Benn faces a nightmare in pursuit of an ill-advised dream

I wrote about Sakio Bika once. He’s the type of prize fighter you perhaps only write about once. Which is not to say he isn’t a boxer of note, or a person of depth and interest, the former Super-Middleweight belt holder has performed at world level for much of his professional career after all.

However, the challenge of defining his fighting style, to fall on the closest cliché boxing has to offer regarding awkward opponents, is hard to look good against.

The news this week that Nigel Benn had convinced himself he can recapture a significant proportion of the fighter he once was brought only one happy thought to mind. I now have a go to phrase to describe Sakio Bika that conveys some of what made him difficult for men as talented as Joe Calzaghe, Markus Beyer and Anthony Dirrell to overcome in their prime. It isn’t catchy, but it gets the job done.

If you’re 55 and planning a return to boxing having not fought in 23 years, the last person you want to fight is Sakio Bika.

Thank you Nigel.

Of course, the prospect of Benn’s return has been mooted for a while. It began as the wistful musings of a man drawn back to the fight game by the careers of his sons. Could he tempt his nemesis, Chris Eubank, in to a trilogy fight, sell some tickets, wrap an exhibition bout in the subtext of revenge, closure and earn both he, and Eubank, a few quid in the process?

Eubank stayed in character. Teased more from Benn without offering the satisfaction of agreement. It appears to have stoked something in Benn that he must surely misjudged to be motivation or worse, youth. After all, he returns from the Australian sun and a much reported and much cherished peace in retirement. The idea has germinated and has, if the evidence of this week’s announcement is to be fulfilled with action, consumed him. Deprived him of objectivity. Of the sense a 42-5-1 record really ought to have instilled.

It is hard to contemplate Benn will find the contentment he seeks in having one last bout. Too easy and he will likely be fooled into another fight, too hard, and he may get hurt. Perhaps irrecoverably. Middle ground for a man who never took a backward step in the ring is unlikely to soothe the echo he has discovered inside.  The ‘something in the basement’ of the later day Rocky Balboa franchise. Whilst the machismo in selecting Bika, who, while 40, boxed a 12 round championship fight two years ago reflects the fearless nature of the man. It is entirely ill-advised.

Had Bika been plucked from semi-retirement to box Rocky Fielding, comment would have been made on his inactivity, but few would have complained robustly. Fielding is a good level fighter and in his physical prime, rebuilding from a devastating loss when overmatched for the world title.

Benn hasn’t fought since back to back losses to a rampant Steve Collins back in 1996. He was a tired fighter then, his body not responding as it had and an ‘old’ 32 years of age. A matchmaker would have considered him shop-worn and had he continued then he would have had the indignity of being chased by lesser fighters looking to scalp his reputation to advance their own.

That was 23 years ago. Joe Calzaghe fitted almost an entire career and a decade of his own retirement in to the intervening period.

By writing about the comeback, sanctioned and overseen by a marginal boxing board, I’m aware I add to the momentum, the interest and normalise the storyline Benn is seeking to write for himself. At 55 his body is in decline, basic biology insists that to be the truth no matter how toned and lean he appears in the mirror, on the pads, or walking up the ring steps. In an era of increased awareness of the long-term damage associated with boxing, in both success and failure, often long after the spotlight has passed and the noise of the crowd has ceased it would be crass to venture Benn’s faculties are any more precious than that of a 20 year old novice professional.

And yet, somehow it is. Boxing, the sprawling church that enriches and deprives, gives and steals and offers sanctuary to all of life’s waifs, strays and ne’er-do-wells, is worried. And not a lot worries boxing.

Because, if you’re making a comeback at 55 having not fought in 23 years, the last fighter you want to face is Sakio Bika.


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