By Andrew Halloway
World champion guiding Sydney’s tough kids off the streets
Two-time world champion Nigel Benn was so powerful in the ring that he left a man blind and paralysed. His success was rewarded with riches, women and fame.
As he looks back from a humble PCYC gym in Blacktown, Sydney, he believes that his former motto 'Fight hard, live hard' was both pointless and self-destructive.
"A lot of people chase (being a star) and to me it was a life of rubbish really," the 50-year-old told the Blacktown Advocate in 2013.
"Being world champion, you had money, you had flash cars — Bentleys, Ferraris — you had a big house, you had women, but...where was true happiness? In a nutshell, it was all total destruction. Did the world title bring me happiness? Absolutely not," he said in 2008.
And that year he proved he was no longer the 'Dark Destroyer' of his former life when he sold both world-title belts.
His motivation to give them up was his commitment to Jesus Christ five years earlier. "Seeing people come into a personal relationship with Jesus means more to me than any world titles," he explains.
In January 2012, knowing Jesus personally has also motivated him to beginning volunteering at Blacktown's PCYC to help struggling kids.
"I think because I have been through that fiery furnace of drugs, and all that kind of thing, God has brought me to another level where I just feel so blessed," he told the Blacktown Advocate.
"I think through what I have been through and the life I have now – to have so much peace and so much contentment, and to not be chasing anything, makes me happy."
Not forgetting his journey, Nigel speaks compassionately with these tough kids who may be tempted to find their identity in drugs or street fighting.
"I am letting them know the path they are going down is the path of destruction. I advise kids to take up boxing because you get them off the streets and it gives them discipline," he says.
It is no surprise that the kids respect him. In a career from 1987 to 1996, Nigel lost only six out of 48 fights and was crowned WBC and WBO super middleweight champion in 1990 and 1992.
He knocked out American Gerald McCellen in the 10th round in 1995, leaving him nearly blind and deaf, and in a wheelchair. The tragedy prompted Nigel to raise donations to meet his opponent's medical expenses.
"In a boxing sense," he said in 2008, "I achieved the maximum, but to me, achieving something is getting someone off drugs, or helping someone who is an alcoholic or struggling in life. Putting someone on the right track means something to me, doing what God's called me to do — not being a fighter."
So how did a man who slept around and failed in his first marriage end up a family man, faithful to his second wife and a loving father to eight children?
"It's horrible when I look back. Not a good time in my life at all," he says about the height of his career.
He started wondering what he truly had to show for himself and he remembers one conviction was impossible to shake: "I've got nothing...absolutely nothing".
After cheating on his second wife Caroline once again in 1998 he realised what he had done. This affair would be his last. Nigel drank a bottle of wine and poured a handful of sleeping tablets down his throat. He lay comatose in bed for two days.
"I felt everything was against me and this time I really didn't care if I ended it all because the only time I'd felt truly at peace was when I was in the ring, fighting."
By the providence of God, Nigel recovered from the overdose.
"It was Caroline who first turned to the church to try to change all of this, to pray to the Lord to come into our lives, to give us the humility to open our lives to Him.
"Every night she read me passages out of the Bible and, though at first I wasn't interested, something was stirring inside and it started to take hold until I began to read the Bible myself and take the lead. The Lord wanted me to take the lead."
Upon moving to Majorca in 2003, Nigel says he "turned over a completely new leaf" as a result of his personal commitment to Jesus Christ, and held Bible classes in his home.
"You see, people are dying inside, overburdened by marriage problems, financial problems and drugs problems and they don't know how to escape. Well, I've had a bit of experience of this. I've been through exactly the same."
Here's how Nigel sums up his new life: "The fame I attracted has given me the opportunity to do God's will, to help people transform their lives through my own experiences.
"My life was changed through Jesus Christ. If I can be saved, a sinner, so can anyone."