The shadows, some hide others revealAntonio Porchia, 1885-1968
Conor Benn is an excellent Welterweight. Furthermore, he is a television friendly fighter in a talent rich division. On Saturday night he distinguished himself. Distinguished himself by both of those measures but also as an entirely different prospect to the man-child who flailed and windmilled through an early career beneath a spotlight his surname, rather than the merit of his ability, had provided.
His broadcaster to date, Sky Sports, know their demographics. Appreciating that the Benn name resonated with a generation or two of fans who grew up with Conor’s father Nigel, and his nemesis Chris Eubank. The mere mention of those names electrifies the air in to which they are whispered such is the collective memory of their seminal contests more than a quarter of a century ago.
There are echoes of Benn Senior to be found in Conor’s work, but on the evidence of last night’s performance they are as much the romantic whimsy of those who long for their own youth rather than the growing substance of the 24 year old before them. Where once Conor stood only as a pastiche of mimicked hair cuts and adopted intensity, a boy hoping to impress a father, encouraged by promoters seeking to gorge on the richness of his father’s legend, there is now a sturdier construct, fully inhabited and owned by Benn the Junior. He is his own man. A real fighter in, and of, his his own time and in his own image.
His jab was a whiplash, accurate, piercing and hurtful. A counter left hook, thrown tightly caught the durable and redoubtable Formella repeatedly. Openings were worked for, body shots selected studiously and the head movement and judgement of range, necessary for his aggressive style, vastly improved.
For 10 rounds, largely fought at a pace he dictated, Benn stung Formella frequently, bloodied his nose and asked more questions of the German’s appetite for pain than Shawn Porter, a world-title holder, demanded across 12 championship rounds in Formella’s preceding contest.
In interviews that book ended the fight, Benn returned the story of his boxing career to his family. Not an opportunist’s trope in the fashion of so many involved in his career, but merely as an emotionally charged reveal of his motivations, his sacrifice and his yearning to return to them from the ‘bubbled’ existence boxing requires of its combatants within the present pandemic.
It illustrated the depth of his purpose, pointed to a self awareness that will be essential for his continued growth as a fighter and made him all the more likeable too. But as the post fight interview also underlined, his willingness to show emotion shouldn’t be seen as vulnerability.
For while he has developed his own style between the ropes, of which there is much to like, the bristling verve of his character, a chilling focus on a singular target and the malovelance he appears to hold for the quarry he pursues is when the connection to his father is at its most tangible.
Conor Benn is an excellent Welterweight.
Remember his name.