The last time Nigel Benn was in a boxing ring he was left beaten, broken and in tears, but he is now ready to end his 23-year exile with a remarkable and controversial return to boxing.
Benn was a world champion in 1990, one of British sport's most famous faces, a veteran of fights watched by in excess of 18-million viewers on ITV before walking away from boxing in 1996, upon which he found theology and started to preach. Well, now, at 55-year-old, he is back with a vengeance and on a mission of a different type.
"This fight is all about me and not about the money," Benn insisted. "I'm fighting again for the right reasons and not the wrong reasons. It's all about the closure that I never got when I finished boxing."
Benn will fight hardened veteran Sakio Bika, a man who was still competing at the highest level just two years ago, in Birmingham on Nov. 23. The fight will be over ten rounds, just above the light-heavyweight limit; they will wear 12-ounce gloves, which are bigger than standard gloves, and it will be sanctioned by the British and Irish Boxing Authority. Benn was told that the British Boxing Board of Control would not grant him a licence to fight.
This is not an exhibition or a glorified sparring session -- this is a real fight with very real dangers; it would be a very tough fight for any of Britain's super-middleweights or light-heavyweights, never mind a 55-year-old man returning to the ring after 23 years away from the sport.
"I'm 55, sure, but it has nothing to do with my age," Benn continued. "I'm fitter now than I have ever been, I have turned back the clock -- I'm Benjamin Button Benn now."
Benn won the British amateur title in1985, turned professional in 1987 and biffed and bashed his way to 22 fights without loss -- all ending in stoppages or knockouts -- before Michael Watson gave him a boxing lesson and stopped him in the sixth round under a hastily erected big top at Finsbury Park in north London in 1989. Benn packed his bags and moved to America.
"He's my English Marvin Hagler," Bob Arum declared, the world's greatest boxing promoter in late-1989. Benn had three fights in three months and then won the WBO version of the middleweight world title in early-1990 to complete a truly remarkable resurrection. Donald Trump, then just a billionaire and wannabe boxing promoter, was involved with Benn's win against Iran Barkley in Las Vegas in August of 1990; Benn dropped Barkley three times and stopped the American in the first round.
"I had a great career but I never enjoyed a lot of it," revealed Benn. "I was unhappy, in some dark places and now my head is clear. I'm looking forward to getting back in that ring."
In November 1990, Benn lost his world title to his bitter and life-long rival, Chris Eubank, on a night of raw drama in Birmingham. The pair fought for a draw in front of 42,000 people at Old Trafford in 1993. Benn and Eubank have been at each other's throats since 1990, with talk last year about a third fight.
There is a very real chance that Eubank, 53, will now want a comeback of his own. Meanwhile, there is also Steve Collins, who twice beat both Benn and Eubank, and five years ago started to train when he targeted Roy Jones Jr. and a scrap in Dubai. Benn claimed that Jones Jr. and Eubank had both turned down a fight.
There is a chance that Benn's decision will lead to a tiny revolution of 50-plus legends getting back in the gym, back in shape and chasing one or two more paydays. The Benn and Bika fight will be on a pay-per-view platform. Benn was involved in one of the most savage fights to ever take place in a British ring when he beat Gerald McClellan to defend his WBC super-middleweight title in 1995. Benn and McClellan shared 33 first-round wins entering the fight, with the former surviving a heavy first-round knockdown to stop McClellan in round ten.
The vicious fight was watched by 17.5 million people; McClellan never recovered, required surgery to remove a blood clot from the surface of his brain and requires 24-hour care to this day.
In 1996, before losing his title to Sugar Boy Malinga, Benn told me that he was ready to walk away: "I'm tired, I've had enough and I just want to retire." Later that year Benn would lose twice to Collins and then finally quit. There were rumours for years about a return, but he stayed away, training as a preacher and finding a pulpit in Sydney. He finished his professional career with 42 wins, five defeats and one draw. "I need closure and that is why I have picked a hard opponent," said Benn. "I could have taken an easy one but that is not the way I work. I want a test, I need a test." The fight is being called: 'One More Fight for Closure.' It is an odd title, Benn has never moaned about the way his career finished, even when the capacity crowd at the Manchester Arena for his last fight booed when he was pulled out after six completed rounds against Collins.
It was a brutal fight, they both fought like it would be the end for the loser; the crowd was harsh, Collins took the microphone to tell everybody that Benn was "the best British fighter in history". Benn sobbed, but did deliver his own obituary late that night: "For ten years I gave blood, guts and tears but my body can only take so much. It's over."
In the press room that night, we all stood and clapped. That applause will be missing in Birmingham in November and that is sad.