The fight between Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr should have been called off immediately. Instead, a mighty mess ensued
Boxing has dug a gigantic hole for itself in the past fortnight – and the sport refuses to stop digging.
So many questions, so few answers to the way in which the Benn-Eubank saga was handled.
Even as an insider in the sport, able to speak to the main players involved, there has been a lack of transparency and little indication as to when the answers will be forthcoming.
There are plenty of people prepared to speak, but only off the record, or at the behest of their lawyers. And several critical questions they will not answer about what happened after Conor Benn’s positive test for clomifene on September 1 – and a second one two months earlier, revealed Friday – weeks before the fight was scheduled.
I’m beginning to feel that perhaps this fight should never have been sanctioned in the first place – a big middleweight in Chris Eubank against a small welterweight in Conor Benn. The catchweight in hindsight was complex. It was always a fantasy fight based on being ‘Born Rivals’, because of the two fights their famous fighting fathers had in 1990 and 1993.
Unfortunately, the fallout is likely to go on for months, even years, because there are legal cases – it is not just one – as Benn attempts to clear his name and the promoters tackle the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC), who belatedly ‘prohibited’ the fight.
But there are farcical events around the collapse of this huge fight which could have been expedited by executive decision making. For one, drug testing in boxing appears farcical. Layers of obfuscation. No transparency, no one speaking, nothing more than a blame game.
Let’s get one thing straight. Whatever went on behind the scenes from September 23, when Benn’s positive test through VADA was relayed to the boxers, until October 5, when the fight was cancelled, their promoters, and the BBBoC, everybody involved failed the sport – and its fans.
What should have happened is that the fight should have been called off. Immediately. Instead, a mighty mess ensued . A failed drug test for PEDs, nothing resolved publicly for 11 days and, for 26 hours between the news of the failed test breaking and the fight being cancelled, Hearn and his colleague Kalle Sauerland – plus Benn and Eubank – scrambled to keep the event on.
The cancellation of the event through a statement on October 5, with no questions permitted in front of a huge media gathering in London, left a vacuum in which the moral integrity of the sport, as a business, and in its duty of care for fighters, was ravaged.
When Hearn, Wasserman promoter Sauerland and DAZN allowed the event to be prolonged for those 26 hours, a delay Hearn claimed this week was simply “letting the process play out” it allowed the morality and efficacy of the sport to be pilloried.
Ultimately, it’s about money. It always is. Benn has three more fights on his contract with Hearn. This was the fight, with Eubank, that may have turned him into a mainstream star (and brought many eyes to Hearn’s broadcast allies DAZN).
This week, I spoke with Hearn briefly, alone, after an 80-minute sit down with eight other journalists in Central London. Much of it concerned details surrounding Benn’s impending case as he attempts to clear his name. As Hearn admitted, Benn “has his own fight on his hands now” and said all would be revealed.
“I believe him,” Hearn told me. “In this situation you’re not innocent until proven guilty, you’re guilty until proven innocent, which isn’t really fair but that’s the responsibility as an athlete. I just hope that people will listen to him, digest the information and give him a chance ultimately because his career’s on the line.”
Since then, news of a second failure has emerged, with Benn, who insists he is “a clean athlete” saying he will not fight again until he clears his name.
Through the fog of uncertainty, though, one thing is clear: the sport needs to learn from this. It must change its procedures quickly to deal with difficult, emerging circumstances. Transparency will help that. And answers. Any answers. Not just from Benn – but from everyone.
The questions boxing – and Eddie Hearn – must answer now
- Why did the BBBoC wait so long to make its decision to cancel the fight?
- Why can’t a promoter, such as Hearn, cancel an event without the board’s say-so?
- This week Hearn claimed he was powerless to do so, contractually, while Eubank was still prepared to fight. Where’s the moral compass here?
- Why did they even think they could go on with the event after the failed test? Or two failed tests ?
- Even now, this week, why did Benn surrender his licence, claiming that he was not actually licensed with the board and that it had elapsed?
- Who are the doctors and sports scientists who gave advice to Eubank which persuaded him that he should still fight?
- We need to hear from laboratory scientists, specialists in the art of detection and those with deep and detailed knowledge of how and why substances show up. And a cross section of them. Benn could have been very unlucky. There has been talk of clomifene being in chicken’s eggs this week. Sports scientist, please?
- There is a narrative here emerging that adverse findings can just be refuted. Did the Dillian Whyte case, where he was exonerated on the day of the fight with Oscar Rivas, set a precedent? Was Hearn pushing the board with Benn based on that case?
- Now, with Benn’s licence being surrendered, while the board investigate a misconduct charge, will Benn box elsewhere with another commission, in another territory? Hearn discussed those possibilities – and it is a possibility – this week. Benn, after all, is neither banned nor suspended.