Tom Gray

Froch-Groves reminiscent of UK’s super middleweight glory days

Nov. 9, 1996 – Steve Collins RTD 6 Nigel Benn, Nynex Arena, Manchester, England

When Irishman Steve Collins bested Chris Eubank over twenty four torrid rounds he only removed one half of a formidable duo who carried British boxing on their respective backs for years. Indeed, if you didn’t cheer for Eubank, the odds were that “The Dark Destroyer”, Nigel Benn, was your soldier of choice.

Benn had surprisingly lost his WBC super middleweight title to “Sugar Boy” Malinga, in March 1996, and was thought to be well past his best. In his tragic bout with Gerald McClellan, a year earlier, he had emerged victorious, but only after sustaining a broken nose, a broken jaw, internal bleeding and a shadow on his brain.

McClellan, a dynamite fighter, paid a far higher price for his bravery, sustaining permanent brain damage, in one of the most vicious prizefights in boxing history.

Still Benn was a warmonger, as Frank Bruno called him, and the former champion decided to roll the dice one last time against the marauding Collins, who was the WBO super middleweight titlist. Strictly on styles it was a potential fight of the year candidate, with Collins always charging, looking to cause maximum damage, and Benn renowned for being lethal under fire.

As it turned out their first fight, in July 1996, was horribly anticlimactic. Collins got off to a good start and, as he had with Eubank, set a grueling pace. Benn responded in a hellacious third with a bursting left hook counter to the jaw, which the Irishman has never forgotten.

“Nigel Benn hit me the hardest,” said Collins. “I don’t even think Benn knew how hard he hit to be honest. He caught me flush in the first fight and I thought all of my teeth were broken, when this horrible taste filled my mouth. Nobody had ever hit me like that.”

In the fourth Collins attacked and Benn swung a right hand counter but, as momentum twisted his body around, his left foot remained static and he badly twisted his ankle. The former champion went down and was clearly in distress when he rose to be given a compulsory eight count.

Benn gamely tried to continue but the pain and Collins’ relentless aggression were too much to handle and the referee halted the action when Benn turned his back, after being tagged.

You didn’t require a degree in business to figure out that an immediate rematch was on the agenda. Collins was now firmly established in the role of “Legend Killer” and more pumped than ever to silence Benn, and the fans that made excuses for “The Dark Destroyer”.

Still, in reality, Benn’s hunger had to be questioned. The former champion had officially announced his retirement following his most recent bouts, with Malinga and Collins, and it also emerged that he had resorted to betting huge sums of money on himself, in a bid to rekindle his once volcanic fire. If one didn’t possess authentic hunger for combat then Steve Collins was the type of recurring nightmare that would expose those shortcomings in a hurry.

The rematch was scheduled for November and British broadcaster Sky Sports called it the biggest night of boxing ever, with Prince Naseem Hamed and Winky Wright defending world titles on the same card, before the action switched to Las Vegas for Mike Tyson’s first bout with Evander Holyfield.

Collins vs. Benn II was untidy in the first three rounds and although “The Dark Destroyer” was competitive, he seemed to struggle with the Irishman’s strength and brutality. There was a disorganized look about Benn’s work and he ducked in panic, or retreated to the ropes, whenever Collins went into a higher gear.

The former two-weight world titlist had a very poor fourth and was letting his hands go less and less as the champion piled on the pressure. Collins was able to go in and do what he wanted because nothing was coming back and he was extracting a huge toll on the fading British legend.

Benn’s trainer Kevin Saunders threatened to stop the fight between rounds before sending him back out, but the result now looked academic. It was a very rough fight and Collins had a point deducted for use of the head, but that was small solace for Benn who was bashed by two big right hands before scrambling for cover.

At the end of the fifth Benn walked wearily back to his corner and before Saunders could say a word the battered fighter muttered “one more”. In the sixth he swung for the lights but was brutally punished when he did connect and brutally punished when he didn’t. There was nothing left and he was only going to get hurt.

The fight was over at the end of the round, when Benn retired on his stool.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport and the crowd booed Benn’s surrender. It was one of many instances where rowdy spectators can be brave from the comfort of a purchased seat, while they sip on a beer or munch on a hotdog.

In truth the former champion was merely protecting his long term health and didn’t have an ounce of fight left in him. Collins, who appeared embarrassed by the crowd reaction, classily motioned for fans to give respect to his fallen comrade, but it was not forthcoming.

Benn retired immediately following the bout with a knowing smile on his face and this time it was for real. Collins fought twice more against non-descript opposition and also called it a career. Both are remembered as two of the most exciting super middleweights of their generation.

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