LONDON (AP) — Former middleweight boxing champion Nigel Benn is returning to the ring at the age of 55 for a one-off fight, saying he wants “closure” on a career blighted by drug abuse, depression and the death of his brother.
Benn, who has not fought professionally since 1996, will face 40-year-old Sakio Bika in Birmingham on Nov. 23.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Benn, whose boxing nickname was the “Dark Destroyer.”
“This fight is all about me,” he said. “It wasn’t financial. It was always about closure that I wanted that I never had.”
Speaking at a news conference in his home city of London, Benn said he is in the best physical condition of his life and compared himself to Benjamin Button, the character created by F. Scott Fitzgerald who ages in reverse.
“I feel the time is right now. People may say, ‘You’re 55.’ It’s nothing to do with age,” Benn said. “I’m fitter now than when I was world champion. It’s not the ‘Dark Destroyer’ because everything synonymous with that name is not who I am. Now it’s Nigel ‘Benjamin Button’ Benn — the older I get, the fitter I am and I 100% mean that. I am so fit.”
The fight with Bika, a former WBC super-middleweight champion, will be licensed by the British and Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA), rather than the British Boxing Board of Control.
BIBA’s chief medical officer said Benn is fit enough to return to the ring.
“The tests that we have done on Nigel Benn to date indicate that his physiological age is at least 15 years younger than his chronological age,” Professor Michael Graham said. “That’s scientific blood tests, MRI scans, cognitive function, body fat, etc.
“If you look at some of the other boxers who have been sanctioned by other sanctioning boards and provided licenses, Nigel’s certainly as fit, if not fitter, than most of them. Certainly the fittest 55-year-old boxer on the planet.”
Benn said he carried the death of his brother through his adult life, leading to drug-taking and depression. He said he had suicidal thoughts after his last fight, a loss to Irishman Steve Collins in a WBO super-middleweight title bout.
Benn claimed the WBO middleweight title in 1990, and held the WBC super-middleweight title from 1992-96.