"In fighting you find out who you really are.” So who is Conor Benn?
He’s a 25-year-old welterweight boxer with a record of 21-0. He’s ranked the eighth best welterweight in the world by ESPN, and the ninth by Ring magazine.
He’s considered by many to be the sport’s next mainstream British star after Anthony Joshua, a face and a name that will be recognised not only by the hardcores and the casual fans but also your friend who has no interest in boxing whatsoever, your partner’s Tuesday yoga instructor, your mum.
He’s box-office, blessed with heavy hands, brutally striking good looks, and a confidence fuelled by a relentless sense of purpose, perhaps even of destiny.
And he is the son of legendary British fighter Nigel Benn, the Dark Destroyer whose two-fight rivalry with Chris Eubank in the 1990s etched both men’s names into legend.
Conor’s heritage is a marketing executive’s dream but it’s also remarkable in its own right. Many great boxers are the sons of boxers; few are the sons of great boxers. Great boxers tend to amass great fortunes and, as Marvelous Marvin Hagler once said, “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’re sleeping in silk pyjamas.” The sons of great boxers sleep in silk pyjamas from childhood. Why bother with the road?
Yet Conor Benn is different. Not in terms of his childhood prosperity – I can’t speak for the silk pyjamas but he spent most of his youth in an eight-bedroom mansion in Mallorca, designer clothes in his wardrobe, jacuzzi in his bedroom – but in his refusal to be defined by it. “Based on my upbringing, I wasn’t meant to fight,” Conor tells our interviewer. “If you look at all my other siblings, they’re all soft – but if it’s in you, it’s in you.”
Credit to his parents for raising a son with strong values but no sense of entitlement: a teenage Conor worked as a painter and decorator in Spain for €20 a day. Credit to Conor, for possessing those intangible qualities that makes a young man forgo a life of relative comfort and ease to test his mettle in the hardest sport of all.
For Conor, these qualities are inherent. “You’re born with ambition. You’re born with drive. You’re born with hunger. You can’t teach it to someone in my opinion. There may be very talented people out there but I don’t think you could teach that to someone.”
Our interviewer recognises the truth of those words better than most: Eddie Hearn also followed his father into the boxing business, also worked harder than anyone to ensure his success was not founded on his surname. Hearn has promoted Conor throughout his professional career and the two men share an affinity that goes beyond the merely transactional.
“He’s like family at the office,” says Hearn. “I walked in the other day, he was on a flamingo in the swimming pool. Like it’s his own house and that’s how we feel about him.”
Timing is everything in this game. The day after the pair recorded this conversation for Square Mile, rumours hit the internet that Conor’s next fight would be against Chris Eubank Jr – the swaggering son of Chris Eubank, Nigel’s great rival. Contractual obligations prevented Conor from speaking on the potential matchup before the magazine went to press but we caught up with him after the announcement – you can read his thoughts at the bottom of his feature.
A second-generation Benn vs Eubank will not be a fight but a national event on a scale rarely seen in sport. Leaving aside their fathers’ storied rivalry, both Conor and Eubank Jr have become two of the most marketable fighters in the country in their own right. Stir in the additional spice that Barry Hearn promoted Eubank Senior and you have something that transcends sport and edges into the realms of Shakespeare.
Whatever lies ahead for Conor Benn, you can guarantee he won’t take the easy road. He left that behind long ago.
Eddie Hearn: So Conor, 25 years of age, 21 fights. Quite remarkable considering when you made the trip over to the UK, you literally had no idea what you were doing.
Conor Benn: Yeah.
Eddie Hearn: When you reflect back, it’s just been the wildest journey.
Conor Benn: I mean, it’s crazy. If you told me I’d be where I am now, six years ago, I’d think you were lying. I feel like destiny’s just taken over and this is where I’m supposed to be. I’ve always meant to be here.
Eddie Hearn: When you think about that first ring walk you made at the O2 [in 2016], just talk us back over that. I’m surprised you even made it to the ring.
Conor Benn: Do you know what? I can’t really remember much of it to be honest. I mean, how do you tell a 19 year old at the time that you’re about to walk out in front of 20,000 to have your first fight? You couldn’t really prepare yourself for it, but I was far from ready that’s for sure.
Eddie Hearn: Do you think now, when you look back at the inexperience you had, that that pressure at such an early part of your career put you in great stead for the big nights now?
Conor Benn: Most definitely. I think that was a massive blessing in disguise. That’s what I had to do and I had to go through that early on in my career to prepare me for now.
