Chris Van Heerden isn’t the opponent fans wanted for Conor Benn. But it’s the kind of fight he needs, writes John Dennen
CONOR BENN is rapidly becoming must-watch television. It’s not that his clash on Saturday (April 16) with South African veteran Chris Van Heerden at the Manchester Arena is expected to push the rising star to his limits. It’s more that Benn has a knack for generating drama.
In his last fight, experienced American Chris Algieri could have posed Benn some problems with movement and footwork. Instead the Briton found a stunning one-punch finish to end the fight in the fourth round.
Benn is threatening more of the same against Van Heerden. The South African is 34 years old and coming towards the end of a long career. But he has been in the ring with some of the division’s best. In 2015 he boxed a rising Errol Spence, losing inside eight rounds. Van Heerden’s most recent fight at the end of 2020 was against the excellent Jaron Ennis. It ended as a no contest after just 159 seconds, a clash of heads leaving Van Heerden cut badly. The Philadelphia fighter is one of the most impressive active welterweights in the world today and though he was just getting started in that fight still unleashed all sorts of heavy artillery on the unfortunate Van Heerden, pounding him with shots the head, attacking the body and barely allowing the South African to get a shot off.
To have had less than one round since 2019 is a high degree of inactivity to be going into a fight with Conor Benn. The Briton is aggressive. He likes to let his hands go and won’t wait too long before doing so. Year by year his boxing has become more polished and his power is coming through. Benn is an looking dangerous puncher and he’s to make a statement.
He’ll prevent Van Heerden from settling into the fight. The South African southpaw is tough but might have to rely on that to give Benn rounds. Benn should control him and end the contest by the mid-stage of the fight.
That’s not to say this isn’t the kind of fight that Benn needs to have. In his 20-bout pro career so far, Conor hasn’t yet fought a southpaw. If down the line he is to take on people like Ennis, who switches stance easily, or Spence, a southpaw, he has to fight someone like Van Heerden, internationally experienced, but not so much a step up, more an opponent to develop against .
Having a full camp of southpaw sparring is required for him to round out his boxing. “They [southpaws] are completely different. It’s all back to front really. But I’m finding a home for my shots,” Benn said. “I think I fill him in, to be honest. I’m prepared for a hard fight. It could go a hard 12 rounds.
“I’m not overlooking Van Heerden, because he can bring whatever he wants. I just believe he cannot live with my firepower. It’s controlled aggression. When I hit him I’m not just going to try and hit him and let him off. I’ll hit him hard and really let him know from the get-go that he’s in with a real dog.”
It serves a purpose too in the continuing build up of his profile. This will be the first time the Brentwood-based boxer will have headlined in Manchester. Benn’s promoter Eddie Hearn insists that this will be Conor’s last test. Next he’s promising a big fight for Benn in the summer. “Conor Benn used to be looked at as quite an easy payday and now people are talking about him with the likes of Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz,” Hearn said. “I’ve always liked the Adrien Broner fight, for a long time, because I want to bring Broner to the UK. But I don’t just want to take a money fight for the sake of taking a money fight. I want to take a fight that’s going to progress Conor Benn, both as a fighter but also on the route to becoming world champion. A big name in a final eliminator to put him in a mandatory position to fight for a world title is very attractive.
“It is there for Conor Benn to be in a huge fight this summer, yes that can progress him but yes that can make him life-changing money as well and that’s always the aim for us to do. You talk about Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman, all these kind of fights,” Hearn continued. “I’ve been a little conservative with his matchmaking and after Van Heerden I’m ready to just let those shackles off and say let’s run free now and let’s just go for it.
“You will see him in a mega-fight this summer, July, August, once he comes through this fight.”
“I’ll fight anyone they put in front of me,” Benn added. “I’m honestly not really that fussed. Whoever they put in front of me is going to get it.”
On the undercard, European champion Chris Billam-Smith rematches Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy. The two boxed last year and Billam-Smith edged him out on a split decision. McCarthy was dangerous with back hands and seemed to hurt Billam-Smith when he swept them across. But the champion took them and kept more shape to his boxing. It was a gritty showing and Billam-Smith fought through difficult moments to take the win after a very close fight [inset]. Billam-Smith could secure another points victory.
Elsewhere on the undercard ex-GB boxer Cyrus Pattinson goes into his first eight-rounder in only his fourth pro bout.
“Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver” Jack Cullen returns to the Manchester Arena after being stopped there in a European title fight last time out. Local prospects Campbell Hatton, son of Mancunian legend Ricky, Jordan Thompson and Luke Evans will also be in action.
DAZN televise and Matchroom promote.
The Verdict This should be Benn’s final ‘learning’ fight.