Benn and Eubank bound by boxing, tragedy and love

We both walk and fight in shadow of our fathers! 30 years on from the classic Benn-Eubank battles, two tribes bound by boxing, tragedy and now love… Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn ready to revive family feud

  • Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn are now set to continue their family feud
  • For a while it seemed more likely that their fathers would fight once more 
  • The former champions – aged 49 and 52 – are now content with verbal sparring

On Saturday night, at the Palace Theatre in Southend on Sea, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank met at centre stage once more: face to face for the first night of their Trilogy Tour, exchanging digs, trading more tales of a rivalry reignited.

Along the coast in Hove, Frank Smith is enjoying a rare weekend off. Albeit under a form of house arrest.

‘I’m probably not allowed in the gym,’ the 30-year-old says. Not when Chris Eubank Jnr is training.

Chris Eubank Jr (left) and Conor Benn are now set to continue their family feud 

No matter that they will soon be family. Their relationship remains… complicated. For six years, Smith has dated Eubank’s younger sister, Emily. ‘She’s actually the man of the relationship! That makes it a lot easier for me,’ says Eubank Jnr.

For six years, Smith, the Matchroom Boxing chief executive and Eddie Hearn’s right-hand man, has also guided the career of Conor Benn. ‘The business and family aspect of things don’t clash — not yet anyway,’ adds Eubank Jnr.

Recently, though, Smith negotiated Benn on to a collision course with his future brother-in-law. Those worlds meet next Saturday.

It is one of the many, tangled threads entwining these families dating back to 1990, when Eubank Jnr and Benn Snr began British boxing’s most ferocious, unforgettable feud. Nearly three decades after their 1993 rematch, Conor and Chris will write the next chapter. Smith’s plan for fight night?

‘Half-and-half-scarf in the front row, not smiling,’ he jokes.

The sons of the two famous rivals are squaring off 30 years since their fathers’ last meeting

Together these warring tribes are bound by boxing, blood, thunder, tragedy and now love.

‘That’s why this fight is happening: because of the history, the bad blood,’ says Eubank. ‘I wanted to be a part of something that had never been done before and will never, ever be done again.’ The fathers’ fights cast a long shadow over British boxing and their son’s careers. Even after the opening bell in London, their significance will linger.

Eubank Snr, concerned by his son’s cut to the 157lb catchweight, tried to pull him out.

He reminded Nigel of the respective damage they did to Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan, even invoking the memory of his late son Sebastian, who died last year aged 29. ‘I have already lost one,’ Eubank said. ‘It can’t happen again.’

But Sebastian and Junior used to fantasise about this fight. ‘From the day that Conor turned pro, that was the thing,’ Eubank Jnr recalls. ‘“Wow, imagine if we fought… it’ll probably never happen but…”’

Eubank Jnr and Benn Snr began British boxing’s most ferocious, unforgettable feud

Until about a year ago, they trod parallel paths: Eubank Jnr, 33, has fought at middleweight and super-middleweight. Benn, 26, is approaching world title fights at welterweight.

For a while it seemed more likely that their fathers, both former world champions, would fight once more. As recently as 2016, Benn — then 52 — tried to lure 49-year-old Eubank out of retirement. Thankfully, they are now content with verbal sparring.

For years, however, their enmity engrossed a nation. Benn was boxing’s snarling, brutal Dark Destroyer; Eubank’s enigmatic eccentricity — the monocle, the cane, the posturing — was cultivated masterfully. Simply The Best villain. It was a captivating clash of styles.

Three decades on, Eubank Jnr has inherited that role, mischievously teasing Benn. Weight is another common theme.

Before their father’s first fight, Nigel Benn supposedly spent 45 minutes shadow-boxing in a steam room, wearing four layers, as he shed 6lbs in three hours.

At Birmingham’s NEC, Eubank Snr captured Benn’s WBO middleweight crown after nine rounds of relentless ferocity.

Three years later, the rematch — in front of 42,000 at Old Trafford — brought fewer fireworks. But the controversial draw left business unfinished.

Dividing lines have now become blurred. More appears to join Benn and Eubank Jnr than divide them. But with both camps compromised, negotiations included a clause of silence. ‘Knowing Frank is with my sister every night, there are certain things I couldn’t say to her,’ Eubank Jnr reveals.

He need not have worried. ‘She doesn’t tell me anything,’ Smith says. ‘Emily would ask me questions that I also then couldn’t answer… there were some moments on phone calls, especially with Conor, where I’d say things.’ Then look round. ‘And Emily would be there: “What was that?”’

As ever it was the deal’s smaller print — whose name appears first, who walks second — that proved tricky. ‘We’re not difficult at all,’ Eubank Jnr insists. Simply put: ‘I’m not a yes-man.’

Nigel Benn celebrates with son Conor after winning the WBA Continental Welterweight belt

It’s something of a family trait. ‘Although I don’t know Chris as well, I spend most of my time with Emily, so I know what goes through their minds,’ says Smith.

‘They’re very tough-minded people… she’ll probably have a go at me for saying it (but) I don’t think she’s told me she loves me more than twice in six years. I know she does but that’s just their mentality.’

Eubank Jnr jokes that Smith has a look that tells him one thing: ‘He is a bit afraid of me.’

‘I’m scared of them all,’ Smith says. Especially Emily.

‘Ask all of them: she’s the toughest… she scares the life out of me.’ He will have to tread particularly carefully next week.

‘If Conor lands a punch on the night, he can’t get up and scream: “Yes, get him!”’ Eubank Jnr says. ‘Because he’s going to get a slap in the mouth.’

Senior is the man whom the Matchroom CEO will have to ask for Emily’s hand in marriage.

Chris Eubank as father of the bride. Eddie Hearn as best man. Pity the groom speaking between them. That wedding would further cement the entangled family tree atop British boxing.

Barry Hearn was best man at Eubank Snr’s wedding. Eddie Hearn promotes Conor Benn. Benn Jnr is trained by Tony Sims, an old sparring partner of Nigel who knew Conor’s mum before Nigel did, and is managed by Sims’ son, Charlie.

‘You can’t compare me and Conor… to (promoter) Kalle (Sauerland) and Eddie — they sign contracts all day. So it’s not a tough sport for them,’ Eubank Jnr says.

‘Growing up with money and everything you need, it doesn’t put you in the right state of mind to fight for a living… which in actual fact means that what I have done, and what Conor is doing, is actually even more impressive.’

Soon, though, Eubank and Benn will discover, just as their fathers did, that lasting legacy is defined by what they do to each other.

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