Around 14:00 BST on Thursday 6th October the news starts rolling in – Chris Eubank Jr vs Conor Benn on Saturday night it has been canceled.
It’s a decision many gathered in the hotel lobby at the Canary Riverside Plaza Hotel expected from the news broke Ben’s failed drug test on Wednesday morning.
Benn had tested positive for a banned drug in a Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (Vada) test, or returned an “adverse analytical finding for traces of a fertility drug”, as his supporters put it.
The lobby is still packed with media and undercard fighters like light heavyweight Lydon Arthur and bantamweight Shannon Courtenay.
Promoter Eddie Hearn suddenly appears and heads upstairs. Then, quietly and away from the press, Ben and Nigel’s father rush out. Versace luggage is placed in a car.
In the same parking lot, about an hour and a half later, middleweight Felix Cash, who had been booked to fight on the undercard, leaves. He shares a coach with Ben and is visibly annoyed. Hearn is already gone again.
However, Arthur and Cortana are left in the lobby, unaware that the entire card, not just the main event, has been cancelled.
When the official announcement is made, it’s a press release at 16:06. Hearn and Eubank promoter Kalle Sauerland hold a press conference that lasts nearly four minutes.
No questions from the media are allowed.
It brings to a close a damaging week for British boxing that could have been much worse had Benn v Eubank Jr preceded it.
In the end common sense prevailed, even if Matchroom promoters and their associates pointed the finger firmly at the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
The board “banned” the fight on Wednesday “as it is not in the best interests of boxing,” essentially saying they will not sanction the fight. It seems that despite the pressure, they stuck to their guns.
“It was a bleak day for boxing but the right result was achieved,” BBC Radio 5 Live’s Steve Bunce said.
“They’re business people, that’s how they wanted it to happen,” added Carl Froch of organizers’ efforts to move forward on race night.
“But fighter safety is paramount in boxing, 99% of people will agree it’s the right decision.”
Huge sums of money have been invested in Conor ‘The Destroyer’ Benn. Some estimates this week put the value of the match at £15 million.
Benn, 26, is one of Matchroom’s most marketable stars behind Anthony Joshua. He is front and center on DAZN’s UK boxing coverage.
He is the son of boxing legend Nigel and has gradually become a vicious knockout artist on the brink of a world title shot at middleweight.
Benn’s star was such a fan favorite that organizers were willing to overlook a three-pound difference between him and Eubank to make the so-called “mega fight” this Saturday at London’s O2 Arena.
All the pre-fight attention has been on the week of Eubank, 33, and his drop from middleweight to 157kg – a weight he has never fought at as a professional.
But with the bout canceled after a positive drug test, questions are swirling about boxing’s anti-doping protocols. Ben is in the middle of this storm and now faces a battle for his reputation.
“Why is doping such a gray area?”
Internally Matchroom and broadcaster DAZN were convinced that Benn was innocent of any doping offence.
But the basis of that trust has yet to be revealed, with both camps citing ongoing legal issues that prevent them from revealing details.
What is clear is that, sometime in September, Benn failed a drugs test conducted by Vada, a third party hired by the organizers to carry out further testing on that provided by the Board’s testing partner, UK Anti-Doping.
“I want to make it clear that Conor Benn has not been suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control. We believe he has not been given due process like many others in this situation before him,” Hearn said.
Anti-doping protocol is complex.
Vada does not have the power to suspend a fighter, and there was no immediate suspension for Benn as a result. It is also unclear whether the BBBofC will act on third-party administered test results.
“There are going to be people out there thinking, ‘Why is this a gray area?'” Froch said.
“If he fails the drug test, which he has, why isn’t it clean, black and white? Is he banned? Will he be fined? What are the consequences of failing a drug test in a sport where serious injuries occur without drug abuse?”
“I don’t think I get it.”
Where is sample B?
There is also the case of the B sample. It is unclear if it has been tested this week. Hearn has repeatedly mentioned it since the news broke, but has not been tested in the wake of the results, which both camps say they knew about for “two weeks” before Wednesday.
Bunce revealed on BBC Radio 5 Live that the trial was on or around September 23.
“There are questions we don’t have answers for,” Bunce said. “What did we do from September 23rd to yesterday? What did we really do?”
The BBBofC has known about the positive tests for some time, though it’s unclear exactly when they were given all the details.
The board and general secretary Robert Smith have not responded to multiple requests for comment from BBC Sport.
The public statements and the BBBofC’s “ban” of the match came after the story was leaked to the press.
Former world champion Billy Joe Saunders faced no repercussions from the BBBofC when he failed a Vada test in the build-up to his fight against Demetrius Andrade in 2018.
The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission denied him a boxing license due to the test result, and Sanders continued to vacate his WBO middleweight title pending the stripping.
But the English boxer tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrine, which is only banned by British Anti-Doping “in competition”. This means that a drug is prohibited from being used only on the night of the match and the day before.
Benn’s case is different as the fertility drug for women, clomiphene, is banned at all times.
“We’re bitterly disappointed and disappointed with what’s going on. I feel for Conor Benn because he’s telling everyone he’s innocent,” Froch said.
Ben must regain the trust of the world – Bans
Whether he serves a suspension or not, Ben will have to rebuild his credibility. The fight with Eubank Jr could very well go on, and both fighters seem willing. Ben was the weak underdog of the narrative, now he’s been recast as the villain.
Benn’s supporters are confident his name will be cleared and even fighters who have served doping suspensions face little long-term backlash.
Multi-weight world champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury have served bans and continue to be extremely popular and highly regarded fighters.
While backlash at the time was intense, the suspensions did not derail their careers financially or otherwise.
Alvarez continues to be the biggest star in boxing, having headlined 10 pay-per-views since serving a six-month sentence in 2018, earning millions of pounds in the process.
The antiquated two-year doping ban Fury accepted in 2015 is rarely mentioned today as the ‘Gypsy King’ has firmly established himself as the best heavyweight in the world.
Ben says his first concern now is to prove his innocence.
“I’m still completely shocked and amazed by it and it’s been a difficult couple of days,” he said.
“My team and I will look at the next options including rescheduling the match, but my immediate focus is to clear my name because I am a clean athlete.”
Hearn feels his fighter has been hung out to dry this week. Bunce believes that Ben’s best course of action now is complete honesty.
“It’s going to take some truths, some honesty and some soul searching for Conor to regain people’s trust,” Bunce said.
“I don’t care what you say, even people who have been cleared and cleared and cleared [of doping]hangs like a cloud over their head.”