I used to shit myself. I used to shit myself bad. I wasn’t ready for it at all, but now I walk out and I’m so chilled, cool, calm and calculated at the age of 25. It’s definitely a blessing early on in my career.
Eddie Hearn: We know your dad was here for the last camp. He’s involved, but nowhere near to the level that you see some parents. Was that a conversation you had early doors or just something that he wanted to let you go and spread your wings?
Conor Benn: Do you know what? It was never a conversation. My dad raised me the man that I am. He told me, you’ll make mistakes in life. I’m going to make a million mistakes, you know? You live and you learn. It’s part of learning.
I think my dad’s raised me well enough for me to be able to be here on my own from the age of 19 and live the life I do live and apply myself. So it’s credit to my parents for me being here and being the way I am, still driven, motivated and hungry. And I put the work in.
That was the way they raised me and that’s the way I am but listen, you come here as a 19 year old, you go through life, you learn a lot about life. I’d say that’s taught me just as much as I’ve learned in boxing. You know, there’s a lot of living to do when you leave home and I had quite a sheltered upbringing so there was a lot to learn, but you take all in your stride, don’t you?
Eddie Hearn: Yeah, boxing’s got that perception that you have to come from an estate or a tough background or adversity. Obviously you haven’t, yet you work harder than everybody in the gym. You may be able to dig deeper than anybody in the gym. Is it just about the drive? Is it about the genes? What gives you that?
Conor Benn: People are going to say, “it’s in your DNA”, but I think you’re born with ambition. You’re born with drive. You’re born with hunger. You can’t teach it to someone in my opinion. There may be very talented people out there, but I don’t think you could teach that to someone. You haven’t got to come from nothing. You ain’t got to come from the baddest ghettos. You haven’t got to come from nothing to be a great fighter because then where does it stop?
The narrative has to change because you can come from any walks of life, any culture, any upbringing, any country and be a successful player. I think it’s just something that’s deep inside you. In fighting you find out who you really are and I think that’s something you’re definitely born with.
Eddie Hearn: You can bet your life when your dad was growing up, he said, “There’s no way I would let my son be a fighter” – probably the same as what you say about Eli.
Conor Benn: I don’t know. It’s a very different sport now, in my opinion. In my dad’s day, you couldn’t trust no one in a sport. I trust my whole team and everyone around me. I do look at it as a business as well as a sport so if my son wanted to fight, I’d let him know how hard it is. I’d let him know that this isn’t something you can take lightly. I mean, it’s not every job out there that you risk your life so yeah I’d make him aware of it. Obviously.
I wasn’t meant to fight. Based on my upbringing, I wasn’t meant to fight. If you look at all my other siblings, they’re all soft, but if it’s in you, it’s in you and if it’s in my son, it’s in my son. I’m not going to try and suppress it or try and tell him that he is one thing – when really he could be his father’s son and be just like me. And if he is then I’ll make sure I’m there in his corner.
Eddie Hearn: What is it that you love about the sport?
Conor Benn: I love the thought that it’s a modern day gladiator sport. It’s all on you. It’s all on me, you know? Have I put in the work? Have I dieted properly? Have I trained hard? Am I right mentally? Am I right physically? And I feel like you really got to have all them, you got to have all that ticked off.
Then it’s also about performing on the night. Can you perform on the night? Can I rise to the occasion? There’s so many eyes, there’s so many different ways of finding out about who you are, about who I am. From that pain I felt when I got put down, I found out so much about myself, more than I have in life than any obstacle life has presented to me, I found out more about myself in that given moment.
So it definitely makes me think about who I am. What sort of person I am, what sort of man I am. I really love the idea that you find out about who you are in the loneliest sport in the world. You’re backed up in the corner: how are you going to react? And I just love the thrill of that really.
Eddie Hearn: What is the motivation ultimately? Is it financial? Is it legacy? Is it personal fulfilment? What are you searching for out there?
Conor Benn: You know, when I first started off, obviously it was financial, but I couldn’t have dreamed of being where I now am financially five or six years ago.
It’s now past the financial stage. It’s more about me actually doing what everyone said I couldn’t in the beginning and proving to myself I am what I think I am, I am what I say I am, and I am what I believe I am. And I’m not going to have anyone else tell me that I can’t do this or I can’t do that because that was all heard when I first started.
It takes me a moment to take a step back, sit back and think, do you know what? I’m going to do this and now I’m in touching distance of doing it. It’s right there for me now.
Eddie Hearn: I know every young man likes attention, but you are quickly becoming one of the biggest names in British boxing and you do drive a Porsche with the number plate ‘Conor’. Everybody knows who you are at all times. How do you find that element of the success?
