TONY SIMS used to spar Nigel Benn back in the “Dark Destroyer’s” Nineties heyday. Back when Benn’s biggest rival was Chris Eubank. Today, he trains Nigel’s son, Conor Benn, as he prepares for a massive domestic showdown with Chris Eubank Jnr. The enormity of the task – both emotionally and professionally – is not lost on Sims, one of Britain’s best coaches, yet he insists that, at the end of the day, he is just doing his job.
Here he tells Boxing News why Conor will have no worries about jumping up in weight, why he can win, and about his long relationship with Nigel Benn.
BN: How do you feel about this fight, both as a trainer and as a fan?
I always thought this fight would happen. As soon as Conor Benn laced a pair of gloves on, the ‘what ifs’ were already there. Here we are, six years later, and the fight is on. Eubank-Benn. We’re eight weeks away from the fight happening and it’s exciting.
BN: Are you nervous?
I ain’t got to fight, I ain’t nervous.
BN: Eddie Hearn said you would know when the time was right for this fight. Is that a fair comment?
Yes, I’m like that with all my fighters. I work hard for my fighters to win because, at the end of the day, winning means financial gains and financial gains for them is financial gains for me. That’s my job. But above all of that, you want to be protective of your fighters and if I didn’t think Conor Benn could win this then I wouldn’t this fight. But I have a lot of belief in Conor and I believe he can win this fight.
BN: Why is now the time?
We was in discussions with a lot of USA fighters for this October 8 show but they wasn’t really biting at the hook. This fight [with Eubank] was like a curveball, really. I always imagined this fight would happen but you never knew when.
I’ve worked with Conor Benn for a long time, he desperately wanted the fight. I spoke to [Conor’s dad] Nigel, as I always do because we’re obviously close friends. He felt that now was the right time to do this fight. And it really is.
A lot of people are saying it’s a big jump up in weight to fight Chris Eubank and, on paper, it obviously is. Conor has never campaigned at middleweight but what people have to remember is that I watch him every single day at the gym. I very rarely allow him to spar welterweights, or even light-middleweights, because he is just too much of a handful. You’ve got to remember, in my gym, I’ve got world class fighters like [super-middleweight] John Ryder and [middleweight] Felix Cash. Up until recently, Ted Cheeseman, too. Conor is regularly sparring that calibre and that weight of fighters. Day in, day out, I watch him spar those fighters. For his last fight I was bringing in [other] middleweights and super-middleweights. That weight is all I feel comfortable with him sparring because of his power and ferociousness. He doesn’t take it easy in sparring.
So, for me, putting him in with a middleweight like Chris Eubank – a good, quality fighter – is a 50/50 fight. It’s going to be a hard fight, but I’ve got no doubts about whether Conor Benn can compete with a middleweight.
BN: So this is business as usual in terms of his training. Is there anything, in terms of his weight, that you’re going to have to tailor in the build-up?
We’ve got Dan Lawrence, who is Conor’s strength and conditioning coach. Since we’ve been in negotiations for this fight, he has been building muscle on Conor’s frame. He’s walking around at 170 so he’ll have a bit of weight to drop himself. He’s solid, there’s no fat on him. He’s a bit like John Ryder, he carries weight on his legs, they’re squat, short fighters. That athleticism enables him to fight fast and get underneath the opponent.
BN: It’s been a sharp rise for Conor from the start of his career to where he is now. Has any part of that rise surprised you?
Not really because his work ethic in the gym is second to none. Not just his work ethic but his desire to gain knowledge. That’s a big thing in a fighter. If a fighter really wants to learn and really wants to listen, it makes the coach’s job a lot easier. He’s one of them guys who asks a lot of questions. When you get that, he’s delving into your experience, not just as a coach but as a person who has a lot more knowledge than he has. He’s tuning into that. So for me to train Conor Benn was a relatively simple task. All I have done is gain him experience in his knowledge of boxing. He’s learnt the history of boxing. For this fight he’s been watching Henry Armstrong who won the featherweight title, jumped to welterweight to win that title, dropped down and won the lightweight title then got a draw when challenging for the middleweight title. Roberto Duran went from lightweight to welterweight, Sugar Ray Robinson went from welterweight to middleweight. We’re not trying to achieve that, Chris Eubank is good but he’s not great.
I’m not saying that Conor Benn is the finished article but he’s getting towards that in my eyes. I believe in him, in his power, his work ethic and his boxing brain as well, which is very smart. I said to him at the very beginning, if you want to be great it’s like going to university, you have to study every aspect of this game; it ain’t just about coming in this gym, it ain’t just about training, the mental side you have to get right, not just the physical side. There’s the nutrition, the S & C, and Conor has learnt every bit of it.
So, in answer to your question, was I surprised the way he shot right through? No I wasn’t. I knew he was going to do this, and I always knew this fight was going to happen. Whichever way you look at this, this is the biggest British fight of the decade and maybe of our generation. This is the biggest fight in Britain, probably, since their dads fought and they’re both being talked about today, 30 years later.
BN: As a person, to be involved in a fight like this, what does that feel like?
I used to spar with Nigel Benn when he was fighting in the Chris Eubank days. I know what Nigel Benn is all about and we’ve stayed friends since then. Nigel is my friend, he brought his son to me to look after because he stayed in Australia. He didn’t just want to bring his son to train with [i]someone[i], he wanted him to train with me, he’s become part of family. It’s massive to me, personally.
At the same time this is my job, it’s my destiny to take him through to this fight. And I’ve got belief that he’ll be victorious in this fight.
BN: So you have to balance the emotion with being professional.
Exactly. That is what I’m going to do. This is a job, this is just another fight, and I’m going to get my fighter in brilliant condition, mentally and physically. Whatever obstacles we have to overcome in training we will, and any obstacles in the fight, I believe he will do that.
BN: Nigel is coming over soon. What is this whole experience and event going to be like for him?
I’ve known him for a long time, we used to go out clubbing, we’ve trained together. I knew Conor’s mum before Nigel knew her so I know the family really well. I’m really looking forward to it. He comes over two-to-three times a year anyway so it’s not going to be anything different, I love having him around. The good thing about Nigel is he’s never once interfered in all that we’ve done. All he’s done is applauded everything I’ve done for his son. I would expect the same from Nigel if my son was in Australia and Nigel was training, I know he’d look after my son in the same way. If he’s got anything to say to Conor [in regard to training] he’ll ring me, ‘I’ve just watched this and I think Conor should work on this.’ And by the way, I’m not one to turn down advice from one of the greatest British fighters we’ve ever had. If he sees something that needs to be applied then I’ll apply that.
To be honest, he’s not really been involved in the technical side and he says that if we came from different generations he would have loved me to have trained him, that he would have been a smarter boxer.
BN: Can you enjoy this circus, this event and what will be an occasion?
I don’t know if ‘enjoying’ is the right word. This is my job at the end of the day, like you do your job. You come interview Conor, next week there will be another fighter to interview. This is a massive occasion, a massive event, but you’re still doing your job by being here. And it’s still my job to do what I do. This is my 26th year as a coach, so I’m wielding a lot of experience from my life and I’ve created a few world champions, numerous British, Commonwealth and European champions so all my experience comes into play. That will brush off on Conor. Like I have said all along, he is capable of being victorious in this fight.