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Home Boxing The Night the Boxing World Cried
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The Night the Boxing World Cried

 

McClellanFebruary 25, 1995 was a day that I and most of the boxing world, will never forget. That was the night that two of the best super middleweight fighters battled each other for the WBC super middleweight championship in London England. In a fight that would prove to be the best fight of 1995, reigning champion Nigel Benn (39-2-1, 31 KO’s) took on WBC middleweight champion Gerald McClellan (31-2, 29 KO’s), who moved up in weight to battle Benn.

 

As my brother Frankie, my friends and I gathered around the television to watch this battle, electricity sparked through the air. Back in the mid 1990's, fighters like Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan meeting up was a huge event, although an event that was expected in a division that was the best of the 1990's. The super middleweight division was chalked full of great fighters in the 1990's, fighters like Nigel Benn, Gerald McClellan, Julian Jackson, Reggie Johnson, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. These fighters helped keep the upper weights of boxing going, and the match-up of Benn and McClellan was the most excitable event that I had seen in a while.

 

Both fighters entered the ring with the fanfare expected of a President, although Nigel Benn, being the hometown favorite, was applauded much more loudly. As the fighters met at center ring for instructions, they provided the best stare down I had ever seen. All of us watching this fight knew that it would be a battle, just based on the “no fear” attitudes of both fighters.

 

As the bell rang for the first round, both fighters rushed to the middle of the ring and started to pound on each other relentlessly. During round one, McClellan backed up Benn against the ropes and started to batter the champion, who then slumped a bit on the ropes, only to take an uppercut. This punch not only knocked Benn down, but put him through, and I mean THROUGH the ropes. Thanks to a generous hometown ten count, Benn was able to regain his senses and make it through the round. At the start of round two, it seemed that Benn had recovered and started to press the fight a bit. The next few rounds were extremely competitive, both fighters winning alternate rounds. Unconfirmed reports state that after the second round McClellan told his corner that “something was wrong. Something doesn’t feel right”. Reportedly Stan Johnson would hear nothing of this talk.

 

Benn went down once again in the eighth, and looked like he would not make it, but somehow mustered up enough strength to not only beat the count, but to also stun McClellan with a left hook as McClellan came in to finish off the dazed Benn. Round nine saw McClellan start to get pounded by the rebounded Benn. Benn started to score at will and signs that something may have been amiss for McClellan began to show. McClellan was missing shots, he was fighting with his mouth piece hanging out of his mouth, was sluggish, started to blink his eyes an unnatural amount, then took a knee after Benn slipped and caught him with an accidental head butt at the 1:30 mark of the round. The site of McClellan taking a knee, or even complaining, was a rare sight and it started some discussion among the people I was watching the fight with, about whether or not McClellan was more seriously injured than he was letting on at that point.

At the end of the ninth round, a discussion in the corner of McClellan, between the fighter and his trainer Stan Johnson was picked up by Showtime’s microphone, but was mostly inaudible. The debate years later is that McClellan had told his corner he wanted to stop the fight, but his corner implored him to continue to fight. This possible conversation topic would be a battle that raged on for years about whether McClellan’s corner forced him to answer the bell for round ten, the last round of the fight, and McClellan’s career. A look back at this and the fact that this fight was the first without McClellan’s longtime trainer, Emmanuel Stewart, the man who had guided him through his career from Kronk Gym, is also another compounding factor to this tragic event.

 

