May 11, 2021

Conor Benn’s coming of age

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Conor Benn is slowly but surely proving himself to be a top fighter in his own right. Vargas looks like the perfect match at this stage, writes Matt Bozeat

RISING welterweight Conor Benn can put himself in good company when he meets Samuel Vargas over 10 rounds on Matchroom’s show on Saturday night. Sky Sports televise.

From Colombia and based in Canada, Vargas has a 31-6-2 (14) record that shows losses to Errol Spence Jnr, Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Luis Collazo and last time out, Dallas prodigy Vergil Ortiz.

British fans will remember Vargas coming close to upsetting Khan in Birmingham in September 2018. Khan was down late in the second after having Vargas over earlier in the round and Khan was saved by the bell in the 10th after a clean right hand to the jaw had him on rubbery legs.
Vargas is a gritty competitor and with Benn, ranked 11th and 14th by the WBA and IBF respectively but still a novice with only 67 professional rounds behind him, the 31-year-old Vargas will surely see this as a winnable route back to world level.

But Benn, 16-0 (11), is improving and the 24-year-old from Ilford may be facing Vargas at the right time. Well, that’s certainly the plan.

Vargas is coming off possibly his worst defeat, a seven-round beating against Ortiz last July, while last time out, Benn claimed a career-best points win over Sebastian Formella (22-1), a stubborn German who had toughed it out for 12 rounds against Shawn Porter in his previous fight. That step up went as well as could have been hoped for Benn.

Though hurt, outgunned and unsure where the next punch was coming from, Formella kept firing back and made Benn work to win the rounds. In short, it was a good night’s work. Opponents find him hard to read. The punches come from all angles and Benn seldom throws the same combination twice.

He’s also shown hunger to get off the floor twice in the opening round against Cedrick Peynaud in their first fight and shrug off heavy shots from Finn Jussi Koivula (24-6-1) to stop him in the second. They were exciting scraps that evoked memoires of his father, Nigel Benn, though admittedly at a lower level.

Conor has the same wide stance and jerky upper-body movement and though he lacks his father’s lights-out punch, he takes a few and has entertaining fights.

It will be fun watching what happens as he goes up the levels. Fans aren’t watching purely because of his DNA anymore. To his great credit, Conor is an attraction himself – the dedication to his trade demands admiration – and matches with the solid Florian Marku (8-0-1) and European champion David Avanesyan (27-3-1) are ones to look forward to, provided Benn gets past Vargas.

Vargas has lost three of his last five, but in good company. He took a 37-year-old Luis Collazo to a split decision a couple of years ago and can take some satisfaction from being the first to take Ortiz beyond the sixth round.

Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Until the final minute or so, Vargas had done a decent job of keeping out the way of Ortiz’s punches with his shoulder roll defence and, whenever Ortiz took a breather, he chipped away with jabs and body shots.

Mostly, Vargas was on the receiving end and the final minute or so was uncomfortable viewing. It might have been stopped sooner.
Koivula is a common opponent. He took Vargas to a split verdict over 10 rounds in November, 2017 and 19 months later, Benn beat him in a dramatic two-round shoot-out.

Benn shipped a few rights in the opening round before getting behind his jab and then finding a well-timed left hook to send the Finn to his knees.
Benn had him over again before the referee stepped in to signal a breakthrough win. Koivula had challenged for European honours, but had lost two of his previous three. Vargas looks to be another good fighter who could be on the way down. Saturday night is another occasion when the timing could be right for Benn. Vargas has just had possibly the worst beating of his career, Benn has just had his best win.

Good matchmaking only has a part to play in Benn’s success. For a novice, he’s been matched tough and he’s shown character to come back from both a broken jaw and broken hand. It’s important to keep in mind how many upsets the sport has produced in the last 12 months. They have often occurred when an experienced fighter is just too clever and that scenario can’t be ruled out here. But Benn has proved himself a good fighter with unteachable spirit. We expect him box behind the jab, one of his most polished weapons, and outpoint Vargas in a eagerly-fought bout.

Also on the show, Hartlepool’s Savannah Marshall (9-0) makes the first defence of her WBO middleweight title against Maria Lindberg, 19-6-2 (10), who came in at short notice for Femke Hermans.

Expect Watford’s Shannon Courtenay (6-1) to be crowned WBA bantamweight champion, though it’s incredible that her fight with Aussie Ebanie Bridges is deemed worthy of a world title. Her rematch with Rachel Ball – Courtenay was dropped and narrowly outpointed over eight last year – fell through after Ball picked up Covid-19 and untested Aussie Bridges (5-0) stepped in. Now Courtenay and Bridges will both fight over the 10-round distance for the first time.

There’s also outings for the brilliant Kash Farooq at bantamweight and promising teenager, John Hedges, up at super-middleweight.

The Verdict This looks like the perfect step up for Benn but Vargas can’t be written off completely.

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