Conor Benn walks in his father’s footsteps as long road back leads to Las Vegas

Conor Benn’s father went to Las Vegas and made a massive statement in 1990. On Saturday, at the Cosmopolitan in the famous fight city, Conor will hope to follow in his father’s footsteps when he meets unbeaten American Peter Dobson.

Conor has spent most of his boxing career avoiding comparisons with his father. Nigel Benn made the first defence of his WBO middleweight title at Bally’s in Las Vegas and stopped Iran Barkley with just three seconds left in the opening round. It was a foul-filled, savage brawl. Benn was never invited back; Barkley won a world title three fights later and then beat Thomas Hearns. The Benn win over Barkley is one of the most overlooked fights in British boxing.

Conor Benn has always been harshly and unfairly compared to his father, and at the start of his career, it was particularly damaging. Conor was raw, still young and learning his trade in carefully selected fights; it is boxing’s tried and tested method, but the sons of great fighters are simply not given the same chances. In recent years, Chris Eubank Jr and Campbell Hatton have all had to overcome ridiculous prejudice. The comparisons and criticism are far worse at the start of careers. Benn was abused after his early fights and he struggled with the pressures of being Nigel’s son.

Conor was just starting to establish a career of his own, a fighter with the ability to be a real attraction in main events, and a man capable of selling out vast arenas, when a failed drug test ruined everything. The irony is that during his last three or four fights before the failed test, there were clear signs of his father in Conor’s fighting style.

It was October 2022 and his sold-out fight with Chris Eubank Jr was cancelled less than 48 hours before the first bell. It was not a great time and Benn retreated, angry and determined to prove his innocence. His journey has been difficult and costly, and is not over yet. He failed two tests in 2022, one in July and one in September, when he tested positive for Clomifene; there was confusion, there were accusations, and from the very first day Benn insisted he would clear his name.

Benn was suspended by UK Anti-Doping (Ukad), but in July last year, the National Anti-Doping Panel lifted the temporary ban. The British Boxing Board of Control and Ukad appealed the decision to lift the ban. The process is yet to finish, but Benn has not been given a licence by the board and that is why he is fighting in Las Vegas.

This will be Conor Benn’s third fight in the US (Getty)
This will be Conor Benn’s third fight in the US (Getty)

Benn fought in Florida in September 2023, winning over 10 rounds. His opponent, Rodolfo Orozco, was later suspended for failing a drug test. It was nothing more than a routine few rounds to hold off the ring rust.

After the Orozco win, there was bold talk of a fight with Eubank Jr, possibly in Abu Dhabi or at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next Saturday, but they both faded when the Board stood firm on their decision not to grant Benn his old licence back. The Eubank Jr fight remains a major attraction; their fathers fought two thrillers over 30 years ago, the blood feud exists.

The fight with Dobson, who is unbeaten in 16 fights with nine ending early, will keep Benn busy; Dobson is untested in the ring, but has a reputation for being tough. “We will see,” said Benn.

This is the ninth year that Benn has been a professional boxer and he is unbeaten in 22 fights, and the last four or five of his fights in British rings were impressive. The failed tests ruined his path and he now has a long, long road back. A good win against Dobson will help. The memory of his father knocking over and stopping Barkley will be ideal motivation. That is not a cheap comparison, it’s a sensible move.