangerous, in the first five rounds, but then he goes into a coasting mode... and that’s where Conor’s going to come on strong, put pressure on him, get him in the later rounds, work that slim body of his, bang bang bang... go on, son.”

They do not see eye to eye over this, and Conor just grimaces and then grins. “Forget five rounds. I’m just going in there and I’m going to give it to him. I’m primed and ready. Really ready. I can’t wait for this. He’s underestimating me at his peril. This is for legacy, this is a contest I’m relishing – and I cannot wait to get in there.”