Updated: Feb 26, 2020
With three wins under his belt after surrendering his Commonwealth middleweight title to Michael Watson, Nigel Benn stayed in America and challenged Doug 'Cobra' DeWitt, the inaugural WBO middleweight champion. DeWitt proved his durability by taking Thomas Hearns the full twelve rounds in an unsuccessful bid for the North American Boxing Federation middleweight crown in October 1986.
DeWitt was born in Youngstown, Ohio on 13th August 1961 and later moved to Yonkers, New York. He started boxing at fifteen and three years later turned professional, outscoring Peter Pennello in March 1980.
The Hearns defeat was the seventh blemish on his record of 27-4-3 (17 KO's), with Ben Serrano, Robbie Sims and Milton McCrory all outscoring him. He also lost his next contest, a third round TKO to Jose Quinones in February 1987 (Benn took care of Quinones in the first round in December 1989).
Three wins and a draw later got him a shot at Sumbu Kalambay for the WBA middleweight crown. The champion was making the third defence of his belt and the fight took place in Manaco on 08th November 1988. DeWitt was rated number five by the WBA and the champion hit him at will, until knocking him out with a left hook to the jaw in the fifth round.
In his next fight, DeWitt squared off again with Robbie Sims, who outpointed him back in August 1985. At stake was the newly formed World Boxing Organisation middleweight title. After twelve rounds, two of the three judges favoured DeWitt to become the new world champion. He made his first defence against Matthew Hilton, winning at the end of round eleven, with the ringside doctor pulling Hilton out because of his injured right eye.
The hard punching 'Dark Destroyer' was next and the battle scarred DeWitt was the favourite to keep hold of his championship. The bout took place at Atlantic City's Caesars Casino and Hotel on 29th April 1990. Things didn't start well for the defending champion. Benn was accurate with his right hand over the top of DeWitt's lowered left and within 60 seconds of the maiden round he found himself cut. A hard left towards the end of the round shook the 'Cobra' to his boots.
Round two was pretty much more of the same. The unfancied challenger would steamroll his way through the champion's leaky guard, landing his bombs, leaving DeWitt with little option but to absorb the shots. As the end of the round was approaching they both landed left hooks. The champion went back on his heels and Benn's vulnerability came back to haunt him as his legs cut away from under him.
The challenger showed a great deal of maturity as he took the eight count on his knees instead of jumping to his feet in an act of bravado. The action resumed and the Brit won the exchange of crunching hooks as the bell rang to stop the action.
The champion changed tactics in the third, moving into Benn, throwing quick but weightless punches. The challenger landed a crunching right cross that put DeWitt on the canvas. The 'Cobra' was getting hammered around the ring with the bell saving him from a knockout.
Benn's dominance continued in rounds four, five and six, with DeWitt absorbing some sickening head shots, without the ability to avoid them. Now and again he would land some quick jabs and right crosses and he would tie his man up in close, but the challenger was piling up a big points lead.
The fight was becoming one-sided in the seventh, as Benn continued to land some huge, withering blows. The pace was starting to get to the challenger, then, as they tangled in a mid-ring exchange, Benn tripped over the champion's foot and stumbled into the ropes. In a strange act of bravado, the Brit threw himself back into the ropes and appeared to shout out in pain.
The champion was too astonished to act on the open target in front of him. Shortly afterwards the bell rang to allow the challenger time to recover. It was later revealed that Benn had actually twisted his ankle at that moment, but he refused to let any disadvantage get in his way.
Benn started the eighth by crunching a left hook on DeWitt's jaw. The champion slumped to the canvas on his side, then flopped to his face, burying it in the canvas. He barely beat the count and was quickly floored again.
The World Boxing Organisation had the three knockdown rule in effect and Benn tore into DeWitt, backing him into the ropes. The fading champion was knocked sideways by another crunching right hand. As he fell, Benn landed a left full in the face. DeWitt sprawled on the canvas as referee Randy Neuman waved it off 44 seconds into the round.
Benn had become the first British middleweight to have won a world title since Alan Minter in 1980. All three judges had him in front, 67-64, 66-64 and 70-63. As well as the twisted ankle in round seven, he also broke two bones in his wrist and suffered a cut right eye.
DeWitt announced his retirement by saying "I've never been hit that hard and I don't want to be hit like that again. It's just not there anymore."
The new champion wanted to be a busy one. "I know that everyone was tipping me to lose. The American media gave me less chance than the British, but I'm proud that I've proved them wrong. It's what I've worked so hard for all my life, and I hope the people at home are as proud as I am to win the title for Britain."
On 18th August 1990, Benn was in Las Vegas making the first defence of his middleweight belt against ex WBC champion Iran Barkley, who shocked the boxing world when he defeated Thomas Hearns in the third round to take the title, after taking a pounding from the 'Hit Man.'
Barkley was then outpointed in February 1989 when he faced another living legend Roberto Duran. The Panamanian became the first Latino to win four world titles in different weight categories. In August 1989 he challenged IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn losing out by a majority decision and didn't box again until his challenge for the WBO middleweight crown.
The champion walked into the ring to 'Land of Hope and Glory' and when the bell rang flew out of his corner. The challenger was perceived to be over the hill and 'The Dark Destroyer' added fuel to that speculation when he staggered his man with the first right of the contest.
The war-torn Barkley's warrior surfaced and swapped leather with the oncoming Brit, who sent him to the ropes. A left hook put 'The Blade' down on the bottom rope, the elasticity bouncing Barkley back to his feet. Carlos Padilla, the third man in the ring, issued a mandatory eight count.
Benn stormed into the Bronx man as the action continued and had to take a left hook that staggered him back to the ropes. They slugged it out and both men forgot about their defences. the champion tucked his chin in well as he bobbed and weaved on the ropes and fired in his own punches.
The slugfest continued in the centre of the ring and Benn momentarily paused, swayed back and landed a huge right to Barkley's chin. The challenger staggered and took another right. As he tottered backwards he was caught by a left and hit the canvas.
Being over eager, Benn hit his man when he was on his hands and knees. There wasn't much in the punch, but that didn't detract from the fact that a foul had been committed and had the contest been in Britain, then Benn faced a disqualification.
Barkley quickly got up as the onlookers voiced their disgust at the defending champion, with Padilla administrating another eight-count. The challenger was still game and came forward, gloves high. A two-fisted assault from the champion had Barkley down again and with the three-knockdown rule in effect, Benn kept a hold of his belt after two-minutes and 57 seconds of mayhem.
The WBO champion returned to the British Isles when he faced Chris Eubank at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre on 18th November 1990. The contest was billed as 'Who's Fooling Who' and the two men were polar opposites.