McClellan, Benn meet again
There aren't many fights in boxing's long history that has had the amount of excitement and tragedy that occurred on February 25th, 1995, a super-welterwight championship fight between reigning the WBC champion Nigel Benn and former middleweight champion Gerald McClellan.
The fight would take place in England, Benn’s home country. Although he was the challenger and was fighting in his opponent’s hometown, McClellan was actually favored 3-to-1 to win the fight. He achieved twenty first-round knockouts in thirty-four professional fights, an amazing feat to say the least.
McClellan was touted as the next big thing in boxing, and promoter Don King made sure everyone knew it. Two days prior to the fight, McClellan was quoted saying, “In boxing you are going to war, and in war you must be prepared to die.” No one would know how ironic this quote would end up being, but it established McClellan as a true warrior in boxing history.
From start to finish, McClellan-Benn was the most enthralling and depressing fight I’ve ever seen.
In round one, McClellan delivered an amazing knockdowns, sending Benn to the ground and then through the ropes. The referee gave a generous count, giving enough time for Benn to climb back into the ring and resume fighting. The rounds that would follow would have Benn mount an astonishing comeback.
Round eight featured three of the most exciting minutes you could hope to witness in a fight. Both fighters were going for a knockout and discarded any defensive tactics they had used earlier on. Midway through the round, McClellan landed blow after blow to Benn’s head, knocking him down to one knee and he was given a mandatory eight-count. He returned to his feet and miraculously made it through the round, and McClellan missed his chance to end the fight. Round nine was exciting, but sadly, it was the tragic round ten that fans would remember most.
Round ten began and it was obvious something was wrong with McClellan. He was having trouble with his eyes, blinking constantly and, looking back on it, most people attribute the problem to a headbutt that happened earlier on in the fight. McClellan was tagged by a powerful Benn right hook that would drop him to one knee. The crowd erupted as they watched their hometown fighter put the powerful American down.
McClellan rose to his feet after the referee issued a standing eight count, only to get blasted again by a flurry of punches by Benn that would again send McClellan to the canvas. The fight was stopped and Benn stood on the ring apron and saluted his fans. If you were to give a closer look, you would see McClellan collapse onto the canvas as he tried to get up. A few minutes later he was on his back, not moving, as his cornermen tried slapping his face to get a reaction. A crowd that was once so excited and loud quickly became very quiet and melancholy. Ironically, McClellan was ahead on the scorecards and would have most likely won the fight if he had continued.
Sadly, McClellan would slip into a coma and wouldn’t come back to life for eleven days. When he did finally come to, he was blind, partially deaf, and left severely disabled.
His promoter, Don King, abandoned him. None of the people that had been in his corner throughout his boxing career were there to help him when they were needed the most. Everyone seemed to disappear, but thankfully Gerald is lucky enough in that he has sisters that take care of him. His sister, Lisa, has devoted her life to take care of him, and it has been said that it costs $70,000 a year just to keep him alive.
Roy Jones, Jr., one of boxing’s biggest stars of the last twenty years and a close friend of Gerald, helped (along with HBO Sports and Ring 8) establish the Gerald McClellan Trust Fund. The fund helps support Gerald’s three children, who experienced a loss that few can relate to. During the prime of his career, Jones, Jr. said that he could never visit Gerald because it would cause him to retire to see a fighter in his condition.
As sports fans, once our idols and heroes in the sporting world exit the limelight, we tend to stop caring. We all do it, thinking that once their career is over they live a great life with no major lingering effects from participating in a sport where they put their body on the line with every event. Boxing is one of the more dangerous sports and, sadly, probably one of the main sports where athletes are forgotten few years after they have hung up the gloves.
It would be ideal if everyone that was in the spotlight, at the end of the career, got the spectacular send-off they all dreamed about. This is happening to a lot of fighters currently coming to the end of their career. Arturo Gatti, one of boxing's most exciting fighters in the past fifty years, is getting ready to say goodbye. He wants to have a send-off in Atlantic City, but HBO, who has broadcasted most of Gatti's fights for the last fifteen years, is saying they would only televise it if it was against an A-list fighter. For HBO to do that is disrespectful to the man who carried their boxing programming for much of the last decade. More than ten years later, on February 24th, these two retired prize-fighters will meet again in England. This time it will be to honor the American McClellan at a dinner that will feature a couple of other former boxing stars including James Toney and Iran Barkley, in order to raise money to help support Gerald. Benn has been trying to get past the difficulty that comes with severely injuring and ending the career of someone truly great for a long time now, but he knows it is something you can never forget.
McClellan is one of those fighters that could have been a pound-for-pound great. He was twenty-eight years old when he suffered his near-fatal injury, and had impressive first round victories over Jackson and John "The Beast" Mugabi, and could have been the fighter to challenge Bernard Hopkins for his middleweight crown during Hopkins' prime. The saddest thing about boxing to me is always when a fighter never realizes his potential due to a horrific setback or encounter, and McClellan definitely fits that profile.