Conor Benn had promised a first-round knockout. Instead, he went the full 12 rounds against Peter Dobson. Truthfully, that needn’t be cause for disappointment entirely, but it did complicate his subsequent callouts.
Following a 17-month absence from the ring, Benn has now notched 22 professional rounds in four months. Those wins against Dobson and Rodolfo Orozco lacked the destruction that the “Destroyer” always vows, but they will aid his conditioning and alter his approach in his coming fights. The unbeaten Briton has never stopped an opponent after the fourth round, so amid his failed attempts to do so against Dobson on Saturday, he was forced to pursue victory more methodically. Ultimately, Benn was a unanimous-decision winner in Las Vegas, just as he was against Orozco in Florida.
Naturally, Benn will be frustrated not to have turned his early aggression against Dobson into a clinical finish. He will be frustrated that the audible thud of his shots did not translate into the thud of the American’s body against the canvas. He will be frustrated to have been outboxed in the fifth round. Yet the 27-year-old did not behave like a frustrated fighter in the latter half of the fight, instead boxing intelligently to seal the win.
But Benn was not done jabbing by the final bell. The next morning, the welterweight took to social media to reveal his hit list as he looked ahead to his next bout: Devin Haney, Chris Eubank Jr, Errol Spence Jr, Kell Brook, or Mario Barrios. Gervonta Davis soon waded in, earning himself a spot on the list.
In honesty, some of these match-ups seem fanciful – especially after Benn failed to produce an eye-catching moment against Dobson – though it is understandable that he wants to make up for lost time.
Haney and Spence, though, feel like the longest shots. Haney, 25, was undisputed lightweight champion until late last year and is now WBC super-lightweight champion. The unbeaten American would have to look upwards through the divisions again to fight Benn, while looking down the rankings. And while Spence fell short of undisputed status in his loss to Terence Crawford last summer, the former unified welterweight champion has the legacy and profile to call on Benn to work towards him more organically. In fact, the 33-year-old American simply tweeted “Who fought?” in response to a comment about Saturday’s Vegas card. Meanwhile, Haney took aim at the Briton over his failed drug tests.
That brings us to Eubank Jr, whose planned bout with Benn in October 2022 was derailed by the latter’s failed tests, though the fight still seems to be on the cards. Eubank Jr seems reluctant, however, and has also been the subject of callouts by Brook, who is flirting with the idea of reversing his retirement. Perhaps the former welterweight champion would also entertain a bout with Benn; such a match-up certainly feels more likely than Benn vs Haney or Spence, and possibly more likely than Benn vs Eubank Jr, given that Brook would be approaching the table with minimal leverage and is closer to Benn’s weight than Eubank Jr is.
Davis, in contrast, is another on Benn’s list who does have leverage, making a clash with “Tank” an awkward proposition. Davis and Benn could produce the most explosive contest of any of these discussed match-ups (their social-media exchanges on Sunday were brutal enough, before Hearn involved himself to suggest talks have started), but the 29-year-old is smaller and has his eyes on Haney and Shakur Stevenson, and justifiably so: Davis has held world titles and got a taste for super-fights with his win over Ryan Garcia last year. Tank wants more of the latter, and more of the former would be a bonus. That leaves Benn in the difficult position of needing bigger names on his record to secure a fight with, well, a bigger name like Davis – as well as Haney or Spence.
The last name on Benn’s list was Barrios, and while the American offers the least intrigue of any pairing on this list, that may be what makes him the likeliest opponent. Barrios is at Benn’s weight, is not unbeaten, is not a world champion (although he holds ‘interim’ status) and does not offer the unique interest that Eubank Jr and Brook do. Spence, admittedly, is also no longer unbeaten or a world champion, yet he is inarguably still a marquee name – in the way that Barrios is not.
Furthermore, Eubank Jr and Brook would ideally box Benn on British soil to do justice to the pay-per-view potential of those fights, but Benn himself is unable to compete in his home country. His hope is that the situation could change by the end of this month.
If Benn is indeed freed up to compete on these shores in the coming weeks, one of those domestic clashes is the way to go. If Benn’s ban continues, another trip to the US feels likeliest, unless Hearn can take the welterweight to Saudi Arabia. If Benn does go abroad, he may have to hope that Barrios is a stepping stone to fight the other Americans on his wishlist.
Such a bout would be an appropriate step up for Benn; as useful as his fights with Orozco and Dobson might have been, another contest of that ilk would deflate all involved. Benn does not want to tread water, he wants to swim with the sharks.