Less than a year into his professional career, Conor Benn has a perfect record of 6-0, experience of fighting on some of the biggest pay-per-view events in world boxing and developed the sort of crossover appeal that's seen him become the new face of Reebok's men's training range for SS17.
For any other 20-year-old fighter, success on this scale, this fast, would be nothing less than a sensation and an excuse to rest on your laurels for a few months. For Conor Benn – who's still fighting in the shadow of his father, the legendary Nigel Benn – the fight for recognition is only just beginning.
Nigel Benn spearheaded the last great golden era of British boxing, alongside the likes of Chris Eubank and Frank Buno, in the early 1990s. But with the likes of new heavyweight king Anthony Joshua, the ever-enigmatic Chris Eubank Jr and – now – Conor Benn on the cusp of victory on the global stage, there's an anticipation that history is about to repeat itself.
Conor Benn isn't as heavy as his father – but they're already showing similarities in every other aspect; brutal body shots, natural born charisma and a simmering rivalry with a Eubank that threatens to reach boiling point at some point down the line.
'The Destroyer' is on the frontline of boxing's new generation. He spoke to Complex on his newfound fame, similarities with the other Conor in combat sports and boxing in the shadow of his father.
Complex: Although we’re in a gym right now to launch Reebok’s new training gear, acting as a poster boy in front of the cameras isn’t the sort of work boxers are used to. How do you find this side of the game?
Conor Benn: I’m learning to deal with it daily; you don’t know what it’s like until you’re put in this position. This is my first campaign and it’s the first thing I’ve ever done like this – I get all nervous beforehand but then I get in my element. I like interacting with people, it’s just who I am – you can’t force that. Sometimes I think ‘these grown men want pictures with me, some 20-year-old?’ and it’s tricky but really, I can make someone’s day.
You mention you’re nervous. Do you get the same sort of nerves when you go out to fight?
Each fight has been different. My first fight I was nervous, what do you do when you’re standing in front of a packed arena for the first time? My last fight I wasn’t nervous and I was confident because I’m becoming better as a fighter. I’m still learning on the job but I’m learning very quickly. It’s not just me facing my opponent, it’s me facing critics and the world. Once I’m in the ring I’m in my element and the nerves have gone.
It’s almost one year since you turned pro but you only had 20 or so amateur fights before that, which is nothing…
I was 16 or 17 and I’d only been boxing for four months before my first amateur fight and then I had 12 in one year. I was fighting in bingo halls or in front of 20 people, boxing isn’t as big [in Australia] as it is over here, the ABAs are massive and you’ve got big amateur fights – it’s not like that in Sydney. To come over here and turn pro so quick was a massive shock but I’m definitely learning now and making sure I’m the complete fighter before I step up.
The new Reebok film sees you talking about “fighting in your father’s shadow”. How do you feel about comparisons between you and your dad?
I feel privileged to carry on the legacy. For my dad to say he’s passed me the baton to carry it on, that’s a privilege. Even if he wasn’t my dad, for someone of such legacy to say that, it’s an honour. If I achieve a quarter of what he’s achieved, I’ll feel blessed.
What is the professional relationship like between you and your dad?
He’s taken a step back with that and trusted Tony Sims to lead me in the right direction. Those two talk but he was here for my first fight, I wanted him to calm down my nerves and talk me through the motions.
It sounds very different from the other father-son combo in British boxing right now, the Eubanks. Do you think your method of working is the healthier one?
Of course it is. It’s the way my dad wanted to go, I’d love to have my dad in my corner – he’s a legend – but he wanted to take that step back and say “son, this is your time and if you need me I’m on the phone, but this is your time”. I talk to him almost everyday and it’s working perfectly. The other people, I don’t know what they’re doing. They can carry on doing what they’re doing…
What was your father’s reaction when you said you wanted to fight?
He was supportive but he wasn’t too sure, I was going to house parties – I just enjoyed fighting, it wasn’t something I ever thought I was going to take serious. I never said ‘I’ll be as good as you dad!’. For me to be where I am today, shock is the word. I never planned for it to be like this, it’s a blessing and God’s will.
You weren’t alive to see your father fight so what fighters did you admire as a child?
My dad. I used to watch him on YouTube all the time. No one fights like him today, no one. It’s like Mike Tyson, no one fights like Mike Tyson today or really any fighters from that era. Ricky Hatton was the last ‘great’ fighter.
"Boxing is different these days. Back in the day, anybody would fight anybody – today fights always have to make business sense."
British boxing is as good now as it’s been for many, many years, though. Do you feel the golden era you’re talking about can come back? Have we got the characters and skills to capture imagination again?
Boxing is different these days. Back in the day, anybody would fight anybody and it didn’t have to make sense – today fights always have to make business sense. The best does fight the best but, back in the day, it’d be the case that the best would fight the best before a world title, or before it was too late in their career. Today, it’s more that fighters have to build up and learn…
I mean you must see people on Twitter criticising you with regards to the opponents you’re facing in these early days – so on the back of what you just said – how long before you want to step up to fight the best of the best?
Because I’m only 20-years-old with a miniature amateur background, I want to take my time. If you rush things, you hit the top level very quickly and when you’re at that level, there is no room to learn – you need to make sure you’re in tip-top condition doing sprints, doing pads, sparring quick – there is no time to learn. If you’ve got a big fight, you’ve got to train for that fight and you can’t learn outside of that. I will get there, trust me. If the final result is me with a belt around my waist, I’ll be content.
What’s on your gym playlist right now and how do you use music to push you forward?
I listen to aggressive rap. Artists like 50, Eminem, YG and also the likes of Drake, Tyga, Chris Brown…
And how do you choose walk on music? I know you go to The Fugees ‘Ready or Not’ right now…
All the time! It’s just the song, ‘Ready or Not’ – and I weren’t ready (laughs)! I really wasn’t, I had to make myself ready. That’s all it was really, I’m here now.
Reebok also sponsor UFC, are you interested in that side of the fight game?
I watch Conor McGregor and he’s killing it, he’s absolutely killing it. I like the way he goes about things, zeroing in on fights and he is what he is, ‘if you don’t like it, don’t watch it’.
It’s interesting you mention you like his attitude because so far you’ve come across in fight week as incredibly composed and level-headed. Would you ever take influence from McGregor and trash talk your opponents to gain an edge?
Nah, nah, nah! I won’t ever trash talk someone unless it’s genuine, unless they’re actually getting on my tits and getting in my face. I’m more about putting the work in in the gym and If I really have the hump with someone, it’s genuine. I don’t do any of that fake showboating, I stand there and do what I’ve got to do and it’s the same with a life of luxury as well – I do like nice things and cars, watches and all of that. Some people won’t like it but you’ve got to accept that not everyone is going to like you and when you start doing that, it’s all cool.
What should the world expect from Conor Benn in 2017?
Unbelievable fights, great nights and big lights. I’m going to sit down with my team this week and we’ll go from there but there’s loads of big bills on this year and I will be fighting on most of them.
Conor Benn is the face of Reebok's new SS17 Men's Training Range, available now at DWSports.com.