The sons of two British boxing legends both believe that there is unfinished family business in the boxing game. The boys will fight at the O2 on 8 October.
After a gap of nearly 30 years, the Eubank and Benn rivalry started again this week with a series of heated exchanges and hostile meetings. Now, however, the words will lead to a fight and not just more hateful insults.
Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn shared the ring in 1990 and 1993 in two fights that changed British boxing forever. Their first unforgettable encounter was the night boxing left behind its black and white days, and the sport’s ancient ways, and became the colour carnival it is now. It was exhilarating, a real change to the order.
Eubank, against the odds, stopped Benn in the first fight and the rematch was a draw. Every round was savage, too much pride and hate.
Their sons, Chris Jr and Conor, have eyed each other for years, both claim that they knew one day they would fight. The sons both sounded sincere when they finally sat down to talk. It was nasty at times.
And now, the sons of British boxing’s fiercest rivals, men who never embraced in respect, will fight for family pride and millions of pounds at the O2; the 20,000 tickets sold out in seconds. If the weather had been kinder, 90,000 would have packed Wembley; the rematch in May would break all records. There is no rematch clause. “I could have sold out Wembley three times,” insisted Eddie Hearn, the promoter. His father, Barry, promoted those Eubank vs Benn fights. That, my friend, is a product of legacy.
“The hate is different now, but it is hate,” Benn said. “He needs this fight to come out of his father’s shadow,” Eubank Jr told me.
In 1990, it was the untested Eubank who talked his way into the fight with Benn, who at the time was the WBO middleweight champion. In many ways, the roles have reversed for this fight; Benn is unbeaten, has been carefully matched and Eubank Jr has shared a ring with the best at his two chosen fighting weights. However, this fight has not been made at either of Eubank’s fighting weights. It has been made at – what we call in the boxing business – catchweight; it means one man has to go up and another man has to go down. The eternal boxing debate is simple: who suffers most?
“I will not be 100 per cent for this fight because of what I have to do,” added Eubank Jr. “But, I will still have enough to beat him.”
Eubank believes that Benn will be about the same weight on fight night; the pair agreed on an initial weight and then the contentious rehydration weight. Benn fights at 147lb, Eubank Jr at 160lb – the agreed weight is 157 and the rehydration weight is probably 171 or 172. They have to weigh again on the day of the fight at 11am; a move that favours Benn. The rehydration weight should remain a contractual secret and it is not unusual in major fights; Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather both insisted on weight clauses in their fights.
“We are dealing with a monster,” said Kalle Sauerland, who is part of the promotion. “It’s not like a big heavyweight showdown – this is a rare family feud. There has never been anything quite like it.”
Eubank, like Benn, had other offers on the table, but it became apparent about four weeks ago that the pair could do a deal. And that both wanted the fight.
“I was 11 when their fathers first met,” said Hearn. “It meant so much to my family. It changed a lot of things. It is such a strong memory.”
Everybody has a version of the first fight to tell, something that has stuck in their mind since that memorable night in Birmingham in November 1990. And that includes the sons, the men doing the fighting now.
“When I watched their fights I realised just how much you have to sacrifice to make it in boxing,” Benn told me. His realisation was the same one we had all those years ago at ringside. We were the privileged few, reporters blessed with the greatest seat in sport.
I have the exact same feeling about this, the third fight in the family feud. It is a fight that defies boundaries and the same was true of their first meeting in 1990. And we all know how good that was.