“This fight’s come out of nowhere,” says Kalle Sauerland. “You get a feel for a fight, you get a buzz around a fight. This one is off the buzzometer. It’s crazy.”
He’s talking about Chris Eubank Jr vs Conor Benn – the fight of a (second) generation. More than 30 years after their fathers first met in the ring, Chris and Conor will resume the family rivalry in an event that has no precedent in sporting history. “You can’t measure it,” says Sauerland, referring to the scale of the upcoming fight. “It’s going to stop the country that week, it really will.”
A brief recap for the uninitiated. Chris Eubank vs Nigel Benn is still the most iconic rivalry in British boxing. Over two ferocious battles in the 1990s, the fighters thrilled millions of fans and yoked their names together in sporting folklore. Eubank won the first encounter in 1990, stopping an exhausted Benn in the ninth after a brutal struggle. The rematch occurred three years later, the two men battling to a draw in front of 42,000 fans in Old Trafford and a worldwide audience of half a billion. Many – including Nigel, unsurprisingly – felt that Benn deserved the decision.
But the fights themselves were only part of what made the Eubank-Benn rivalry so special. There was the animosity, a mutual disdain so palpable it radiated through the TV screen. This disdain was fuelled by the differences between the two men: the flamboyant, lisping Eubank and the rugged Benn. One strutted to the ring to the tune of ‘Simply the Best’; the other strode out with pure menace, the chimes of his horological namesake reverberating around the arena. They made chalk and cheese seem like blood brothers.
Even without this shared history, Eubank Jr vs Conor Benn would be a mouthwatering fight, a blockbuster showdown between two of the most charismatic and exciting boxers of the era. (And both former square mile cover stars.) Instead, the narrative is positively Shakespearan: two sons continuing a familial blood feud, fighting the trilogy that their fathers never finished.
We spoke to the key players involved in this historic event: the two fighters, Sauerland, and Eddie Hearn, Conor Benn’s promoter. To fatten the narrative still further, Hearn’s dad Barry was the promoter of Eubank Senior – and Eddie’s right-hand man, Frank Smith, goes out with Eubank’s daughter. As more than one person has noted, you couldn’t make it up.
Eubank Jr vs Benn – the story
Kalle Sauerland: Where to start? I was promoting a show in Latvia, end of October. I think Conor Benn was fighting the same night. He looked good. And I put on Twitter, “In the not too distant future, we will see this fight [Eubank Jr vs Benn]”. I must admit, it was after the afterparty, I’d had a couple, it was more of a funny late-night Tweet! But when I wrote it, I thought, bloody hell, imagine if it did happen.
Eddie Hearn Everyone’s talked about this fight for years. It was a natural fight if the weight allowed it but I always felt that it wouldn’t happen because Eubank was middleweight, sometimes at super middleweight, and Conor Benn was at welterweight. But as Conor started training harder and becoming more mature, he became a very big welterweight. It was literally a conversation in the office with Tony Sims and Conor Benn. I said that people are still going mad about that fight. He said, “I’ll fight him.”
Saulerland I went off to do a show in Australia and suddenly there were stories saying the deal had been done! Yes, we had been talking but there had been no contracts sent across. I hadn’t spoken to Junior about it yet. We met with the other side and quickly realised that this is one that could happen now. Junior was always up for it but Conor seemed really up for it. I called Junior and Junior said, “That’s the fight we should go for and I don’t want anything to stand in its way.”
Conor Benn This fight was always gonna happen and I feel like the stars have aligned now. There are family names on the line so that’s very important to me. He is just an opponent, but at the end of the day the legacy is on the line for this.
Chris Eubank Jr: I have a responsibility to my family name to win. The same goes for Conor – he wants to avenge his father’s loss. He’s going to do absolutely everything he can to do that. I don’t think his father’s ever got over that loss, and he never will. This might be the only way that he can get over it or put it to rest, knowing that his son avenged his loss. Yeah, that’s not happening. I’m not going to let that happen.
Hearn I grew up around the rivalry. I had a leather jacket that Chris Eubank Snr gave me and I had a Team Benn jacket that Nigel Benn gave me. I used to wear both. Although Eubank was a massive part of our family growing up, Nigel Benn was like a hero to so many; he was a real fan favourite. We did a little bit of work with Eubank Jr but I’ve never really got on great with Eubank Senior – I think he always remembers me as this little kid running around the house. Amazing to think through all those years of rivalry, I sort of swapped camps.
Sauerland I remember it so vividly – watching the fights with my dad. It made me fall in love again with boxing. I liked Eubank, I like the outspoken ones. But I thought Nigel was a great fighter as well. That generation of boxers all had fantastic styles but nobody beat Eubank on charisma. [A few years ago] I remember seeing his truck outside the Dorchester and thinking, this guy is too cool.
Benn My dad’s happy the fight was made and done. He’ll be coming over to the gym for the camp.
Eubank Jr My father said, “wait”. He said, “Wait. Build the fight more and do it next year in a stadium. Don’t do it now. Because it will be a bigger fight” – which it would. But there’s also risks that come with that and I wasn’t willing to take those risks.
