22.09.2022
Eubank Jr vs Benn: Destroyer rejected Eddie Hearn’s welterweight plan and urged him to make bout

From the moment whispers of a potential Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr matchup first surfaced, promoter Eddie Hearn faced familiar accusations of greed; of cashing out on his young welterweight prospect and threatening his reputation, career and health in the process.

Because Eubank Jr vs Benn, a nostalgic fantasy fight which pits the offspring of British boxing’s most famous enemies against one another, would simply never be happening if not for the rivalry synonymous with their family names, and both sons have been forced out of their comfort zone at a catchweight to make it happen.

Eubank, a 160-pounder by the skin of his teeth these days, must cut down to 157lbs for this money-spinning event on October 8, a weight he has not made since his teenage years. Chris Sr opened up on the grave concerns he has with that weight cut in a sensational interview with Sportsmail earlier this month, where he revealed his wishful aim to curtail the fight out of fear for his son’s safety.

But for Benn, the health risks involved are surely even greater. The 25-year-old was enjoying a slow and steady ascent towards world level at 147lbs before being steered dangerously off track and towards the glistening pound notes dangling above a nonsensical mega-bout with Eubank – who was campaigning at 168lbs only three years ago.

Yet while Hearn and others pulling the financial strings were seen as the driving force behind an apparent money-motivated mismatch, Benn’s manager Charlie Sims has provided a different version of events. Instead, it was his fighter who lit the flame.

Sims, the former reality star-turned boxing manager son of Benn’s head coach Tony, casts his mind back to the birth of Eubank vs Benn 3. ‘We were sitting in a meeting with Eddie Hearn at Matchroom HQ; there was me, Tony, Conor Benn and his lawyer,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘We were looking at dates and October 8 was always going to be Conor’s date whether it was against Chris or somebody else. We were looking for an opponent and just having that usual conversation of “who can we fight?”

‘But Matchroom were suggesting fighters that Conor wasn’t particularly happy with or didn’t want to fight. They were fighters of the same calibre as Chris van Heerden, Chris Algieri, Samuel Vargas, and Conor was like, “do you know what guys, I appreciate you putting the date aside for me and trying to put this together, but this isn’t what I want to do.”

‘He did Sebastian Formella, Vargas, Algieri, Van Heerden, four of those guys, and they were step-ups. But he kind of just said, “I’m ready now and I want to fight a live opponent.”‘

Talk subsequently turned to more complex welterweight tests, and Keith Thurman’s name initially arose as one of the likelier candidates. Having only competed three times in the last five-and-a-half years, and once in the last three, the former unified world champion seemingly ticked all the relevant boxes: big name, world level, beatable.

At one stage Thurman looked the most realistic option for Benn in his pursuit of an advanced challenge, only for talks with the American to hit a snag.

‘He [Thurman] was the one that was materialising a little bit more,’ Sims recalls. ‘But the fight wasn’t really making progress in the way I would’ve liked it to. It was a bit like, “the money’s not enough, I don’t know if I want to come to the UK, I want to see what else is going on in the US”.

‘It wasn’t really there, so that was when we had to make the decision to look for another opportunity.’

It was at this point when the wildcard of all wildcards was thrown into the mix.

‘The funny thing is,’ Sims laughs, ‘the Chris Eubank fight always gets floated in these meetings as a kind of insider joke. We say “what about the Eubank fight?” And then everybody just laughs.

‘But we kind of knew deep down that maybe it could happen. And when we actually said it this time, Eddie was like “yeah, I think we might actually be able to do this.”‘

Eubank’s non-attachment to a television broadcaster long term, following two recent outings on Sky Sports, and Hearn’s solid relationship with his promoters Kalle and Nisse Sauerland provided a green light for the long-running office joke to become reality.

It was Team Benn who put the wheels in motion by initiating contact with Eubank’s representatives, proposing a date of destiny against their young charge in London on October 8, and when that offer was accepted early negotiations breezed through at a surprising pace.

Sims continues: ‘The way these talks tend to go is there’s normally a few non-negotiables; like the weight, the purse and maybe location depending on who it is. So believe it or not, we actually made really quick ground on the first part of the negotiation.

‘Eubank’s team suggested the weight and we were like “ok, we’ve looked into it and we’ve got science behind this that tells us Conor can make this weight quite easily, so we don’t think that’ll be a problem. We actually think it’s more of a problem for Chris, because he’s struggled to make 160 a few times, so we don’t understand how he’s gonna get below 160 if he’s struggling at it.”‘

‘So we said we were happy with the weight and ticked that off, but then one of the big things was that the fight poster had to be Eubank-Benn, it couldn’t be the other way round or they weren’t interested. We were like, “let’s not let our egos get in the way of doing good business, so let’s just give him the fight poster. Who f****** cares?'”

Benn had no qualms giving in to Eubank’s poster or weight stipulations, meaning the only hurdle left to overcome before the finish line came into sight was money. Or so it seemed.

