HENRY WHARTON, York’s most successful professional boxer, has alerted the city’s youngsters to heed the example of British boxing’s big Benn.

As the opening of his new gym in Acomb nears, Wharton said youngsters wanting to take up the sport should be inspired by Nigel Benn, the two-time former world champion who paid a surprise visit to “Henry’s Gym”.

Friends even before their enthralling world title spat 18 years ago when the self-proclaimed Dark Destroyer Benn tamed Wharton’s bid to capture the World Boxing Council super-middleweight belt, the ring rivals have since strengthened their alliance.

That was amply evident as the duo met in the ring – this time in mufti – when Benn dropped in at the York Road base, which Wharton has helped to transform into a gleaming 10,000 ft sq gym on the first floor of the old Regent cinema.

As the excitement percolated of the visit by Benn – currently on a farewell exhibition tour before jetting out at the end of the year to a new career as a preacher in Australia – Wharton said Benn was a benchmark for aspiring young boxers.

Said the York warrior, whose only three defeats as a pro were all in challenges for the world 12-stone division crown: “Throughout his career as a boxer Nigel was always a dedicated fighter.

“He overcame adversity, he beat the odds and he became world champion at two different weights. Everything that went against him, he rode it out.

“When I start training youngsters here at my gym I will point to the likes of Nigel Benn as an out and out winner, a supreme example of what a boxer needs to do to succeed at the very top, an example.”

Reflecting on his own duel with Benn under the “Strictly Business” banner at the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in London, Wharton added: “I was right in the middle of an era when Britain boasted two of the top fighters in the world in Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank. That’s how good they were.

“And while I got close to the world title it was an honour to have fought true boxers like those.”

Wharton’s former trainer Gary Atkin, who helped to secure the visit by Benn to what will be York’s biggest boxing gym as it nears its official opening, was mightily impressed by the new premises.

“It’s a fantastic gym, it’s so roomy and so big and you’ve got to give credit to Henry for the way he has gone about creating this,” said Atkin, who was assistant to then trainer Terry O’Neill for Wharton in his clash against Benn.

Subsequently, Atkin was Wharton’s full-time trainer during a lengthy and undefeated reign as British, Commonwealth and European super-middleweight champion, as well as for his only other two defeats in world title shots against Eubank and Robin Reid.

Added Atkin: “I will be bringing some fighters through from Leeds to the gym, which I am sure is going to be of major benefit to the youngsters of York.”