On Thursday 6th October around 14:00 BST the news trickles out – Chris Eubank Jr vs. Conor Benn on Saturday night was recalled.
It’s a decision many in the Canary Riverside Plaza Hotel lobby have been waiting for since the news broke Benn’s failed drug test on Wednesday morning.
Benn had tested positive for a prohibited drug in a Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (Vada) test, or returned an “adverse analytical finding for trace amounts of a fertility drug,” as his supporters put it.
The lobby is still packed with media and undercard contenders, including light heavyweight Lydon Arthur and bantamweight Shannon Courtenay.
Promoter Eddie Hearn suddenly appears and heads upstairs. Then, quietly and out of sight of the press, Benn and his father Nigel make a hasty exit. Versace luggage is packed into a car.
In the same parking lot, about an hour and a half later, middleweight Felix Cash, who was booked to fight on the undercard, exits. He shares a bus with Benn and is visibly annoyed. Hearn has already left.
Arthur and Courtenay are still left in the lobby, unaware that the entire map has been canceled, not just the main event.
If the official announcement is made, it will be a press release at 4:06 p.m. Hearn and Eubank promoter Kalle Sauerland hold a press conference that lasts pretty much four minutes.
No questions from the media are allowed.
It ends a damaging week for British boxing that could have been far worse had Benn gone on against Eubank Jr.
In the end, common sense prevailed, even though promoter Matchroom and his partners pointed the finger at the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
The board “banned” Wednesday’s fight “as it is not in the interest of boxing,” essentially saying it would not sanction the fight. It appears they held on to their guns despite the pressure.
“It was a bleak day for boxing but the right result was achieved,” said BBC Radio 5 Live’s Steve Bunce.
“They’re business people, so they wanted it to happen,” Carl Froch added of the organizers’ efforts to move the fight night forward.
“But fighter safety is paramount in boxing, 99% of people will agree this is the right decision.”
Huge amounts of money have been invested in Conor “The Destroyer” Benn. Some estimates this week put the value of the fight at £15million.
Benn, 26, is one of Matchroom’s most marketable stars after Anthony Joshua. He is the focus of DAZN’s boxing coverage in the UK.
The son of boxing legend Nigel, he has gradually blossomed into a vicious knockout artist on the verge of a welterweight world title.
Benn’s star was so radiant that fans and organizers were willing to overlook a three weight difference between him and Eubank for what has been dubbed the ‘mega fight’ at the O2 Arena in London this Saturday.
All the attention leading up to fight week was on Eubank, 33, and his decline from middleweight to 157 pounds – a weight he has never fought at as a pro.
But with the fight called off after a positive drug test, questions about boxing’s anti-doping protocols have swirled. Benn finds himself in the middle of this storm and must now fight for his reputation.
‘Why is doping such a gray area?’
Internally, Matchroom and broadcast partner DAZN were convinced that Benn was not innocent of any doping violation.
However, the basis for that trust has yet to be revealed as both camps cite ongoing legal issues preventing them from revealing details.
What is clear is that sometime in September Benn failed a drug test administered by the Vada, a third party hired by the organizers to carry out further tests provided by the Board’s testing partner, UK Anti-Doping.
“I would like to clarify that Conor Benn is not suspended from the British Boxing Board of Control. We feel like he did not receive due process like many others in this situation before him,” Hearn said.
The ongoing anti-doping protocol is complicated.
Vada has no authority to suspend a fighter and therefore there was no immediate provisional suspension for Benn. Whether the BBBofC will respond to test results administered by third parties is also unclear.
“There will be people out there who think, ‘Why is this such a gray area?'” Froch said.
“If he failed the drug test, why isn’t he clean, black and white? is he banned Will he be fined? without drug abuse?”
“I don’t think I get it.”
Where is the B sample?
There is also the case of the B sample. It’s unclear if it was tested this week. Hearn has repeatedly referenced it since the news broke, but it hasn’t been tested in the wake of the results, which both camps say they knew “a couple of weeks” before Wednesday.
Bunce announced on BBC Radio 5 Live that the test took place on or around September 23.
“There are questions we don’t have answers to,” Bunce said. “What did we do between September 23rd and yesterday? What did we really do?”
The BBBofC has known about the positive tests for some time, although it’s unclear exactly when they received full details.
The board and its general secretary Robert Smith have not responded to multiple requests for comment from BBC Sport.
The public statements and ‘ban’ of the fight by the BBBofC came after the story was leaked to the press.
Former world champion Billy Joe Saunders had no repercussions from the BBBofC when he failed a Vada test leading up to his fight against Demetrius Andrade in 2018.
The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission denied him a boxing license based on the test result and Saunders vacated his WBO middleweight title in anticipation of being stripped of it.
But the English boxer tested positive for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which the UK Anti-Doping Agency bans only “in competition”. This means that a drug can only be used on the night of the fight and the day before.
Benn’s case is different as the female fertility drug clomiphene is banned at all times.
“We are bitterly disappointed and frustrated with what has happened. I feel for Conor Benn because he’s telling everyone he’s innocent,” Froch said.
Benn needs to win back people’s trust – Bunce
Whether he’s serving a ban or not, Benn needs to rebuild his credibility. The fight with Eubank Jr. could well go on, both fighters seem ready. Benn was the story’s brave outsider, now he’s been recast as the villain.
Benn’s supporters are confident his name will be cleared, and even fighters who have served a doping ban face little long-term backlash.
Multiple world champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury have both served suspensions and remain hugely popular and highly regarded as fighters.
Although the backlash was intense at the time, the suspensions did not affect her career, financially or otherwise.
Alvarez remains boxing’s biggest star, topping 10 pay-per-views since his six-month suspension in 2018, earning millions of pounds in the process.
The retroactive two-year doping ban that Fury accepted in 2015 is rarely mentioned today as The Gypsy King has firmly established himself as the world’s top heavyweight.
Benn says his first concern now is to prove his innocence.
“I’m still completely shocked and surprised by it and it’s been a tough couple of days,” he said.
“My team and I will consider the next options, including postponing the fight, but my immediate focus is on clearing my name for being a clean athlete.”
Hearn feels his fighter has been hung out to dry this week. Bunce feels Benn’s best course of action now is complete honesty.
“It’s going to take some truth, some honesty, and a soul-searching for Conor to win back people’s trust,” Bunce said.
“I don’t care what you say, even people who have been cleared and cleared and cleared [of doping]it hangs like a little cloud over her head.”