Conor Benn’s scheduled fight with Chris Eubank Jr. last year was meant to be career defining for both men.
Except the fight never took place and now Benn says the fallout of its cancellation has raised serious questions about boxing’s drugs testing protocols.
The two were scheduled to take to their ring almost exactly 30 years after their fathers had in two fights that gripped a generation of boxing fans. Benn and Eubank Jr. were fighting for more than just glory. This was a fight for family honor.
But on the eve of the bout, news of Benn failing a drugs test came to light. The bout was called off after Benn tested positive for clomiphene, a fertility drug used by women who struggle to ovulate.
Benn repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and in February 2023, the World Boxing Council (WBC) issued a statement clearing Benn of wrongdoing, stating that while his urine test indicated the presence of prohibited substances, his “highly-elevated consumption of eggs” prior to testing offered a “reasonable explanation” for his failed test.
Despite welcoming the news that he could return to the sport, the 26-year-old Benn has criticized the investigation and expressed his concerns about the transparency of the process, in particular leveling criticism at the WBC and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC), the governing body for professional boxing in Great Britain.
In a statement posted on his Instagram story last week, Benn said that “the manner in which I’ve been cleared has seemed to create further questions and add further fuel to baseless negative speculation.”
CNN has contacted the WBC and BBBofC for comment.
According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), clomiphene in men can potentially boost testosterone levels “by interfering with the negative feedback loop of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis.” The drug is also included on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list under anti-estrogenic substances.
Benn began his statement on Instagram addressing the ruling saying that while he was “grateful for the ultimate finding” of being declared “innocent of being a drugs cheat,” he couldn’t sit by without commenting on the whole investigation.
“It was the right decision and it was the only one I was willing to accept. The easy option would have been to accept a six month ban, save myself a huge legal bill and simply move on, by my reputation and my family name is worth more to me than that,” he wrote.
“At no point did I indicate that I failed any VADA tests because of contaminated eggs,” Benn wrote, referring to the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), a third-party testing agency used by the fighters to ensure a clean bout and which carried out his test.
“As part of its lengthy investigation, the WBC instructed its own experts to review my supplements and diet, and they concluded that egg contamination was the most likely cause,” he wrote, saying he provided a 270-page report to the body.
Benn added: “However, I feel like the WBC statement did a disservice to my defence, which was based upon a comprehensive scientific review of the testing procedures which set out a number of reasons why we believed the results were completely unreliable and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that I am innocent.”
Benn is still under investigation from UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the BBCofC at the time of publication.
He criticized the BBCofC’s handling of his case in his statement.
“As for the BBBoC, they attacked me publicly and privately during the most difficult time in my life, treating me with utter contempt and without any consideration for the fair process or my mental state.”
The BBCofC released their own statement on Twitter after the announcement from the WBC in February, saying that it was not “party to the review” and had not seen “any evidence provided on Mr. Benn’s behalf.”
It added that while “it respects the WBC, the WBC is a sanctioning body and not a governing body. The BBCofC was the governing body with whom Mr. Benn was licensed at the material time, and as such any alleged anti-doping violation shall be dealt with in accordance with its rules and regulations.”
It pointed to the UK Anti-Doping Rules, brought in by UKAD, which the BBCofC adheres to and that as a result, “the decision of the WBC does not affect the ongoing implantation of the BBCofC’s rules (and those of UKAD).”
CNN has contacted the BBCofC for comment. UKAD declined to comment when given the opportunity.
The WBC’s February ruling stated that they had found there to be “no failures in the procedures” in relation to Benn’s sample and test.
But Benn said he thought there was a lack of transparency throughout the whole investigation, claiming that his sample tested negative three times, but “without explanation” was tested nine days later which resulted in the positive test.
According to Benn, he asked for his B sample from the drug test – which the World Anti-Doping Agency says “affords the athlete the opportunity to have second analysis performed in the event their A sample returns” a positive test – to be tested as soon as possible.
Benn also said in his statement that he has been advised to take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Benn said that he had never previously tested positive for a banned substance before October’s test, adding to his belief that the result was a “testing error.”
While Benn now says that he had to concentrate on “rebuilding” his career, the process he has gone through has given him “serious concerns about the whole testing system” in boxing.
“Anti-doping protections are obviously extremely important, but so is ensuring people are given due proves and presumed innocent until proven guilty. Cheaters should be caught and punished, but people like me who prove their innocent should be vindicated and allowed to continue their career.”
Benn admitted that he’d had suicidal thoughts as a result of the whole process, saying: “I didn’t think I’d see another day.”
“It’s hurt me,” Benn said in an interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV. “I didn’t think I was going to make it through this period. I didn’t think I was going to make it through.”
When asked if he had felt suicidal, Benn replied: “Yeah. Yeah, I’d say so – and it upsets me now because I don’t know how I got so bad. I got in a really bad way about it.
“I was shamed for something I hadn’t even done. … If I had done something wrong, I’m human. I’d raise my hands to it, ‘I made a mistake,’ whatever it is, I raise my hands. Never this.
“I felt seven years of hard work and sacrifice, and leaving my family and the image I maintain, was just ruined by somebody else’s incompetence. It’s been hard for the family.”
At the time of Benn’s positive test last year, the bout’s promoter, Matchroom, and that organization’s boss, Eddie Hearn, had been keen for the bout to go ahead despite it being “prohibited” by the BBBofC.
Hearn told the BBC at the time: “As we stand right now, the BBBofC is not sanctioning the fight. That does not mean the fight is off, but there is a process we have to go through.
“Conor Benn is not suspended, he is free and clear to fight. There’s lots going on with the lawyers.”
Amid mounting public pressure and safety concerns, the fight was canceled.
The decision to overlook potential safety concerns and stage a bout including a fighter who had tested positive for a banned substance prompted criticism that boxing prioritizes the fight’s money-making opportunities rather than the boxers’ safety.
Weeks later, the BBBofC claimed that Benn voluntarily relinquished his license with the governing body just before allegations of misconduct against Benn were upheld.
Benn accused the BBBofC of conducting an “unfair and biased procedure.” He also disputes that he relinquished his license.
“(Benn) strongly refutes the allegation of misconduct (which for the avoidance of doubt is not in relation to the Vada issue) and firmly believes that an independent tribunal will reach a wholly different conclusion,” a statement said on Benn’s Twitter at the time.
And a few months later, the WBC announced after it had conducted an investigation into the matter that Benn would be included in its ratings once again after it found that he had not “engaged in intentional or knowing ingestion of clomiphene.”