Nigel Benn, 1987-1996, 42-5-1 (35 KOs)
Titles: WBO middleweight (April 29, 1990-November 18, 1990), WBC super middleweight (October 3, 1992-March 2, 1996)
First Full Year of IBHOF Eligibility: 2002
Throughout the first two-thirds of his boxing career Benn more than lived up to his nickname of “The Dark Destroyer.” His search-and-destroy mentality was fostered by a rough childhood in Ilford, East London and a four-year military stretch that included two tours of duty in Northern Ireland during the height of “The Troubles.” He expressed that rage by rushing out of his corner and obliterating opponents with nuclear-fueled bombs that often finished the job in seconds, not rounds. During those days, Benn lived by the sword and occasionally died by it but the common denominator was that he did both in thrilling fashion.
After capturing his second divisional belt Benn underwent an improbable stylistic transformation. While still capable of producing fireworks, his unvarnished aggression was doled out more intelligently and his head movement rendered him a more difficult target. The result was an extended stay at the top levels of boxing, as well as inclusion on this list.
Points in His Favor: Once he established his star power by crushing his first 22 opponents by knockout – one of the longest such streaks from a beginning of a career in the sport’s history – Benn bounced back from a potentially career-killing TKO loss to Michael Watson to capture the WBO middleweight title from Doug DeWitt (KO 8) and defend it in a one-round shootout with ex-middleweight king Iran Barkley. The fact that Benn won both those bouts on American soil and on U.S. television further raised his world profile and enhanced his historic significance.
But the strength of Benn’s case lies with his time at 168. He captured the WBC belt by traveling to Italy and blasting the crown off Mauro Galvano’s head in four rounds, then notched nine defenses over the likes of Nicky Piper (W 12), Galvano (W 12), then-unbeaten Henry Wharton and future champ Vincenzo Nardiello. His greatest victory during his run was his off-the-floor Armageddon against Gerald McClellan – recently named by this scribe as the second greatest super middleweight title fight in history – and many observers believed he deserved much better than a draw in his title unification rematch with WBO counterpart Chris Eubank. His nine defenses rank only behind Sven Ottke (21), Joe Calzaghe (21) and Eubank (14) and stand evenly with the freshly dethroned Lucian Bute.
What Hurts His Cause: The flaws in Benn’s wild-child style early on were graphically exposed by Watson, who stopped the exhausted bomber in six rounds. Benn also was winless in his two fights with Eubank, including a nine-round TKO defeat in their classic first encounter. Finally, his career ended unceremoniously as he lost a split decision to previous victim Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga, then back-to-back corner retirement losses to Steve Collins that were diametrically opposed to Benn’s all-heart reputation.