Benn vs. Collins real enough, says Bunce

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Benn and Collins again.

It will be a normal ring, there will be regulation gloves, proper rounds and the punches will be real when Nigel Benn and Steve Collins end their exile from boxing and fight each other for a third time in October.

Benn has not fought since 1996, Collins had his last fight in 1997 and they both walked away from the sport with their senses intact, their pockets fairly well packed and with a couple of reputations that few British and Irish boxers can match. Benn and Collins are modern fighting legends and that is not debatable.

The old warriors will have a combined age of 106 when the first bell sounds at one of boxing’s less respected locations and in front of a big crowd. The fight is unlikely to be held in Britain unless the old warhorses agree to fat gloves and other trivial matters that will make the fight a joke; some consider it beyond a joke.

It will not be a charity spar, it is not a vulgar celebrity boxing night and it falls into that tricky area of recognition that makes it so intriguing.

The pair met twice in 1996 and Collins won both to send Benn into retirement and a career as a repentant preacher, first in Spain and then at an outpost in Australia. Collins fought twice more and then became a farmer.

The pair never once mentioned a third fight, but they did talk about fighting again. Benn has been chasing a third fight with Chris Eubank for a decade and Collins has spent thousands travelling the world to try and persuade the American Roy Jones to fight him. Eubank has constantly refused Benn and Jones and Collins have come close a couple of times to agreeing terms and money.

Eubank will, make no mistake, suddenly be very available to meet the winner. They have both talked about returning to the sport that made them rich and famous so often during the last few years and they have always ruled out boxing somebody younger. Their shared decline in both power, speed and timing actually makes this fight a lot safer than many of the mismatches we witness every Saturday night in British rings. It is a 50-50 fight and they are rare in the modern business.

However, let me just remind you what happened when they met before in 1996. I was ringside for both fights and they were brutal affairs, not for the squeamish.

They first met in June at the old Nynex in Manchester in front of over 20,000. The fight was poised, a “classic” I wrote at the time, in the fourth when Benn twisted his right ankle and went down on a knee. He climbed up, tried to fight, tried to survive and then had to turn away. Collins was in front on all three scorecards of an old-fashioned slugfest.

“Relax, I will knock him out,” Collins had told Freddie Roach, his trainer at the end of the first round. They both believed they would have knocked the other out had the fight continued and a rematch looked certain, but then Benn retired. Well, he retired for 21-minutes and then announced: “We were just warming up, you know I like a fight – let’s do it again, I’d like a rematch.”

They fought again in November and it was equally hard, a raw fight, one of those nights when the crowd wince at the punishment the boxers are taking. This time it was stopped by Kevin Sanders in Benn’s corner at the end of round six. It was simply too hard that night and after 48 fights and nine years as a professional Nigel Benn quit the sport. Collins fought just twice more, won both and retired less than a year later.

Their next fight will be easier, trust me. It will also be fun until one of them simply runs out of puff and the referee intervenes. It’s not ideal, but it is not as bad as some critics insist and there will be a few moments to remind us all why they were so loved all those years ago.

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