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Sauerland A monster doesn’t do this justice. It’s certainly the most iconic fight that we’ve ever been involved in, in 27 years. Eddie says it’s the biggest fight he’s ever been involved in. You can’t measure it. And it’s going to get bigger. It’s going to stop the country that week, it really will. It’s going to bring in so many demographics.
It reaches out to sports fans who aren’t boxing fans. It’s a story outside of boxing: two fathers who met in some epic sporting event, man on man, and now the sons are doing it, at the highest level. You don’t make that up. It’s like something out of a Rocky movie.
Hearn The Benn family always believe that they won that second fight – most people do. So it’s a little bit of unfinished business for them. And for Eubank, he’s defending the throne. You couldn’t write it, that’s why the fight is so big.
Eubank Jr I’ve met Nigel a few times as a kid and as an adult. He came down with Conor to my gym a few years ago, I think we took a picture together all three of us. And we were cool. Whether that lasts, who knows?
Benn We’ve met a handful of times, yeah, but nothing much to take from it.
Eubank Jr The last time I saw Conor was at the Sport Industry Awards back in May. We were both presenting awards. Whatever genius running that show decided to have us both present awards at the same time. So me and him were backstage with our awards and getting ready to present them. Someone thought it would be a good idea, which is dumb – because if I was an idiot, and he was an idiot, it could have easily kicked off there.
We were both waiting there backstage – all it takes is a wrong look and you’ve got something on your hands. But luckily I’m not that kind of person; I only fight when I’m getting paid. We had a brief encounter. I said to him, “You know we can make a lot of money, right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I know.” I said, “We’ll see what happens” – and now we’re here.
Hearn They are different. Eubank Senior and Nigel Benn were very different as well, hugely different characters. These two have a lot of their parents in them.
Benn We’re definitely polar opposites! He’s definitely like his dad and I’m definitely like mine.
Eubank Jr Are we polar opposites? I mean, if you’re talking personality-wise, yeah. We’re two completely different guys. We’ve walked the same path, we’ve been on the same journey in terms of having to build our own names in the shadows of legends. Trying to get out of that, become our own men. In that sense we’re the same – but as men, as people, we’re two very different guys.
Saulerland Although I think they’re very different, I see similarities. They’re a lot more similar than the original line-up. Both have enjoyed a more privileged upbringing than their fathers. They’re both trendy guys, they’re both into their fashion – Conor with his tattoo collection, Junior with his Louis Vuitton collection. There are similarities there. But then you get down to them at the press conference and they’re totally different.
Eubank Jr I’m a lot more experienced, I’m a lot more refined, I’m a lot more mature. I’m 32 years old – he’s, what, 26? When I was 26, I thought I knew everything. At 32, I look back and I’m like, man, I didn’t know shit. He’s the young, up-and-coming lion. Some people are saying that I’m the old dog – but I think that my experience and my knowledge is just going to be too much for him.
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’m here preparing for a fight on 8 October and everything else is irrelevant. The magnitude of the fight? I don’t feel the pressure.
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Eubank Jr We have that similar and very rare story of coming from families where you don’t really need anything, you don’t want for anything, you have everything you need growing up because of the success of our fathers. But we still chose to go into one of the hardest professions on the planet.
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?
Eubank Jr I could have done anything I wanted. I’m going to speak for myself because I can’t speak for Conor. But I could have done anything I wanted to do. Whether that was stay in school or go to college and get a degree or work in finance, business, tech, whatever it is. I had all those opportunities, they were all in front of me if I wanted to take them.
I didn’t want to. I wanted to get down and dirty in the gyms and learn how to kick ass. Which is not what people who come from privileged backgrounds want to do. Because they don’t have that spirit, they don’t have that discipline, they don’t have that pain tolerance. They’re comfortable. Comfort doesn’t breed champions. Most guys who make something of themselves in combat sports come from extremely uncomfortable environments.
Benn: 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. 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.
Eubank Jr There’s a handful of guys who had fathers who were world champions and chose to go into the sport. A handful. And most of those guys never made it. I wasn’t supposed to get to where I am in boxing. But because I wasn’t supposed to do it, because nobody ever gave me a shot, especially early on, that’s what pushed me to do it.
I think if everyone had been on my side from day one – ‘yeah, you’re great, you’re amazing!’ – I probably wouldn’t have done it. But because everyone said, ‘what are you going to do? Private school, lived in a mansion? You’re not your old man.’ Hearing that was like, ‘screw you, I’m going to do this’.
Saulerland You can’t make it up in terms of the storyline – but you could have two boring sons. And they’re not!
Benn If you talk about how I’d 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.
Eubank Jr: If by some miracle this guy is able to get in the ring with me and pull out a performance to where it’s competitive then there can be a rematch. That’s great because then we can do it in a football stadium next year. I don’t expect that to happen. I expect to go in there and chuck this kid out. But if I’ve misread the situation completely and he is a different animal to what I think he is then, yeah, we can have a rematch next year.
Hearn: We probably should have done this one in a stadium. But the first Eubank vs Benn was in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, the second one was at Old Trafford. So let’s see how this one goes, then we’ll do Wembley next summer!
Saulerland I do think we’re writing some history here. This fight is all about history.
Watch Eubank Jr vs Benn, 8 October on DAZN PPV.