A sticker on the door of the nondescript building down a country lane near Brentwood, Essex, reads: “Matchroom Elite Boxing Gym.” Open it and the smell of stale sweat, the unmistakable odor of a legit fight club, smacks you in the face like a straight right.
It’s not even 1 p.m. but Conor Benn is already midway through his second training session. Right now, he’s hitting the bag for five rounds (one round is three minutes, for the uninitiated), having warmed up with four rounds of shadow boxing. His Reebok top is transparent with perspiration. Pausing to cue up “Changes” by Tupac, he goes five rounds on the pads with his trainer. Then he twists with a stick across his shoulders, developing leverage for his shots. He still has another session to go before throwing in the towel.
If the name rings a bell, that’s because welterweight Benn is the son of Nigel, who was a middleweight and super-middleweight world champ in the late eighties and early nineties. While he also shares the “Destroyer” epithet, Benn is in the process of making a name of his own with seven wins (five KOs) under his belt. Besides, things have changed since his dad’s heyday - training, for example. “It’s become so much more scientific” he says, now deep in “camp” ahead his upcoming bout with Kane Baker on 1 September. “The average fighter is fitter now than back in the day.” We’re not going to argue.
Here, in his own words, Conor explains how he trains and what it takes to become one of boxing's most promising young fighters.
I train for three or four hours on an average day, and then the rest of it I’m in bed. I woke up this morning, did my hill sprints, went back to bed, woke up then did this. I'll probably go back to bed before my session later. I never really do anything else — I'm just too tired. Eat, sleep, train, repeat. That's it, literally. I do a lot of eating as well.
This morning I did hill sprints: eight lots of 150-200m. Your times have to be consistent, but mine often get quicker as I go on. Then I came back here and did a circuit of squat thrusts, floor ladder, VersaClimber, stepper, medicine ball slams and jumping over hurdles: a minute on each exercise then straight onto the next one. I did that three times; eventually I'll get up to five and more.
I've got strength and conditioning tonight, which is the hardest session. But it's the one I enjoy the most. That consists of really explosive work: six reps max, but heavy weights. My personal best at the end of my last camp was 110kg for six reps. I weigh 72kg, but I fight at 67kg. I only do one set of squats though because I've got quite big legs, and I’m constantly on them.
I do four sets of bench press with chains attached. So as I go higher it gets harder. Then landmine presses with a resistance band looped around my foot. Because the band is pulling the bar back, I have to really control it and then force it up again.
As I get closer into camp, I start doing my long runs. It drops the weight and I feel like it gives me that extra peak. I do them in the morning before I spar, which is quite hard. I run for 45-50 minutes and then if I need to lose weight, I’ll jump up to 60-70. I don't really go by pace or distance. I just run until I feel like I don't want to run no more.
I sprint up the steps in Leigh-on-Sea. They're definitely not like the steps in Rocky - they're a lot bigger and harder. I don't know how many there are but it takes me about 40-45 seconds - and remember, I’m sprinting. By the end of camp I do them 12 times in a session. They’re vile.
I never, ever skip. You've either got to skip properly or just don't skip, and I just don't skip. I can skip, but when I say “proper skip”, I mean doing all the tricks and all that. So if I can't do that, I'm not skipping. Some of the boys come in the gym, and they're whipping it round; I'll just have a little spar. Skipping don't mean anything. [laughs]
It's a balance between working hard and listening to your body. Which I didn't know when I first turned pro. I was going all guns blazing, I was getting ill and I was all over the gaff. Yesterday, I didn't train at night. I'd sparred for eight rounds and I thought, “That'll do me today.” Because I’m a fighter, part of me thinks, “You're being lazy.” But I can put in 100% now. If I'd done that run last night, I would have been blowing today.
I get massaged twice a week. I used to get loads of pains in my left shoulder. I get really paranoid now if I don't have a massage, because of injury. I had a massage last night - that's why I didn't go for a run. It's just as important as a workout. You feel looser and more relaxed when you know you're doing everything right.
I noticed sometimes when I got out of bed, I'd be clenching my fists. Then I'd be like, “Relax.” I don't know what I was thinking. Every night, I have to try to shut my mind off and visualize black - really just stop thinking.
Before my fights, I play some music, close the curtains and put my feet up on my bed rest. I just lie there for 20-30 minutes.
It’s more about calming down than pumping up. I used to go into the ring thinking, “I've got win this, my life depends on it.” And it really does. But if I go in there thinking, “If I win, I win; if I lose, I lose,” it calms me down. I know I'm not going to lose, because I've been putting in the graft. It might sound bad, but that's the only way I can feel free. If you’re tense then you get drained before you even start the fight.
I listen to American rap when I’m training, like Tupac, Biggie, Ja Rule. I like a little bit of Stormzy but grime's a bit too hood. You feel like going to knock man out on the road. [laughs] I don't need to enhance what's already in me.
“Five Guys.” That’s my state of mind after a fight. Double bacon cheeseburger with spicy chips and a vanilla milkshake. You dip the chips in the vanilla milkshake. It's good stuff.
My meals are all set out for me. So I'll have toast in the morning with scrambled egg, and then my other meals will be chicken or lamb with vegetables. My night meal will be no carbs, but the one before my sparring session will be a carb meal. Then I’ll have snacks in between, like a Ryvita cracker. As you get closer to a fight, you do start thinking about food that you miss. Five Guys is key. Then again, I do like Indian…
I drink Wow Protein for recovery. It's water-based so it doesn't get sticky, and it lasts in the fridge for a few days. It actually tastes pretty good, too.
Boxers used to smoke back in the day. How mad’s that? My dad fought guys who smoked. For me, smoking and drinking is none of my interest. I had a bad experience with beer when I was a teenager. If you don’t like smoking, drinking and clubbing, that’s half the battle already won, because so many fighters get distracted by all these things. So yeah, I avoid that really. I'd rather sit at home and have a Five Guys.
I don't know why I fight... It's the thrill of it, of the journey. I could win. I could lose. I could have a really bad injury like I had and not fight for eight months. And you discover this and that, what you like and what you don't, who your friends are and aren't. You realize that materialistic things don't matter. As a 20-year-old, I'm learning all of this.
Creed? No. The boxing was just terrible, sorry. Southpaw was pretty good. I cried in that. Conor Benn will fight Kane Baker on September 1. matchroomboxing.com.
Next up, here's how to get ripped like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.