Financial contracts were agreed with little trouble, despite Eubank’s demands slowing proceedings down significantly. Once that was complete, Benn’s team began pondering a troubling scenario whereby their opponent sticks a finger up to the agreed weight limit and accepts the standard penalty which comes his way.

To protect Benn, Sims and Co returned to the negotiating table to impose hefty fines should Eubank tip the scales too heavily next month. A rehydration clause, to prevent him from gaining too much weight on the day of the contest, was also inserted.

‘Because of how big this fight is and how big the purses are, we knew there could have been a chance that Chris could just walk in on the day of the weigh-in and say, “do you know what, there’s no title on the line, I’ll just come in two or three pound over and I’ll just pay my fine”,’ said Sims. ‘We knew that could’ve been a problem and if that is the case or was the case, two or three pounds is quite a significant amount of weight.

‘So we had to make sure that the fines were right and they were in line with him trying to make the weight, which they are now thankfully. And then there was a rehydration clause that we had to put in place. Again, it was kind of led by them, they said we want to rehydrate in this way, which we think is fair for everybody, and we agreed.’

Not only would Eubank sacrifice a large chunk of his earnings, but if he fails to stick to the contracted weight Benn will also have the opportunity to cancel the fight altogether. Nevertheless, one day out from a historic encounter he feels the stars have been aligned for, some may argue the Destroyer will be reluctant to do so.

So while Benn and his team have covered their own backs, are there still concerns that the worst-case scenario could play out?

‘Definitely from our side,’ Sims admits, ‘and that’s why we revisited it down the line, because considering how much everybody’s getting paid for this fight and how big it’s gonna be, there’s every opportunity that he’s gonna say, “I can’t make the weight and I’m just gonna come in at 160” – which is what he struggles to make anyway. So I think that was always in the back of everybody’s mind.

‘Luckily we’ve got an experienced team and Tony was really hot on it. He wanted it to be a fair fight and I think the weights that are in place make it a really fair fight.’

If any members of Benn’s camp were going to be reluctant to head to 157lbs for a Eubank mega-fight, Tony Sims, the wise and experienced coach who has stewarded his cautious path at welterweight, would surely have been the most logical sceptic.

Knowing they were on track to challenge for world honours in his natural weight class within the next year, it would not have been a surprise had Sims put an arm around his young charge, urged him to think about the bigger picture and avoid taking an unnecessary risk.

However, for both the teacher and the pupil, this was clearly the right risk at the right time.

Sims Jr says: ‘Originally my dad was very much saying, “I like the fight and think you’ve got the tools and fundamentals to go and beat Chris, but we are on a welterweight rampage here. We’re making big waves in the welterweight division, you’re really close to getting a welterweight title shot, so can we just explore that a little bit more and understand what that would look like?”

‘I think it was only when we really started hitting the walls of we can’t really get a title shot at the moment, we’ll probably have to wait until next year, Conor wants to fight in October, potentially December as well depending on how the October fight goes, and then it was like who could we actually get in?

‘Going back to those names, Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman, they were the names that he wanted to fight, the big names. They weren’t prepared to come over here, maybe the money wasn’t enough for them or the opportunity wasn’t something that they really wanted to take. But it was like, who else can we get that: one, sells out an arena and two, Conor Benn feels comfortable fighting, because he feels like people are still saying he’s getting hand-picked opponents and they’re not up to the level he’s at.

‘I think he really wanted to make a statement in his next fight, so it was really about what Conor and Tony wanted to do. Tony wanted to look at that welterweight path just to see what was there, we started looking at those fights and they weren’t really materialising.

‘And to be honest, the money was ridiculous compared to the Chris Eubank fight. I think Conor would have had to do three or four of those fights to get the same money at welterweight. The money did play a big part, but there is a bit of backstory here.’

Just a bit.

In a little over two weeks’ time, a bonkers blockbuster which promises to unite generations and transcend the sport will be held in front of 20,000 baying fans at the O2 Arena and millions more across the globe.

Benn and Eubank Jr’s names have been bound together ever since the former made his professional debut back in April 2016, though with his born rival on the cusp of a world-title shot at super-middleweight their dream battle seemed lightyears away at best – a pipe dream in reality.

Now the sons of two iconic adversaries find themselves on the most unlikely of collision courses, and their dads are expected to play starring roles in what should be an unforgettable build-up.

Yet while Eubank Sr recently threatened to pull the plug, Nigel Benn was actually consulted before negotiations even took place.

And fittingly, his response was a complete contrast of his old nemesis.

When presented with the options on the table for his son, Nigel had a simple instruction for former sparring partner Tony Sims: ‘Make the Eubank fight.’

‘My son is ready,’ he said. ‘He will beat Chris Eubank.’

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Sport Eubank Jr vs Benn: Destroyer rejected Eddie Hearn's welterweight plan and urged him to make bout