“I never saw my father fight live,” says Conor Benn, from behind a punchbag, “but he was still my main inspiration growing up. I watched him on Youtube all the time – watching and rematching his fights. No-one fights like that today. No-one.”
Big words from Benn – but is he sure? With six wins under his professional belt – giving him an untarnished record, a mean punch and the nickname ‘The Destroyer’, many would say he is following firmly in his father’s footsteps.
But, when I join the welterweight at a boxing gym in Lambeth for a training session, he seems less sure.
“I feel privileged to carry on the legacy my dad started,” says 20-year-old Benn. “But he’s seen as so legendary, that if I achieve even a quarter of what he achieved, I’ll be blessed.
“He has passed the baton, though,” the boxer continues, “and he was supportive right from the off – despite maybe not being 100 per cent sure.
“I enjoyed fighting, but he didn’t know if I was serious enough. He didn’t know when I said I wanted to be as good as him whether it was just a figure of speech. So, for me to be where I am today, I think we’re both shocked. It’s all fallen into place perfectly.”
The elder Benn, who won the WBO middleweight title in 1990, the WBC super-middleweight in 1992 and the Commonwealth middleweight title in 1988, is not directly involved in his son’s training. Instead, he has taken a step back to allow trainer Tony Sims to take the lead.
“He still came across from Sydney for my first professional fight, though,” says Benn. “Calmed me down, talked me through the motions.
“I love to have my dad in my corner,” says Benn, who thinks his father/son relationship is much healthier than that of the Eubanks, “he’s a legend. But he took a step back to let me become my own boxer. I still talk to him every day and he’s always there to chat or talk things through. But this set up is what my dad thinks is best – and I’ll always do what he thinks is best.”
British boxing is on the up, says Benn. The young boxer says that back in the day, anybody fought anybody. “It didn’t have to make sense,” he reasons. Today, however, the fighter knows that business has crept into the ring.
“You need to plan more carefully as a result,” says Benn. “If I rush things, there’ll be no time to rush or learn. But I will get there – you just have to listen to your trainers, try different things in different fights and then I’ll eventually end up with a belt around my waist.
“My life has changed drastically in the past year,” says the boxer of his first year as a professional. “And it’s been so quick. I was only boxing for four months before I had my first amateur fight – at 16 – and then I had 12 fights in one year. I was fighting in bingo halls in front of eighteen people out in Sydney.”
Now, based in London, Benn is one of the fastest – and strongest – emerging boxers out there. But he hasn’t achieved such success without work.
“Monday, Wednesday and Friday I get up in the morning and do an hour run at 7am. Around 1pm or 2pm I’ll have a sparring session, then do my weights. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I do sprints at 6am in the morning – which I hate – and then boxing and pads work. Then, on evenings, explosive training. I eat at least four times a day, and listen to aggressive rap, 50 Cent, Eminem, Drake, Tyga to drive me, get me where I need to be.”
This schedule, that is featured in Reebok’s new campaign for their combat range, sees Benn in his element. But one thing he’s still not comfortable with, the boxers admits, is speaking to the press and wider public.
“I get all nervous before talking like this, but then I get in my element. I love interacting with people, and I still can’t believe that people want to talk to me, or want a picture with me. I mean, I’m jut a 20-year old.
“I love watching people like Conor McGregor, who are great at presenting themselves. I don’t get it when people complain about him – if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. But I never see myself going down that path of trash talking. Unless it’s genuine and someone’s really getting into my face. But I don’t do that fake showboating.
“And of course I get nervous when I fight,” he adds. “But it’s a different sort of nerves, and they’ve lessened over the course of my fights anyway. It’s not the opponents who I have to face now. It’s social media, online critics, Youtube. I have to face the entire world – and it wasn’t like that in my dad’s day.”
Conor is the face of Reebok’s new Spring/Summer ’17 combat and training range, available now from reebok.co.uk