EXCLUSIVE: Eddie Hearn insists Chris van Heerden will be Conor Benn’s final test before he fights an elite welterweight… as he talks up ‘wild’ Adrien Broner or Kell Brook among possible next opponents
- Conor Benn returns to the ring against Chris van Heerden on Saturday night
- The 25-year-old emerged as a genuine welterweight contender last year
- Promoter Eddie Hearn insists Benn will fight a top welterweight in his next fight
- But first he’ll look to gain valuable experience against a tricky southpaw
- Sign up here to watch Sunday’s fight exclusively on DAZN
Conor Benn silenced many of his critics during a stellar 2021 in which he emerged from a flawed prospect to a genuine contender in a thriving welterweight division.
The 25-year-old exhibited a remarkable rate of improvement as he brushed aside Samuel Vargas, Adrian Granados and finally Chris Algieri to set up what looks to be a blockbuster year ahead.
Benn now takes on experienced southpaw Chris van Heerden on Saturday night, in what promoter Eddie Hearn reveals will be his final test before challenging the elites at 147lbs.
Eddie Hearn (right) insists Conor Benn (left) will fight an elite welterweight in his next fight
He must first get through Chris van Heerden at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night
‘The growth of Conor Benn is astonishing,’ Hearn told Sportsmail. ‘I don’t say that disrespectfully, but when I first watched him… to think he’s on the verge of a welterweight world title is incredible.
‘It’s all down to his mindset, his work ethic, the work Tony Simms has done – and obviously the genes as well, they help.
‘But this is his final test before he goes into the real deep end.’
Having declared himself ready for the welterweight top dogs last year, and having been sat ringside to watch Kell Brook dismantle Amir Khan in February, the announcement of Van Heerden as his opponent was rather unanimously deemed underwhelming.
Indeed, the 34-year-old is more known for sparring Conor McGregor in 2016 than for any victory inside the squared circle. But, while showing vast improvement in the last 18 months, Benn has not yet shared the ring with a southpaw of any real note.
Boxing historians will point to southpaw switch-hitter Mike Cole in 2017, but three rounds against the then 4-0-1 fighter – who hasn’t taken to the ring since – is not exactly ideal preparation for welterweight protagonists Terence Crawford or Errol Spence Jr, both southpaws.
Nor is it ideal preparation for the pack of vicious campaigners further down the pecking order, with southpaw Jaron Ennis, Vergil Ortiz Jr and David Avanesyan all mouth-watering but highly dangerous match-ups for Benn.
Of course, WBC and IBF champion Spence Jr and WBA titleholder Yordenis Ugas also fight this weekend, with Crawford awaiting the winner.
And with potentially imminent moves to super-welterweight for both Spence Jr and Crawford, being primed and ready should a title opportunity arise is essential.
Benn, 25, capped off a stunning 2021 with a huge knockout win over American Chris Algieri
But his last fight against a southpaw came all the way back in 2017 against Mike Cole (right)
Southpaws Terence Crawford (left) and Errol Spence Jr (right) are the division’s major players
For Hearn, Van Heerden – whose last outing came against Ennis in 2020, albeit ending a no contest after just a round following an accidental clash of heads – therefore represents a crucial piece in the puzzle for Benn to overcome before he does jump up in class.
‘Van Heerden is a very tough, very game, technically sound fighter, who will be there as long as he can be there,’ Hearn explained. ‘It will be a tremendous fight.
‘You need southpaw experience when you talk the likes of Jaron Ennis, Errol Spence – all these great fighters. You can’t just jump into your first-ever southpaw being Errol Spence or these kinds of guys.’
He continued: ‘Van Heerden, his last fight was against Jaron Ennis, on Showtime, in Ennis’ 26th fight. And for me, Jaron Ennis may be the best welterweight in the world.
‘Now people are saying this is an easy fight for Conor Benn. I’m like, wow, now you rate him. A year ago people were saying he’s overhyped but now people genuinely rate him.
‘This will be his last little test before he jumps in with a Kell Brook, a Mikey Garcia, Danny Garcia, an Adrien Broner, a Keith Thurman – one of those elite names.’
Benn was targeting a bout against Kell Brook, before the Sheffield fighter priced himself out
Adrien Broner (left) and Keith Thurman (right) are now viable options for Benn’s next outing
Ranked No 5 by the WBA, WBO and IBF, another win for Benn (20-0) will only further embed the young welterweight at the top end of the division.
But it’s a bout against Brook, who beat Khan at a 149lb catchweight, who Benn and Hearn set their eyes on in recent months. The Sheffield fighter – who looks likely to fight Chris Eubank Jr this summer – priced himself out, however.
Hearn, who was dumfounded by Brook’s asking price, insists it shows just how far Benn has come in recent months. But while he promises a top-level fighter next, the promoter acknowledges they can’t overlook Van Heerden.
‘Brook was [a realistic target], he asked for £10million. I couldn’t believe it. We made him the same offer he got to fight Amir Khan.
‘But again, I said this to Conor: “This is a compliment. A year-and-a-half to two years ago you were looked at as an easy touch. Now they want £10m to fight you. Pounds, not dollars!”
‘I love the Adrien Broner fight, because I’ve always wanted to bring him to the UK and I think it will be wild.
‘Mikey Garcia, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman – all these elite fights, those fights with Conor Benn are mega-fights.
‘He’s got to get through Van Heerden, though. These last ones are always the most dangerous. They’re the ones everyone thinks you’re going to win, then you come unstuck.’
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