The Dark Destroyer Part Six: The Long Goodbyes
Updated: Jul 10
After his brutal and tragic encounter with Gerald McClellan, Nigel Benn considered retirement. Once his wounds healed, he decided to get his career back on track and defended his WBC super-middleweight championship against Vincenzo Nardiello. The Italian, born in Stuttgart, Germany on 11th June 1966 was nearly two-years younger than the champion. Nardiello had a good amateur pedigree, winning the national super-lightweight championship in 1984. In 1986 and 1987 he captured the Italian titles at super-welterweight and middleweight respectively. He also represented his country at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, losing a decision to eventual winner Park Si-Hun (who controversially outpointed Roy Jones Junior in the final).
Nardiello turned professional in Dcember 1988 and went on an unbeaten run of seventeen, eleven early, when he challenged Victor Cordoba in December 1991, losing by an eleventh round TKO for the WBA super-middleweight title. Twelve months later he collected the vacant EBU super-middleweight title by outpointing Fidel Castro Smith (Slugger O'Toole), only to lose it in his first defence to Irishman Ray Close, via a tenth round TKO.
In November 1993 he outscored fellow countryman and former WBC super-middleweight champion, Mauro Galvano in another vacant European championship match. He lost it once again in his maiden defence to Frenchman Frederic Seillier by a fifth round TKO in June 1994 (his 28th birthday).
In the October he stopped Massimiliano Bocchini to improve to 26-3 (14 KO's) before challenging Nigel Benn on 22nd July 1995. Benn, who had just come off the win of his career against McClellan, was expected to make light work of his southpaw challenger. Nardiello worked well behind his jab and his spoiling tactics did their job in frustrating the hard-punching champion. When Benn did get through he was able to rock the Italian's head back. The challenger caught Benn with a good left hand at the start of round five and Benn exploded forward, cracking Nardiello's head with his own in a corner, where Nardiello sank to his knees. Referee Larry O'Connell ruled it a no knockdown, gesturing him to get up.
The challenger continued to pepper Benn with his lead right, as the 'Dark Destroyer' came forward looking to land one of his bombs on his cagey opponent. A left hook landed on the challenger's jaw to start round seven and the Italian's boot got caught up with Benn's as he fell to the floor. The champion sportingly acknowledged the slip and helped his man up to his feet. A few seconds later a straight right through the middle caught Nardiello on the jaw. In a delayed reaction response, he backed to the ropes and took a knee. Benn's power had finally surfaced. Nardiello bravely got up and beckoned Benn in and they stood trading shots, with the challenger pushing the champion back to the ropes. A left hook put Nardiello down again and before the round was over a right floored him for the third time.
A three-punch combination put the challenger to the floor in the eighth. He got up, claiming he was tagged around the back of the head, but O'Connell was having none of it as he administered the mandatory eight-count. Not long after a right uppercut floored him again and whilst Nardiello protested he had slipped, his corner men threw in the towel at the one-minute and 43 seconds mark of the round.
Benn then made the ninth defence of his title against the unheralded American Daniel Perez on the under card to Frank Bruno's fourth world title attempt against WBC heavyweight champion Oliver McCall on 02nd September 1995. Bruno would beat the champion on points and WBA light-heavyweight champion Virgil Hill also defended his belt against Drake Thadzi. 23,000 poured into Wembley Stadium and 'The Dark Destroyer' was once more a firm favourite to retain his title. The challenger had an 18-3 record with only five knockouts, but he had never been stopped or off his feet amateur or pro.
Though Benn, Don King and Frank Warren were looking to lure Roy Jones into the ring, the WBC champion ensured he wasn't taking Perez lightly. The crowd were very much on the champion's side as he came out looking for the American. Perez had a good jab on him as Benn landed some hard punches to head and body. The body attack continued in round two and the American was starting to look uncomfortable, as Benn had him pinned on the ropes.
Perez tried to use his jab to get some distance between him and Benn in rounds three and four with the massacre continuing, as Benn landed some sickening body shots. Early in the fifth, a lead right put the challenger down for the first time in his career. It looked only a matter of time as Benn waded in. Perez, though, landed a right of his own and had the champion on the ropes, bang in trouble. Benn regrouped and landed some bombs and the ex-soldiers traded, with the champion regaining the upper hand. Both men had a quiet round in the sixth and the pattern continued in the seventh, until another body attack put Perez to his knees and referee Mickey Vann counted him out.
The champion next defended his crown in Newcastle against mandatory challenger Thulani 'Sugar Boy' Malinga on 02nd March 1996. After their first controversial encounter in May 1992, where Benn won a dubious ten round decision in Birmingham, Malinga won two on the spin. He then faced undefeated IBF middleweight champion, Roy Jones, in a super-middleweight contest. Jones inflicted the ninth defeat and the first stoppage of the South African's career, going to 23-0 (21 KO's), with a sixth-round victory.
Malinga regrouped and went on a five-fight winning run to become the number one WBC challenger at the age of forty. Benn gave a pre-fight warning that he was fitter now than when he faced Gerald McClellan. The British crowd were deafening as Malinga worked well with his long stiff jab and his defences kept his chin out of harm’s way of the champion's dangerous bombs. By round four Benn's right eye was swollen, courtesy of the challenger's jabs. The pattern continued in the fifth as Benn seemed unable, or wasn't allowed to pull the trigger.
