Conor Benn v Chris van Heerden
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Destroyer's journey continues
Conor Benn makes the latest defence of his WBA Continental title on Saturday evening in Manchester when taking on respected South African Chris van Heerden over 12 rounds.
The Englishman targets another impressive performance and eye-catching result in front of a capacity boxing crowd but knows if he is to keep the show on the road, he must overcome a dangerous opponent. Van Heerden is a man here to cause an upset, and he has the skills to do just that.
Benn possesses the raw talent and ambition to go to the top of the division, while van Heerden holds the hard-earned experience that means he has seen it all before.
Heading into the lion's den with the crowd against him is nothing new for the South African gladiator, and the fact all the pressure is on his opponent will suit his game perfectly. He'll aim to ask questions of Benn by taking him into the second half of the contest and testing the Englishman's stamina.
Benn unbeaten in 20 bouts
Benn arrives in Manchester with his unbeaten professional record intact. The 25-year-old welterweight boxer from Essex boasts a CV detailing 20 wins from as many contests, 13 of those victories coming by way of stoppage. He already has a 65% KO average, and supporters expect him to build on that in this return to action.
Two of Benn's last three fights have been won by an early KO/TKO, and it will be no surprise to see him go on the front foot again early. He'll aim to set a ferocious pace and drag van Heerden out of his comfort zone.
Conor was last seen in action back in December when dealing with Chris Algieri in round four of a bout scheduled for 12. Algieri was sent to the canvas in round two before referee Bob Williams moved in to save the New Yorker from any further punishment at 2.58 of round four.
It was a show of strength from Benn, stopping an opponent quicker than Errol Spence did a few years ago. Both the result and performance of the champion caught the eye that night.
Benn is a fighter in great form, so it's no surprise to see him well supported in the betting. Those looking to back him for another win will have to make do with the 1.051/20 offered on the Betfair Sportsbook. In the method of victory market, you'll find Benn by KO/TKO at 1.364/11, while a first points win since September will be settled at 3.412/5, which is sure to attract attention.
Heerden brings the heat
South African-born van Heerden travels from his base in California with a professional boxing record of 28 wins against two defeats and a draw with a dozen knockouts. The Heat turned professional in 2006 and got off to the perfect start, beating each of his first two opponents inside the opening two rounds.
He has continued to move through the ranks and knows victory on Saturday would see him earn a shortcut to the major names of the division. Beating Benn in Manchester will make Chris an overnight sensation, paving the way for some money-spinning contests this year.
Despite having 12 stoppage wins on his record, van Heerden hasn't dealt with an opponent inside the distance since 2015, stopping Ramon Ayala in round four in Hollywood. His reward for that win was a shot at Spence Jr in the summer of 2015, but that proved to be a bridge too far for the southpaw, who was taken out in round eight of 10 and could have no complaints about the stoppage.
Chris learned that night in Toronto that this game is all about levels. Despite the loss to Errol, we've seen Heerden box six times, collecting five wins and one no contest due to an accidental clash of heads in the opening round. That came against Jaron Ennis in the US in December.
The challenger has been written off by most followers of British boxing, by many pundits and in the betting too. His chances are reflected in the pre-fight betting available on the Betfair Sportsbook, with van Heerden trading at 9.517/2. A points victory can be backed at 2120/1 in the method of victory, or there's a KO/TKO at 1211/1.
Back Benn to bide his time
The challenger from South Africa has talked a good game during the build-up, and he's better than the pre-fight betting odds suggest, but we're backing Benn. The Brit has an exciting year ahead, and this is a great chance for him to kick off with a convincing victory.
Chris will aim to use his experience and southpaw style to ensure this bout goes into the second half, but he's merely delaying the inevitable. Back Benn to win in rounds 7-12 @ 4.3310/3 on the Betfair Sportsbook.