NIGEL BENN has announced he will return to boxing for a one-off fight at the age of 55 in order to gain “closure”.
The former world champion feels he has unfinished business having struggled with drug abuse, depression and the death of his brother during his original career.
Benn, who has not fought professionally since 1996, confirmed on Thursday that he will face 40-year-old Sakio Bika in Birmingham on November 23.
Speaking at a press conference in London, he said: “It’s been a long time coming. This fight is all about me. It wasn’t financial, it was always about closure that I wanted that I never had.
“I suffered with a lot of issues in my life from a young age, from 1972 when my brother died – the murder of my brother – which I carried through to my adult life.
“At the age of eight, I started smoking cigarettes to 41, I started doing ecstasy, smoking spliffs all throughout my career, but suffered with depression.
“There’s not one fight that I went through that I didn’t suffer with. It was bugging me.
“I don’t even think I was at my best, I don’t know how I got that far.”
Nicknamed the ‘Dark Destroyer’, Benn claimed the WBO middleweight title in 1990 and held the WBC super-middleweight title from 1992 to 1996.
His most recent bout, a challenge for Irishman Steve Collins’ WBO super-middleweight title, came almost 23 years ago and ended unsuccessfully following his retirement after six rounds.
“I was in a dark place for so many years,” he continued. “I was having suicidal thoughts, I didn’t want to be where I was. I just want you to understand what I was going through.
“And then, in about 2008, I had an encounter with Jesus, that’s when my life changed, truly changed: no spliffing, no ecstasy, no women, absolutely nothing.”
London-born Benn believes he is in the best physical condition of his life and compared himself to Benjamin Button, the character created by F Scott Fitzgerald who ages in reverse.
“I feel the time is right now. People may say, ‘you’re 55’. It’s nothing to do with age,” said Benn. “I’m fitter now than when I was world champion.
“It’s not the ‘Dark Destroyer’ because everything synonymous with that name is not who I am. Now it’s Nigel ‘Benjamin Button’ Benn – the older I get, the fitter I am and I 100 per cent mean that. I am so fit.”
The meeting with Bika, a former WBC super-middleweight champion, will be licensed by the British and Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA), rather than the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
Benn has been advised against his surprise return by a host of leading names in the sport, including promoter Frank Warren and Billy Joe Saunders, the current holder of WBO super-middleweight belt.
Eddie Hearn, meanwhile, has expressed concern about the suitability of the match-up with Cameroonian-Australian Bika.
Professor Michael Graham, the BIBA’s chief medical officer, said Benn is fit enough to return to the ring.
“The tests that we have done on Nigel Benn to date indicate that his physiological age is at least 15 years younger than his chronological age,” said Graham.
“That’s scientific blood tests, MRI scans, cognitive function, body fat, et cetera.
“If you look at some of the other boxers who have been sanctioned by other sanctioning boards and provided licences, Nigel’s certainly as fit, if not fitter, than most of them. Certainly the fittest 55-year-old boxer on the planet.”