Finally the British crowd, who were behind the champion all the way, witnessed Benn's power, as a right hand put Malinga down towards the end of the fifth. The South African got up and survived to hear the bell and continued to dominate the fight with his jab and right-hand counter. A knockdown, which on replay appeared to be a slip, cemented the inevitable points victory for the new champion. Remarkably, judge Chuck Giampa had Benn winning 114-112 as the other two voted for Malinga 115-111 and 118-109. Benn, emotionally addressed the crowd, calling time on his exciting career and proposed to his girlfriend, Caroline Jackson.
However, any plans of riding off into the sunset were short lived when the opportunity arose to face Steve Collins for the Dubliner’s WBO super-middleweight title. Collins, the Irish amateur middleweight champion in 1986, turned professional that very year, in America, under the guidance of Pat and Goody Petronelli. In March 1988, in just his eighth pro match, he outpointed Sam Storey (8-0) over ten rounds for the BUI Ireland National middleweight title in Boston, Massachusetts.
Collins stayed unbeaten, capturing the USBA middleweight title by outscoring Kevin Watts and outpointing Tony Thornton in his first defence. In February 1990, Collins got a crack at Mike McCallum’s WBA middleweight title. The Jamaican made a first successful defence by unanimously outpointing the Dubliner to inflict the first defeat on his record.
Collins won his next five before facing Reggie Johnson for the WBA middleweight belt, vacated by McCallum, in April 1992. The Dubliner lost by a majority decision. He then travelled to Italy, losing another majority decision to European middleweight king Sumbu Kalambay.
In February 1993 he based himself in Great Britain and was guided by Matchroom’s Barry Hearn. He won his next six bouts and was rewarded by getting a crack at WBO middleweight champion Chris Pyatt in May 1994. It was third time lucky for Collins, stopping Pyatt in the fifth to become the new champion.
In March 1995, fighting in Ireland for only the second time in his career, he stepped up to super-middleweight to challenge long reigning WBO champion, Chris Eubank. After a hostile build-up and twelve rounds, Collins was unanimously declared the winner. The new two-weight world champion successfully outpointed Eubank in the rematch six months later.
He had two routine defences against Cornelius Carr and Neville Brown before facing off against Nigel Benn in Manchester’s Nynex Arena 06th July 1996. Both men locked horns from the opening bell and it was apparent the sweet science wouldn't be put into practice as the two warriors brawled, with the champion having a slight upper hand.
Round two was an untidy affair, with Benn having some successes of his own. The challenger found Collins's jaw with a left hook early in the third and had the defending champion on the ropes. The tough Irishman had a good spell in the middle of the round before a big left proved what a granite chin the Dubliner had.
The fourth was warming up to be one hell of a fight, until Benn went to throw a right and landed funnily, grabbing his ankle straight away. The challenger was in distress but continued when prompted by referee Genaro Rodriguez. Collins stormed in, sensing Benn was there to be taken and the two gladiators went at it again.
Benn finally turned away in no position to continue with his injured ankle at two-minutes and 46 seconds of the round. Benn announced his retirement again, only to be persuaded to face Collins one last time at the same venue on 09th November 1996.
With Benn looking for redemption and Collins seeking an emphatic victory, something had to give in this mouth-watering rematch between the hard punching challenger and the iron jawed champion. Both men were happy to maul and swap blows in an untidy first session and referee Paul Thomas looked as if he had his work cutout in controlling these two warriors.
Rounds two and three continued in the close quarters style of the first, with each man refusing to take a backwards step as they locked horns mid ring and bounced hard shots to each others head. Collins found his range in the fourth, backing up his jab with stinging, unanswered rights to the head and a sickening right to the body. Benn was told by his trainer if he had another round like that then he's going to pull him out. "I don't want to see you take a beating," said Kevin Sanders.
The challenger had a better round, but it was the champion who was landing at will and Benn was looking distressed. A point deduction from Collins due to some illegal head work gave Benn a bit of respite in the scoring, but he could be heard clearly saying, "One more round," as he got back to his corner.
Benn came out blasting to start round six. Though it was short lived as Collins took control and the challenger cut a dejected and tired figure as he traipsed back to his corner to not only end the round, his team brought down the curtain on the contest and Benn's illustrious, exciting career.
Benn dropped to 42-5-1 (35 KO's) as Collins improved to 34-3, with nineteen early. Benn found God in his retirement and became a born again christian, becoming an ordained minister. He moved to Sydney, Australia. With his son Conor, knocking out people in his professional career, the name Benn will continue to live on in the ring.
However, in 2017, Benn coveted a third showdown with Chris Eubank. With the Eubank showdown not taking place it looked like Steve Collins would step in. In 2019, Benn announced he would return for one last fight, again with Eubank and Collins very much in the plan.
The date was set for 23 November 2019 and Benn, looking in good physical shape aged fifty-five, agreed to meet former WBC super-middleweight champion Sakio Bika in Birmingham in a ten round contest.
Benn injured his shoulder during his training regime and cancelled the fight and called time on his career. Hopefully Benn will stay retired, but there was a small part of me that wanted to see my boxing hero in action one last time.
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