One on One with Nigel Benn
HE was once the Dark Destroyer, a world champion at two different weights whose bravery and guts in the ring were the perfect contrast to the eccentric style of his great rival Chris Eubank.
Today, Nigel Benn has seen the light as a born again Christian and works as a preacher based at the Vineyard Church in Majorca.
Is there one particular fight that lingers in your memory where you can say: 'That was Nigel Benn at his best'?
My No1 fight was winning the WBO world middleweight title in Atlantic City, but mostly I remember the rivalry with Chris Eubank. It was a good rivalry that we had and it will always remain with me til the day I die.
So beating Doug DeWitt in his own back yard to win your first world title was your favourite?
Yeah, in Atlantic City. Lloyd Honeyghan did it first when he beat Don Curry there in 1986, a Brit upsetting an American favourite. Then I went over to Atlantic City on the Boardwalk in 1990 and won my first world title there. No-one had given me a hope.
Have you seen Chris Eubank at all recently?
I've seen him once or twice but we don't really meet much because my life has totally changed. I'm not into that lifestyle any more. I don't really do that Q&A circuit type of thing that I used to do any more either.
Is it a source of frustration that you never beat Eubank? You lost the WBO middleweight title to him then you drew your WBO/WBC super-middleweight unfication bout.
Yeah, but that loss to Eubank, he won that fight fair and square. When he fought me he was a tough cookie. More power to him. And to be able to pull in 42,000 people at Old Trafford for the second fight, 18.5million people watching on TV. Wow! Thank you Chris.
Do you think it was that rivalry between the two of you that gave him that little extra edge he perhaps didn't have in his other fights?
Well yes, it gave us both that extra incentive. But Chris was simply the better man the day that he beat me.
Do you get much chance to watch boxing these days?
Oh yeah, course I do. When there's a big fight on I'll watch. I love Ricky Hatton and I love Joe Calzaghe.
Calzaghe has an amazing record, undefeated world champion for over a decade. How do you think he would have got on in your era?
That's a hard one to say, but do you know what? If Joe had been around with me, Chris Eubank and Steve Collins, he would have had some harder fights than he gets today. But I still think he would have come out on top. You've got to give it to him, what he's achieved, being an undefeated world champion for a decade takes a special fighter. He would have had a good fight with me. He'd probably have beaten me although he would have known he'd been in a fight with me. Don't get me wrong, but he slaps hard. And he doesn't go down. I take my hat off to him. Joe's a credit to boxing."
David Haye's made the step up to heavyweight. We've seen some greats like Evander Holyfield succeed with such a move, but do you think Haye's got what it takes?
Yeah, because at the moment you've got to look at who else is out there in the division. You can see Haye will be a fast and powerful heavyweight. If he gets to fight Wladimir Klitchsko I think he'll stop him. I don't think the Ukrainian can cope if he takes a shot.
If you watch him, he keeps powering out his jab, powering out his jab and only moves in if he feels his opponent wobble. But if he takes a good shot he retreats back into his shell. Haye can deliver that shot. Mentally, Haye has got it too. He's proved that in his career so far. You've got to look at the defeat he had against Carl Thompson where he bounced right back up again, he can deal with the knocks. Haye can do it, but there will be distractions. I've said to him: 'Keep your feet firmly on the ground mate, don't get sidetracked by all the fame and fortune. Learn from my mistakes. There'll be women throwing themselves at you, there's the cars, the clubbing, all of that. But keep your feet on the ground. Stick with your guns and you could do really well in boxing. Do not get carried away, I'm talking through experience.
Floyd Mayweather Jr beat Ricky Hatton to remain undefeated in 39 pro fights but since then has said he's lost the desire to box and is hanging up his gloves...
But they all say that until somebody sticks a multi-million pound contract under their nose, then they put their gloves back on again don't they.
What I was going on to say though was you had a spell of retiring then coming back — and the purse was a lot smaller in those days...
I made a lot of money in boxing but there's more to life than money. The most important thing in life is not money, because I had the money, it's knowing Jesus. You look at these kids now, the footballers. Now I'm not knocking them, but some of them are making £120,000 a week! And they can say 'I don't like that car any more' or 'I'll go and buy another house'. What's the value of money? I'm looking at it now and you see all these kids wanting the money. You want to talk about boxing but really and truly when we talk about everything, I don't even want to talk about it any more. Not because I'm being disrespectful but because that was my past life. That was the life I used to live with sin, going out, sleeping around, doing this, going to clubs, having this girl, that girl. That's all it was. It was a big party. The life I have now is peaceful, happy. I can bring my kids up the right way. The life that I was living I was burning the candle at both ends so what was I teaching my kids? My daughter now, she's happily married, she's a Christian, she's got a lovely daughter and now she knows the Lord. What more can a dad ask for?
I do remember a private moment that you made very public after the Sugaboy Malinga fight in 1996, when you called Carolyne into the ring and got down on one knee to propose.
We actually got married on May 16 this year... for the third time. The first time, we had a gospel choir and OK magazine and it was all showbiz. This time it was the vows that were important and we actually went on our honeymoon to England, just on our own. It's taken me 17 years to get to this position, where I fully appreciate this wonderful woman. It's only now I truly understand what Jesus means. It's very hard to just sit here and talk about boxing without giving the glory to Jesus, because if it wasn't for him I'd be six foot under, or in a mental hospital, or banged out on drugs. We've always had houses that have had marble floors but now we're moving into just a normal house. My Porsche has gone, my Cadillac's gone, I've got rid of everything. I've bought my wife a Mitsubishi Grandis. It's not because I've been retired as a boxer since 1996, God's blessed me enough, I just don't want my son growing up thinking he can have everything he wants. Sorry Jim, I bet you're thinking 'what's he on about, I only wanted to talk about boxing!'
Okay, younger days, before boxing, were you interested in any other sports?
I was into martial arts, that was my sport, I was into Bruce Lee mate. Oh yeah! I love my combat sports. I like unarmed combat, when you're on your own. I didn't like football, the team thing, though I did love playing rugby, back in the 1980s when it was the Welsh who were good at rugby. But I like contact sport, I like one on one. Not blowing my own trumpet but I competed in a few full contact competitions and I never lost at martial arts.
So finally, what do you do to keep fit these days, do you use any of the same routines or methods from your boxing days?
I'm nearly 45 now so your body can't do now what it could do then. I'm a PE teacher at a Christian school here in Majorca and I was playing basketball with some of the kids yesterday and I'll tell you what, it doesn't half make you feel old. I came off and I was absolutely exhausted. You're the same age as me Jim and you've got a one-year-old son, right? Well I'm a grandad now and I've got seven kids. That's good fitness training right there!