Boxing’s latest crisis lurched haphazardly and belatedly towards a modicum of good sense on Thursday afternoon when the promoter Eddie Hearn finally conceded that Conor Benn’s fight against Chris Eubank Jr would be postponed.
Having tried to overturn the British Boxing Board of Control’s ruling that the bout in London on Saturday is “prohibited”, in the wake of Benn testing positive for clomifene, Hearn’s company Matchroom confirmed that the bout was off.
“After discussions with various parties, we have taken the decision to formally postpone the bout between Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn,” said Matchroom and Wasserman Boxing, the company of Eubank’s promoter Kalle Sauerland, in a joint statement. “It is undeniable that the British Boxing Board of Control’s decision to withdraw their sanctioning was procedurally flawed and without due process. That remains a legal issue between the promoters and the Board which we intend to pursue.
“However, whilst there are legal routes to facilitate the fight taking place as planned, we do not believe that it is in the fighters’ interests for those to be pursued at such a late stage, or in the wider interests of the sport. As promoters, we take out obligations and duties very seriously, and a full investigation will now need to take place. We will be making no further comment at this time and news for ticket holder refunds will follow.”
Benn had failed a drug test carried out two weeks ago by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency but Hearn initially refused to accept defeat. He mounted a vigorous legal challenge to the board’s decision despite the fact that Benn, whom he promotes, was found to have traces of the fertility drug, which can significantly boost levels of testosterone, in his system. Clomifene is banned by Vada and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
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The British governing body had released a short statement on Wednesday afternoon in which they stressed that the bout could not proceed “as it is not in the interests of boxing”. Benn argued he was “a clean athlete” and he and Eubank Jr indicated they were ready to fight on Saturday.
Hearn’s and Benn’s defence centred on the claim that his B sample had yet to be tested, that he had been clear in all UK Anti-Doping tests and that the Board of Control had not suspended him.
“I am truly gutted that we were unable to make this fight happen on Saturday and I’m sorry to everyone who has been affected by the postponement,” said Benn. “I am still completely shocked and surprised by this and it has been a tough couple of days. My team and I will consider the next options including rescheduling the fight, but my immediate focus is on clearing my name because I am a clean athlete.”
Eubank also turned his thoughts towards rescheduling the bout. “Conor got caught using an illegal substance so the fight is off. Can’t believe it,” he wrote on Twitter. “I really apologise to the fans & everyone that bought tickets, traveled & booked hotels, this should not of happened. He has escaped his schooling... for now.”
Hearn and Sauerland belatedly held a press conference on Thursday afternoon but refused to take questions. “This matter was taken out of our hands,” said Sauerland. “The handling of it, we feel, was totally inappropriate given the rules.”
At least there is some relief in the postponement but the real damage done to boxing’s already tattered reputation will become clearer in the days and weeks ahead.