Round Ten –

Round ten started differently from the other rounds. It seemed like Nigel Benn felt that his opponent was fading. On the other hand, McClellan seemed to be slow and was pulling up on punches. Benn engaged in an all out assault on McClellan and dropped him to a knee at the 1:58 mark of round ten. McClellan going to a knee was something that was a rarity, something that we watching the fight, had never seen. McClellan, due to heart, got up and signaled that he was ready to continue, but the onslaught that Nigel Benn unleashed for the next 5 seconds was too much and McClellan went to a knee again, this time for the count, ending both the fight and his career. Referee Alfred Asaro waved off the fight with McClellan still resting on his knee as the New London Arena went as crazy as Nigel Benn. The celebration of Benn’s victory was loud and should have lasted all night, for the champion had defended his title against the odds favorite and won in his own backyard. It should have been a great night for the British fights fans, but as the celebration started in and out of the ring, Gerald McClellan worked his way back to his corner and immediately collapsed. At first only McClellan’s corner realized that their fighter was in serious trouble. Every time they sat him up on his stool, he slipped down to the ring floor. Shortly after that, they ringside medical team summoned for a stretcher and everyone in the New London Arena realized that McClellan was involved in a medical crisis. As the emergency medical team worked to try to stabilize McClellan for transport to a local hospital, McClellan lost consciousness. McClellan would never rebound from the beating he took over those ten rounds.

 

Aftermath –

Gerald McClellan was rushed to the Royal London Hospital where it was found that he had developed a blood clot to the brain. McClelland was immediately sent into surgery to try to remove the clot. After the bout, Benn also collapsed in his locker room from exhaustion and was rushed to the same hospital as McClellan. It was reported that Benn was wheeled into the cubicle right next to his fallen opponent in the hospital. Benn got up, walked over, grabbed and kissed McClellan’s hand, telling him he was sorry.

 

After surgery, he spent eleven days in a coma and it was after that doctors found a large extent of brain damage. McClellan was found to be completely blind, partially deaf and unable to walk on his own. His short term memory is almost non-existent. When Gerald was released from the hospital, he was flown back to his hometown of Freeport Illinois, where he was under the constant care of his sister, Lisa McClellan.

McClellan’s trainer Stan Johnson held a press conference a few weeks after the fight to blame everyone from promoter Don King to the referee for the fate of Gerald McClellan. This press conference was attended by Lisa McClellan.

 

Today –

Gerald McClellan has regained some ability to walk, albeit with a cane. He is still under the constant care of his sister Lisa, who also works full time. He is still profoundly deaf (80%) and is completely blind. He has had several different benefits in his honor, but the medical bills continue to pile up. He has a trust fund set-up to try to defer some of the cost. (I will give the address at the end of this article). No boxers have ever visited McClellan, although former rival Roy Jones Jr. was rumored to have set up a foundation to aid McClellan. On February 24th 2007, Nigel Benn took part in a fundraiser for McClellan and it was the first time the two former combatants met since that fateful night. It was reported that Benn “lost it” and was very emotionally upset during the event. The event itself raised $175,000.

 

Nigel Benn physically recovered from his bout with Gerald McClellan and defended his title twice more against less than stellar opponents. In March of 1996, Benn lost his title to Thulani Malinga by split decision. It was apparent that, even though this was his third fight since the fateful night he and McClellan had met, the damage, both physical and mental, had taken its toll on Benn. He would try to regain a title by taking on Steve Collins, a fighter that Benn should have easily beaten, but getting stopped in the fourth in the first fight, and retired on his stool after the sixth round of his last fight. After that fight, Benn retired from boxing. Benn reported that the weight of the injury to McClellan and the loss of his boxing career lead him to try to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Benn rebounded from that attempt, moved to the Spanish island of Mallorca and became an ordained minister. He has given repeated interviews about his career and has expressed deep regret for what happened the night he met McClellan in every interview.

 

Back in 1995, the fight between Gerald McClellan and Nigel Benn promised to be one of the most exciting bouts of the year, but sadly turned tragic for both participants. Neither man was the same after the fight was called off, with Gerald McClellan suffering the most. We can thank God that most fighters are able to safely provide us with the entertainment known as boxing, but we should also all take time to pray for men like Gerald McClellan, who almost paid the ultimate sacrifice in the ring.

 

If you would like to donate to the Gerald McClellan Trust Fund, you can send a check or money order to:

Gerald McClellan Trust
C/O Fifth Third Bank
PO Box 120
Freeport, IL61032
This donation is tax deductible. You may also find out more about Gerald McClellan at his website http://www.geraldmcclellan.com

Bob Carroll
www.convictedartist.com

 

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