Hauser on the comeback of Conor Benn

BOXING sank a little deeper into the mud on Saturday night when Conor Benn (who’s not currently licensed to fight in the United Kingdom because of proceedings keyed to his having tested positive twice for a banned performance enhancing drug) fought in Florida on the undercard of Richardson Hitchins vs. Jose Zepeda in a bout that was promoted by Matchroom and streamed by DAZN.

Benn’s drug tests have been discussed at length in Boxing News and elsewhere. His fight on Saturday against unheralded Rodolfo Orozco wasn’t announced until September 20 (three days before the bout). And it didn’t begin until 3:10am UK time, which meant that many of Conor’s fans were sound asleep when the bell for round one rang. But Saturday night was less about Benn-Orozco than it was about promoter Eddie Hearn testing the waters for Benn’s return and seeing how far he can stretch the envelope.

The Matchroom media release announcing Benn’s return declared that Conor was “cleared in July by UKAD and the WBC, and his provisional suspension was lifted after an independent National Anti-Doping Panel review.”

“Cleared” is a misleading term. Benn was provisionally suspended by UKAD after the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) reported that he tested positive twice for Clomifene last year. Conor appealed the suspension on multiple grounds and, on July 28, UKAD confirmed that he was no longer provisionally suspended as a consequence of a ruling by a National Anti-Doping Panel. Informed sources say that the panel confirmed the integrity of VADA’s testing process (which had been challenged by Benn’s representatives) but ruled that, because VADA is not a national anti-doping agency, its test results could not serve as basis for suspending Benn in the United Kingdom. On August 17, UKAD announced that it had appealed the National Anti-Doping Panel ruling.

Benn is still not licensed to fight in the UK and the charges against him remain unresolved. But pending the result of the appeal, he’s no longer provisionally suspended by UKAD. This means that other jurisdictions can license him to box. The Florida State Athletic Commission chose to do so. That led BBBofC general secretary Robert Smith to declare, “Sometimes people look after themselves rather than the sport in general, which is slightly disappointing. I understand why they do it. But personally, I don’t think he [Benn] should be boxing until this matter is cleared. A number of issues are still outstanding which everybody’s aware of. Once the appeal has taken place, we’ll take it from there. But when Eddie says he’s cleared his name, according to us we haven’t had an explanation of how the positive test came about. So I don’t quite agree with Eddie on that one.”

Meanwhile, after Benn-Orozco was announced, Hearn told IFLTV, “Conor has produced this scientific evidence in the past. It’s not like he’s never, he just kept it under his bed or something.”

But Benn’s “scientific evidence” has been rejected by the British Boxing Board of Control and UKAD. The fact that he and Hearn keep distorting the facts speaks to the merit (or lack thereof) of their position.

Hearn also made the point that Benn was tested by VADA in conjunction with the Orozco fight and tested clean. But in today’s world of microdosing, illegal drug use often goes undetected even with the most sophisticated tests. And VADA tests fighters pursuant to three different mandates: (1) the WBC Clean Boxing Program, (2) contracts that it enters into directly with fighters and promoters, and (3) at the request of various state athletic commissions. In the first two instances, VADA conducts a full panel of tests. But some state athletic commissions save money by limiting their testing authorisation to less than a full panel. Florida cuts corners on PED testing.

DAZN’s commentating team for Benn-Orozco consisted of Corey Erdman, Sergio Mora, and Chris Mannix. Chris Algieri (who has become one of the best commentators in boxing) was conspicuously absent from the proceedings. Algieri was knocked out by Benn in 2021. After it was revealed that Conor had tested positive for Clomifene, Algieri told Sports Illustrated, “I’m not surprised. I had heard mutterings as I was getting ready to fight him. I heard mutterings during our fight week. I always give fighters the benefit of the doubt. I’m never going to call them out, even if I suspect it. But now that this has come to light, it makes you think. And it sucks. If you look at the way his body has changed, even from the [Adrian] Granados fight to my fight – they were only months apart – the difference was visible. That’s hard to do in such a short period of time. Now you may think, ‘Well everyone’s body is different.’ But with this, it makes you rethink everything.”

At the top of the DAZN show, Mannix referenced Benn’s PED problem and acknowledged, “The questions about him still linger. The question of should he be fighting is subjective.” DAZN then played an excerpt from an interview that Mannix conducted with Benn in which Conor said that he was “willing to sit down with UKAD” in an effort to resolve the issue and blamed “politics” and “egos” for his problems before adding, “What’s been out there is a lie.”

One would expect an innocent person in Benn’s circumstances to facilitate the free flow of information at every turn. Mannix didn’t challenge Benn on his lack of cooperation with UKAD to date or the fact that VADA’s positive test results for Benn have been confirmed in multiple adjudications.

The contract weight for Benn-Orozco was 154 pounds. Orozco kept coming forward and was game. But he wasn’t good. His balance was poor. At times, it seemed as though the only time he moved his head was when Benn hit it. Both guys threw punches in bunches but only one guy had the power to hurt the other. Rodolfo was tailor-made as an opponent for Conor and took more punishment than a fighter should. Two of the judges scored the fight 99-91 in Benn’s favour, which was on the mark. The third judge found a way to give four rounds to Orozco.

My own opinion is that Florida shouldn’t have licensed Benn to fight. I agree with Paulie Malignaggi, who recently said, “Benn shouldn’t be in the ring until this whole thing is over. Money always buys you out of problems, so they’ll probably make it go away or say he was not guilty. But I think, for the sake of doing things right, you shouldn’t be fighting until you finish the entire investigation and have a decree and have a decision made.”

There’s also an issue as to whether DAZN should have streamed the fight. DAZN has been hemorrhaging money since its inception. Two of its flagship fighters (Anthony Joshua and Katie Taylor) have had significant problems in the ring lately. Now the network is pinning its hopes on Benn. In its glory years, HBO was known as “The Heart and Soul of Boxing.” DAZN is in danger of becoming known as “The Home of Damaged Goods.”

One might also question DAZN’s moral compass. Its early embrace of “sportswashing” by the Saudi government and its enabling of Dmitri Bivol to become a symbol of Russian power by backing his fight against Canelo Alvarez (a decision that ignored the pleas of Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko) speak to that point.

Writing about the proposed match between Benn and Chris Eubank Jnr last year, Tris Dixon declared, “Anyone who wanted the fight to go ahead did so for their own agenda and to grease their own wheels, not for the good of the sport they laughably claim to be passionate about. Their passion is for the parts that suit them.”

The same was true of Benn-Orozco.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected]. His most recent book – The Universal Sport: Two Years Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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