Nigel Benn, a Lance Corporal for the First Battalion of Royal Fusiliers was an undefeated welterweight between 1982 and 1984. He amassed an amateur record of 41-1 and in 1986 he claimed the ABA middleweight title, beating his only conqueror Rod Douglas in the final.
He turned professional in disgust as Douglas was preferred by the Great Britain team to compete in the Commonwealth Games ahead of him. On 28th January 1987, Benn stopped Graeme Ahmed, from South Shields, in the second round on his debut in the paid ranks.
The knockouts and stoppages came thick and fast and by April 1988 he was lined up to fight Ghana's Abdul Umaru Sanda for the Commonwealth middleweight crown. In typical explosive fashion the champion succumbed to Benn's power in round two as he improved to 17-0, all by kayo.
Six months later he made the first defence of his domestic title against the Jamaican Anthony Logan. With a record of 15-1-1 (11 KO's), Logan was seen as Benn's first real test. Benn, who was also going by the ring name of 'Dark Destroyer' was facing a man not intimidated by his reputation. Logan even managed to floor the man from Ilford, Essex in the opening round.
Benn got up and continued to fight though he was visibly hurt. In round two the Londoner was hurt again as a twenty-two punch unanswered flurry put him in trouble, but from out of nowhere a single left hook relieved Logan of his senses, retaining his title in devastating circumstances.
David Noel's challenge was seen off in the first round at the end of 1988. In February 1989 he defended his title for the third time, blasting out Michael Chilambe in under three minutes. The following month he travelled to Glasgow and stopped Mbayo Wa Mbayo in two rounds in a non-title fight.
He next put his championship on the line against local rival Michael Watson on 21st May 1989. A super-tent was constructed specially in Finsbury Park. Watson was a top class amateur and a five-time London champion at all levels. he also stopped the British number one, John Beckles, in under a minute. Beckles went on to win medals at the European and World championships.
Watson turned professional in October 1984, just over two-years before Benn did, and amassed a record of 21-1-1 (17 KO's), compared to the champion's 22-0, with all opponents stopped. Watson's only blemishes came against a points loss to James Cook in May 1986 and a draw with Israel Cole in July 1988.
As both men were ranked in the world's top six, with Watson rated as number three and Benn as number four in the WBC, there was a lot more at stake than just Benn's Commonwealth middleweight title.
The champion, with his hair braided back, started out of the blocks fast and attacked Watson, who fought behind a peek-a-boo stance and was forced to stand his ground. Benn was head hunting, seldom going for Watson's unprotected body, with the challenger countering the hard-punching champion when he could.
Benn's paced significantly slowed in the third and the challenger had some daylight between them to get his jab and right hands going. Benn landed a solid left at the start of round four. Watson rode the storm and shook the champion to the ropes. It looked as if Benn was showing utter contempt for the challenger's power as he let Watson hit him on the chin with full bloodied shots.
Benn was hurt, but he came storming back and nailed Watson with some big punches and kept him on the ropes as each man landed some hard whacks before the bell sounded. The crowd were loving the spectacle in front of them and cheered for more of the same in the coming rounds.
They didn't disappoint either, both men took some leather, but it was Benn who was beginning to get pushed back, as he was beginning to feel the effects of the fast pace he started. The champion's defence was leaky, a huge flaw against such an accurate counter puncher.
Watson caught Benn with a good punch in the sixth and he uncharacteristically backed away clutching his eye. The referee, John Coyle, spoke to him and got them to continue. Benn blasted back and had Watson on the ropes, flailing at his protected head.
It was his last gasp and with nothing left an innocuous jab from Watson was enough to put the champion on the deck. He jumped back up, but it was too late, the referee had reached ten and Watson was the new Commonwealth middleweight champion.
Days after his first loss, Benn parted company with his trainer Bryan Lynch. His manager, Ambrose Mendy, announced Benn would be travelling to America for more experience and better schooling. Vic Andretti, an ex-pat from London's East End, would train Benn out of Miami's Fifth Street Gym. “After a few days in the gym here I would wake up and hope that the sparring partners would not turn up,” said Benn. “It was hard and they hurt, but you soon learn to accept it and respect them as they do you. All that tap, tap work in England was no good; there I was always the governor, now I’m learning all the time, nicking moves from everyone.”
The 'Dark Destroyer' was unleashed on the American public in October 1989 and took on Dominican Republic's Jorge Amparo. The hard punching Brit was hard pressed to stop the tough Dominican as all his nine defeats were by decision. Michael Nunn, Milton McCrory, Iran Barkley, Lindell Holmes in a USBA super-middleweight title challenge and Juan Carlos Gimenez in a WBC light-heavyweight title fight couldn't put him away.
Benn was forced to go the full ten rounds for the first time in his career. Though he failed to impress, he did manage to prove the doubters wrong that he had stamina issues and could negate the course. Benn's power resurfaced in the December when he blew away Puerto Rico's Jose Quinones in the very first round in Las Vegas. Promoter Bob Arum labelled him the 'British Marvin Hagler'.
Benn next entered the ring in January 1990 at Caesars Hotel in Atlantic City. His opponent was Cleveland's Sanderline Williams. With the blast-out of Quinones, Benn was expected to do the same to the durable, but light hitting American, although Williams had mixed in a higher calibre.
Williams did manage to hurt Benn with left hooks in rounds two and six, but showing improvement and maturity he covered up well and went in close until his head cleared. Benn also boxed for openings, making good use of his jab, instead of recklessly going for the finish. The Brit couldn't bowl Williams over and two judges picked him 98-92, 97-93 and the third judge voted for Williams 96-94.
The next time the 'Dark Destroyer' entered the ring he would look to become a world champion...
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