Nigel Benn and Tony Sims hadn’t spoken for years since bashing each other as sparring partners a lifetime ago.
“He rang me out of the blue,” Sims tells Sky Sports.
“He said: ‘I’m over here, at my mum’s in Essex, with my son. He’s a teenager. Can he come to the gym for some sparring?'”
"I'm Nigel Benn's son, it is what it is… Until the point that I win 3 world titles and he'll be in my shadows!" 😉@ConorNigel on carrying on his father's legacy👇 pic.twitter.com/buIv7DLkub
Nigel Benn was a legend of yesteryear but, at this point in 2015, was long retired and had been enjoying the sunshine first in Spain then Australia. Little did we know, he had been priming his young son for battle.
“He brought Conor over, the first time I met him,” said Sims who remains in the younger Benn’s corner as his trainer for Saturday’s fight against Sebastian Formella, live on Sky Sports.
Sims, who has been involved in boxing for longer than Conor Benn has been alive, was not the type to be amused by the novelty of a legend’s son copy-catting his dad.
Instead, he saw something real. Something that was not a gimmick.
“Conor sparred four rounds,” Sims explains of the then-19-year-old’s first day in the gym.
“I saw he had a bit of ability. But he was raw. I put him in with a kid who was quite decent but Conor dropped him in the first round.
“I thought: ‘He must have his dad’s heavy hands’.
“He was only a teenager but already had something about him.”
Quietly, Nigel Benn took his old friend Sims to one side and offered some bold words.
“I will always remember what Nigel told me. 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.”
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Young Conor was scoping out his options as he plotted to swap his low-key amateur bouts in the Australian outback for the harsh, brutal reality of professional boxing.
His father rented him an apartment in Manchester and spent time with Ricky Hatton as his trainer but it felt like a very long way from home.
“He liked the feel of our gym in Essex,” Sims said. “It is near his family. It was a warmer feeling for him rather than going straight from Australia to Manchester.”
Word would soon get out that Nigel Benn’s young son was becoming a professional boxer.
He had his mettle and his willpower tested routinely behind closed doors in Sims’ gym that included Ricky Burns and Ohara Davies.
“Eddie Hearn signed him basically just because of his surname! Probably a lot of people thought like that because his first fights were very raw,” Sims said.
“He was in the public eye straight away and never had much amateur experience. For the first two years people probably thought ‘he has just got his dad’s name but will never do anything’.”
Benn has gone 16 fights unbeaten with Sims in his corner and is slowly forging his own route, independent to the family name.
Against Cedrick Peynaud he overcame two nightmare knock-downs to somehow stay undefeated before settling that score comprehensively in a rematch.
He said this week: “I’m Nigel Benn’s son and it will always be like that until I win three world titles, beating him by one, then he will be in my shadow!”
Sims explained: “In his own mind it will always be something that hangs over his head.
“‘Can you match up to what your dad has done?’
“That is difficult for any young man particularly if your dad is a legend of British boxing. It will take some to beat what Nigel Benn did.
“I always said to Conor: ‘Chris Eubank Jr had to overcome the same thing and became a world-class fighter’.
“I’ve told him: ‘All the sons of great fighters have had to suffer this pressure’.
“Floyd Mayweather had to do it.
“I said to Conor: ‘Mentally you have to overcome this, find your own path, become your own man, you can’t copy what your dad did’.
“Conor has done that. But he does have some of his dad’s traits – power in both hands, a big heart, he’ll take a few to give a few.”
The plan is to turn this latest generation of the fighting Benns into a better version of his old man, a more skilled boxer who can choose when to brawl.
“His dad told me at the start: ‘I never had fundamentals, I just slugged it out’,” Sims said.
“We’ve worked for years on slipping the jab, his head movement, his footwork.
“He can already punch with both hands so if I can make him defensively smart then he can become as good as his dad.”
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