Conor Benn: I find it quite… I don’t know, what’s the word? I mean, how would you say ‘gassed’? What’s that word?
Eddie Hearn: Hyped?
Conor Benn: Yeah, I feel quite – is it privileged, overwhelmed? Yeah, it’s very overwhelming. Some days it’s one after the other: people saying hello to me out a window and getting really excited to see me and I’m thinking, “mate”. It really is overwhelming. What have I done? I know I give them entertainment, but people have really invested in my career and it is flattering. It is flattering. It is really nice.
I go away and sometimes I think, “Oh, it’d be nice to not be recognised” and then when I come back I realise how well respected I am. I love being well respected. I love being a good role model to many.
Eddie Hearn: Well, that was the same as your dad. Is that part of the legacy you want to leave? Someone that loved to entertain and was remembered as someone that always put it all on the line?
Conor Benn: Yeah, definitely. If you talk about how I’d want to be remembered, it would be “Cor, those Benns can fight.” You got value for money. Every time you watch my fights, it’s bound to be entertainment, every single time. At the end of the day, it’s the entertainment business so that’s what I’m here to do.
Eddie Hearn: You’re on the verge of probably fighting for a world title. What is the ceiling for Conor Benn and what are your expectations now in this sport?
Conor Benn: There ain’t no ceiling. We said that from the start but there ain’t no ceiling. This is my career. I said we’re going to have ups, we’re going to have downs and we have had that so far. It has been pretty smooth sailing apart from one fight in my career [a decision win over Cedrick Peynaud in which Benn was dropped twice in the first round].
Apart from that, I would say my career has gone pretty much all right, but there is no ceiling. I’d put myself in there with anyone at this precise moment based on how I’m feeling and there are many more great nights to come.
Eddie Hearn: And finally, in ten years’ time, where should we expect to see Conor Benn?
Conor Benn: Well, you won’t see me. That’s the plan.
Eddie Hearn: Off somewhere in the wilderness?
Conor Benn: Highly likely. Off somewhere hot, on a beach, watching the sunset. Something like that anyway. You know, the old fairytale story, sail off into the sunset
Eddie Hearn: With plenty of world titles around your waist.
Square Mile: Conor, what made you want to sign with Eddie and vice versa?
Conor Benn: I just had a good feeling. Even to this day I invest in Eddie. Eddie has made me not only the fighter but Conor Benn. He separated me from my dad. We share the same vision. We share the same goal and I just have faith in Eddie in pushing me the best way he can.
He’s the best in the game, best at what he does by a mile and it’s something nice. My dad always was envious of the relationship I have with Eddie as he never really had a promoter that he stuck it through from the beginning. That’s how I see my career: starting and finishing with the same people I started with.
Square Mile: Eddie, what attracted you to Conor?
Eddie Hearn: The first thing was he was Nigel Benn’s son and Nigel Benn was one of my favourite fighters. I used to wear his Dark Destroyer jacket to college, you know? He was like the main man growing up.
So first of all, it was the marketing potential of Nigel Benn’s son but then he became a very driven, dedicated kid that we’ve become very fond of. He’s like family at the office. Lives up the road, he’s in all the time. I walked in the other day, he was on a flamingo in the swimming pool. Like it’s his own house and that’s how we feel about him, you know?
And I think we also share in common the fact that we’ve got successful fathers and it’s very difficult to create your own path or create your own legacy without doing something spectacular. I’ve done that. I’m 43, but he’s done that at 25. People don’t talk about him as Nigel Benn’s son anymore. They talk about him as Conor Benn and that’s an incredible achievement considering what his dad achieved.
Square Mile: Obviously you’re both uniquely positioned to understand the other one…
Eddie Hearn: Yeah. I think it’s just a given. I think it’s just something we know and it’s something that’s in us. People sometimes say to me, “How do you work like you work?” I work like I’m broke, basically, and I’ve never been broke and I’ll never intend on being broke. Conor, how do you outwork people in the gym that have nothing? And it just comes down to passion for what you do and it’s built in you.
Like Conor says, I’m my father’s son and so is he, so it doesn’t matter that I was born in a big house – as far as I’m concerned, I was born on a council estate in Dagenham like my dad, you know? We share the same working class mentality, and Conor shares the same tenacity and ferocity and ability to work to the bone like his dad did, and that’s what made him a great fighter.
Square Mile: Fair to say that you agree with that sentiment, Conor?
Conor Benn: Yeah, most definitely.
Square Mile: And in terms of the short-term stuff, what’s the plan? For the next two, three fights?
