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PEDs and Conor Benn: An About-Face in the Court of Public Opinion

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  • PEDs and Conor Benn: An About-Face in the Court of Public Opinion

    Few, if any, sports promotions are as fragile as a boxing match. Fights fall out all the time. However, the Benn vs. Eubank Jr implosion was a particularly infernal shipwreck.

    The sons of British boxing legends Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank Jr were slated to fight on Oct. 8 of last year at London’s 20,000-seat O2 Arena. The event, bearing the catchphrase “Born Rivals,” was reportedly an advance sellout.

    Two days before the fight, on Thursday, Oct. 6, the principals gathered for the final pre-fight press conference. One could sense that something was amiss when the confab was pushed back three hours to 4 pm. When lead promoter Eddie Hearn finally took the podium, it was to inform the gathering that he was pulling the plug -- not just on the Benn vs. Eubank fight, but the whole shebang including the eight supporting bouts. Thousands of people were impacted, not the least of whom were the arena’s gig workers, many of whom moonlighted out of economic necessity.

    Despite the late hour, the demolition wasn’t a complete shock as it had come out that Conor Benn had tested positive for a banned substance in a test administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA). The offending pharmaceutical was clomifene, a female fertility drug that can elevate testosterone levels in men. The adverse finding meant that the bout could not go forward with the blessing of the all-powerful British Boxing Board of Control, a prerequisite.

    There was plenty of blame to go around. Eddie Hearn and his collaborators were faulted for keeping the news media in the dark while their attorneys made a last-ditch effort to salvage the match. But the brunt of the vitriol was directed at Conor Benn who was scarred with the tattoo of a cheater. He professed his innocence, as cheaters invariably do, but nobody was buying it.

    Last week, the World Boxing Council exonerated Benn, attributing the adverse finding to an excessive consumption of eggs. This determination jibed with the results of a study published last year in a leading medical journal which reported that clomiphene metabolites could turn up in human urine following the consumption of eggs from clomiphene-treated laying hens. Benn, we were told, had this thing about eggs, consuming an average of 30-34 per week.

    The WBC’s announcement was greeted, by and large, with a big horse laugh. “What a yolk,” was the hackneyed response. The “too many eggs” rationalization was filed away in the same waste basket with “the dog ate my homework” excuse. But in the last few days, antipathy toward Conor Benn has dissipated. More than that, his incessant cry that he was wronged has found favor in the court of public opinion. More and more people have come to see him as the victim, not the victimizer.

    In a formal statenent, Benn said that his science and legal team “concluded that there was clear evidence of fundamental flaws and irregularities [in the testing process.]”

    As for the BBBofC, which suspended Benn’s boxing license and purportedly pressured foreign jurisdictions to do likewise, Benn expressed nothing but contempt. “They attacked me publically and privately during the most difficult time in my life, treating me with utter contempt and without any consideration for fair process or my mental state…I wouldn’t wish for my worst enemy to experience what me and my family have gone through, but next time I strep in the ring I will be mentally tougher than I ever was before.”

    Benn’s efforts to clear his name continued today (Monday, March 6) when he appeared along with his father on Piers Morgan’s popular TV talk show which airs in prime time in Great Britain.

    Among other things, Conor said that the WBC did him no favors by blaming the adverse finding on contaminated eggs. Rather, he said, incompetence associated with the testing protocol was at the root of all his misery. And, yes, he planned to sue the BBBofC for defamation of character and loss of earnings.

    His bout with Chris Eubank Jr would have generated far and away his most lucrative payday. Although he will benefit from enhanced name recognition when he enters the ring again, it’s highly doubtful he will command an equivalently high purse. There’s no point in resurrecting the Benn-Eubank fight. The luster was lost forever when Chris Eubank Jr was TKOed by underdog Liam Smith.

    One thing is almost certain. Benn’s next fight won’t be in the UK. Speculation has centered around Australia. Nigel Benn retired to Blacktown, New South Wales, a suburb of Sydney, after leaving the sport and young Conor, now 26, first laced on a pair of gloves in the Land Down Under.

    Stay tuned.