Benn vs Formella: Conor Benn must channel emotion to overhaul Kell Brook and Amir Khan as Britain’s welterweight hope
Conor Benn can overtake Kell Brook and Amir Khan as Britain’s most exciting welterweight contender if he controls his aggression and emotion to secure a career-best win tonight.
Benn has worn his heart on his sleeve in an eerily similar manner to his legendary father Nigel all week ahead of the most difficult fight of his life against Sebastian Formella on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports from 7pm.
There is a vacancy left by Brook and Khan at the sharp end of the welterweight division which Benn can seize if he delivers on his promise to “hunt” Formella and “take what’s mine”.
“I’m very, very nervous for Benn, this is a massive step up and we don’t know if he is good enough,” promoter Eddie Hearn said frankly.
The intrigue in the 24-year-old began with his surname and his family ties but has grown into how compelling he is to listen to, and how watchable he is as a fighter.
We’ve seen Benn take risks, brutalise rivals, scrap when he should box safely, get knocked down and survive catastrophes in 16 action-packed fights which have yielded 16 wins, but he is stepping to a new level of opponent tonight.
Germany’s Formella has lost just once, when he went the distance with two-time world champion Shawn Porter.
“It’s a big ask,” Benn has admitted.
“If he wants to move I’ll hunt him down. If he wants to have a tear-up? More fool him, I’ll soon make him regret that,” he said as the intensity burned this week.
There have been tears in the past few days as Benn thought about the sacrifices he has made to chase a dream: “I miss my family, watching them grow up, my little sister.
“The novelty does wear off. I miss my family. On Saturday night I will take that frustration out on my opponent. I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am now to let it slip between my fingers.”
Benn grew up with Nigel in Australia, where they emigrated so the former two-weight world champion could live anonymously and peacefully after a whirlwind career, but the then-teenager demanded to step into the ring himself.
“I will always remember what Nigel told me,” said Conor’s trainer Tony Sims.
“He said: ‘Listen, Conor is a better fighter than me. At his age, I couldn’t do what he does – he will go on to become a world champion’. I think Nigel is right.”
Hearn added: “I can’t believe the improvements he has made because I wasn’t sure that he would be good enough. But he is!
“He has sparred rounds with Kell Brook which proves he is a world-class welterweight.”
Brook’s loss to Terence Crawford and Khan’s inactivity mean the former world champions’ places as Britain’s leaders at 147lbs are under siege.
Josh Kelly, the unbeaten Olympian, will eye the same spot – if Brook vs Khan is the great lost fight of this generation, maybe Benn and Kelly can right some of those wrongs in the years to come.
“Six months ago I would have said Kelly was a huge favourite,” Hearn considered. “But let’s see Benn against Formella…”
It is 30 years to the week since Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank collided in the first of two fights which are cemented into boxing legend.
Young Conor hadn’t yet been born.
This is a journey that has stretched the Benn family bond, tested Conor’s will and toughness, but there are still those who look down their nose to say that the undefeated prospect is benefitting from doors that his dad knocked down.
Nigel Benn is on the other side of the world but he felt present in the snarl and glaring eyes of his son, who will never have felt more alone than he does tonight when the first bell rings. That’s the way it needs to be. As his own man, he can make his own statement tonight.
If he succeeds, the division run by Crawford, Errol Spence Jr and Manny Pacquiao which Brook and Khan once thrilled in will have a major new British threat.
Which new heavyweight danger will emerge?
Alen Babic faces Tom Little and Fabio Wardley takes on Richard Lartey, two heavyweight fights giving a chance for a fresh contender to burst onto the scene.
Croatia’s Babic is a protégé of Dillian Whyte’s and has blasted through his first five fights inside less than three rounds each – he has vowed never to allow a fight to go further.
His alter-ego of ‘The Savage’ is terrifying and hypnotic but, as his opponent Little has pointed out, there are plenty of questions about Babic’s potential still to answer.
Little is his most experienced foe yet (the Brit has won 10 out of 18 and has fought Filip Hrgovic, David Price and Daniel Dubois).
Another emphatic KO would see Babic recognised as a legitimate rising danger.
Wardley, the reigning English champion, must keep his unbeaten record intact against WBO African title holder Lartey.
Doubts were raised about Wardley’s background in the white-collar boxing scene but he has blasted his way to eight KOs in nine pro wins.
But this is a step up – Lartey has shared a ring with Dubois and Nathan Gorman so Wardley will want to match their victories over him to stay on track.