Eddie Hearn: Just to try and move to a world title really. I mean, he’ll be out early October looking at some big fights, already becoming a huge household name in the sport. So we’ve got to keep that momentum going, keep the feet on the floor, keep working hard, which I know he’ll do and there’s some massive nights ahead.
Square Mile: Conor, do you have any particular goals or fighters you want lined up for in the next couple of fights?
Conor Benn: Do you know what? I trust my team with it, to be honest. I just trust my team with it. Listen, all I’ve got to do is make sure I train hard you know? My team have guided me right so far. They haven’t put foot wrong, really so from my promotional company from Eddie, from [trainer] Tony Sims, from my whole team, I let them worry about sorting all the rest of it.
They’ve got a plan and we’re sticking to the plan and at the end of the plan, I’ll be world champion and that’s that. So however we got to get there, it doesn’t really faze me as long as we get there.
Square Mile: Do you ever wonder what you’d have done if you weren’t into boxing? Because you were born into the sport?
Conor Benn: I wasn’t born into the sport.
Square Mile: No?
Conor Benn: No, I wasn’t no. I’d probably be doing painting and decorating to be honest.
Square Mile: Fair enough. This way is probably the better way of doing it, for sure.
Conor Benn: I don’t know. I find painting quite therapeutic to be honest, I painted my whole downstairs the other day. I thought, do you know what? This could be the thing for me: my own painting and decorating company, charge a premium.
Square Mile: There you go. Gentlemen, thank you both for your time.
Eddie Hearn: All good mate.
Conor Benn: Cheers mate. Take care.
On the Chris Eubank Jr fight
Shortly after the magazine went to press, Chris Eubank Jr vs Conor Benn was announced. We caught up with Conor at the May Fair Hotel to get his thoughts on the fight of a generation.
Square Mile: People are describing this fight as inevitable…
Conor Benn: It was always gonna happen and I feel like the stars have aligned now.
Square Mile: Eubank Jr said he's knows your struggle, you've walked the same paths. Do you agree?
Conor Benn: I don't know. Not really. He's had his dad with him every inch of his career. I haven't. So I don't know what he means by that. If he's talking about stepping out of the shadows, I believe I've done that by making the decision to come here on my own and do this for myself.
Square Mile: Like you, Eubank didn't need to go into fighting. He's one of the few people in the world who might be able to understand your drive...
Conor Benn: He would understand, yeah. He would be able to relate.
Square Mile: Have you guys met before?
Conor Benn: We've met a handful of times, yeah, but nothing much to take from it.
Square Mile: Ever exchanged words?
Conor Benn: Not really, no.
Square Mile: When did you become aware of the rivalry?
Conor Benn: When I was in school – I used to watch his fights. But then you watch my dad's whole career and all his fights were entertaining fights. But this rivalry, it was two men who were polar opposite.
Square Mile: Is the same true of you and Eubank Jr?
Conor Benn: Definitely polar opposites! He's definitely like his dad and I'm definitely like mine.
Square Mile: What did your dad say when you mentioned this fight?
Conor Benn: He's happy the fight was made and done. He'll be coming over to the gym for the camp.
Square Mile: Are you treating Eubank Jr as just another opponent?
Conor Benn: There's a lot more on the line here. There's family names on the line so that's very important to me.
Square Mile: Previously in your career, you've been all business...
Conor Benn: Yeah. He is just an opponent but at the end of the day the legacy is on the line for this.
Square Mile: Are you prepared for the scale of this event?
Conor Benn: Pressure makes diamonds! I've dealt with a lot of pressure early in my career. I'm in the fight so I don't really see everything that's going on. I don't see all the smoke and rubbish: I'm here preparing for a fight on October 8th and everything else is irrelevant. The magnitude of the fight? I don't feel the pressure.
Square Mile: There's never been another fight like this in boxing history...
Conor Benn: There hasn't been, no. I don't think it gets much bigger than this. It's never been done before in the history of boxing, let alone British boxing.
Square Mile: Would a rematch be an option?
Conor Benn: I'd be open to a rematch. We'll see how the fight plays out. I'll handle business first on October 8th before we start talking about whether I stay at his weight or drop down to welterweight or whatever. I'll handle this fight first.
Square Mile: Obviously Barry Hearn promoted Eubank Senior back in the day, now Eddie promotes you...
Conor Benn: I'm just going to be watching on the TV. Watching him sit there and see who he's cheering for! With a very close eye. And Frank Smith and all! The pair of them.
Square Mile: Conor, thanks again for your time and good luck on October 8th.
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Chris Eubank Jr vs Conor Benn, 8 October at the O2 Arena and live on DAZN PPV.