IT IS almost impossible, in 2022, to keep big fight negotiations a secret in the world of boxing. As we go to press, we wait for the official announcement of what would have been, only a fortnight ago, a shock to most fans; the contest between Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn.
At Boxing News, we have been waiting patiently and quietly ever since hearing that negotiations between the two camps started before the summer. Interviews with both fighters were set up, cancelled, and on Monday this week, the headline on the front cover had to be tweaked. Still we wait for the official line that the fight everyone is talking about is a goer.
In a sport that will make an announcement to tell everyone an announcement is coming, the silence – and public denials – from those in the Eubank Jnr-Benn business would suggest everyone is very keen to ensure this particular announcement goes off without a hitch. Think back to the amount of times we were told that Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua was close. We were fed information about the date and venue, while being assured that contracts being signed was a mere formality. We all know what happened there. Saying nothing at all in the first place would have been far more sensible. So one can fully comprehend why Wasserman and Matchroom want to get this one exactly right. The longer that people talk and speculate before everything is confirmed, the more likely it is that the contest will fall at the final hurdle.
Many have already labelled Eubank Jnr-Benn as a novelty fight, yet there is an awful lot riding on it. Much more than bragging rights between two families who go back a long way. For Eubank – the early favourite, the bigger and more experienced man – his entire career is at stake. Lose this one, to welterweight Conor Benn of all people, and those grandiose promises he made at the start of his career will be left broken beyond repair. And though defeat wouldn’t necessarily spell the end for Benn, who at just 25 still appears to have his best days ahead of him, a punishing stoppage loss would likely play havoc with the self-confidence he has worked so hard to cultivate.
The smallest details of negotiations are often what can cause the biggest headaches. Both fighters will naturally want to make sure they have the best chance of victory. However, with Eubank currently campaigning at middleweight and Benn at welterweight, both will have to make concessions. It is believed that the purse split has been resolved, the broadcaster is set, the rematch clause is in place, a venue has been booked and the date has been agreed.
The issue of weight, however, is yet to be ironed out. And not just what the fighters will weigh when they hit the scales but what they will weigh on the day of the fight. Those in boxing know that ever since weigh-ins took place on the eve of battle, boxers’ true fighting weights would tell a different, sometimes troubling story. A good recent example would be Canelo Alvarez-Amir Khan in 2016. That, like Eubank Jnr-Benn, was a catchweight contest. The agreed limit was 155lbs, which both fighters duly made. But Khan, the welterweight, looked bloated on the scales whereas Alvarez, the middleweight, had hollow cheeks and a chiselled frame. Without a rehydration clause in place, Alvarez refuelled his body and was thought to be in excess of 180lbs when he stepped in the ring. Khan, however, could barely put on a pound. What seemed a physical mismatch when it was first announced was confirmed the moment the Mexican wiped out Khan, and all but ended his career, in round six. Go back further to 2000, and the weight disparity between Arturo Gatti and Joey Gamache proved even grislier.
Fighters being forced to lose too much weight have struggled in the past as well. Safety has to be paramount, therefore it’s understood exactly why fighters like Eubank and Benn are being very careful before they put pen to paper. But both parties are keen to make it work. Benn insists he walks around at 160-165lbs and, in truth, his frame is naturally bulkier than Khan’s ever was. Eubank has been telling us since he turned professional that making the middleweight limit is an effortless process and, during his brief stint at 168, he told us that 160 was a better fighting weight for him.
This is a contest that would generate gargantuan interest. It is one of the few that can be made in Britain with true crossover appeal. If it’s as close to a fair fight as it can possibly be, all the better.