Conor Benn is defined by the success and glory of his father but now has a son of his own. The legend Nigel Benn is now ‘grandad’. And Conor, buoyed by the new arrival and more dangerous than ever, is escaping his father’s shadow.
The birth of Eli Clay Benn has added a new dimension to Conor Benn who, ahead of tonight’s fight against Samuel Vargas live on Sky Sports, is Britain’s most evolved fighter and one of its most enthrallingly emotive personalities.
He snaps back when asked if his new son will dampen his motivation: “No. Career motives? Definitely not. I was already a young, motivated kid. I didn’t come from Australia to be a father, I came to be a champion.
"I COULDN'T BOX… CONOR CAN!"✅@NigelGBenn has been very impressed with @ConorNigel's progression and says he will soon be ready for a big name like Shawn Porter🔝💪
📺Benn v Vargas Saturday 7pm pic.twitter.com/R2U3xb7XZK
“Me having a son makes me want to be a better man. Who am I as a person? What sort of a life do I live? What do I represent? What sort of a role model am I?
“It makes me ask myself these questions. Career? I am fired up and driven already.”
Benn is fascinating because in a world of poker-faces trained not to show pain, he openly discusses his emotions and struggles outside of the ring. Like his father in the 1990s, it is making him a fan favourite.
Nigel Benn still has not met his grandson. Travel restrictions meant that Conor and his wife’s effort to get to Australia was abandoned mid-way. “It’s an emotional time,” Conor admits.
“It’s crazy – everything around me is just noise. I’m a dad now. It took a while for the penny to drop. He’s my son.”
Conor grew up in mansions in Mallorca and Australia but contentment didn’t come easy. He couldn’t shake the burning desire to prove himself worthy of the family name so left behind a life of anonymous comfort to become a boxer in the public eye.
Ricky Hatton’s son Campbell has just started the same journey and Conor tells Sky Sports: “It made me happy inside because I remember those moments like it was yesterday. Then I jumped on Twitter and seeing comments made me not like people.
“I’ve had people ask for photos then [criticise] me on social media.
“What would I say to Campbell? There is a lot to learn, a lot to work on, but you can get there if you are willing to dedicate yourself.
“But you’ve got to deal with criticism. You’ve got to build thick skin. It isn’t nice and I struggled with it. I get emotional about it because I was a young kid and I didn’t expect it to be so intense.”
Benn broke down in tears before his previous fight discussing the difficulties of life during lockdown with family on the other side of the world. His vulnerability transcends into the ring where he has never been a guaranteed winner – his unbeaten 17 fights are the result of sheer grit and improvement rather than prodigious talent.
“You’ve got to be real with the public,” he says about his willingness to share. “My dad lost to Michael Watson, Steve Collins and Chris Eubank. Who’s the most remembered out of those?
“My dad spoke to a homeless man for an hour. I thought: ‘I admire you, man. I admire what you represent’.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He raised me that way.
“The way I will raise my son? He will be the same. You’ve got to be yourself.
“I’m one of the people. Who is Conor Benn without boxing? Why should I walk away thinking I’m better than anyone else? The public make me relevant and I am so grateful.”
Benn is a rarity – a boxer willing to acknowledge that his hand might not always be raised.
“I’ve got a long career ahead and we haven’t reached a blip yet,” he says. “We haven’t reached a downer. But that’s coming!
“I will have a hiccup in my career, without a doubt, then it will be: ‘Benn is finished! Benn is done!’
“Haters are waiting for that.
“Then I will rise.”
"LET'S HAVE A LITTLE SHOOT OUT"💥🔫@ConorNigel told Toe2Toe he has every base covered on Saturday night😉
🎧Listen to the full show NOW: https://t.co/ZVhhabyiBe 👈 pic.twitter.com/28sOQeJJ6c
The first blip could come tonight at the hands of Samuel Vargas, a Colombian who knocked down Amir Khan in 2018 although he ultimately lost.
Benn describes his opponent: “He’s as tough as they come. He’s been in with the toughest fighters of our generation – Errol Spence Jr, Danny Garcia, Vergil Ortiz, Luis Collazo, Amir Khan.
“This is a big step but you have to take a gamble, take risks.
“There is no ceiling to my career. Each fight you look back at, I’m a different fighter with different tools.
“Am I expecting a tough fight with Vargas? Of course. When you talk about fringe world level, he is your man. He’s a veteran, tough and durable, a typical South American who will leave his heart in the ring.”
Benn has come implausibly far since his debut five years ago, as a teenager, which left promoter Eddie Hearn questioning how far this experiment could go. He has always been electric when his bouts turn into brawls but, against Sebastian Formella last time out, he delivered the most composed and assured performance of his life.
“Give me another seven more learning fights? I could do with seven more,” he smiles with a glint in his eye. “I’m only 24. But no.
“Let’s test the waters. Let’s see how good I am. Every time we raise the bar, I raise it even more.”
CONOR'S REVENGE😅@NigelGBenn and @ConorNigel recall some family sparring stories which eventually saw son have the final word🤜💥🤛
📺Benn v Vargas Saturday 7pm pic.twitter.com/jd4Azy3XXq
The target is to emulate his father as a world champion.
“I believe that I’m a contender already,” he says.
“We tried to make a British title fight with Chris Jenkins but it didn’t happen. Based on my performance against Formella, [a fight with Jenkins] wouldn’t have gone past four rounds. Facts.
“People will continue to write me off, I will continue to prove.
“You don’t become a contender, ranked by the IBF and WBA, aged 24. The rest are all 30, 31 – I could not believe it. I don’t see an age gap.
“I will reach the end goal to be a world champion.”
Vargas is tonight’s hurdle but Benn snarls like his father once did when making his prediction: “I believe I can stop him. I’m more spiteful now than ever. I’m more calculated, more accurate.”
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