In February of 1995, Middleweight champion Gerald McClellan was in top form. He was the WBC middleweight champion, was (and still is) rated #27 in all time punching power by Ring magazine, and was traveling over to England to fight for the WBC super middleweight championship. His opponent was Nigel Benn, another hard hitting champion who was at the top of his form. What happened that night, not only affected both fighters, but their families and the entire sporting community. Gerald McClellan was stopped in the 10th round, and soon after collapsed in his corner, was rushed to the Royal London hospital and underwent emergency surgery to save his life. A blood clot had formed in McClellan’s head and after the surgery; he was in a coma for 11 days. Left blind and severely limited in his mobility, Gerald went home with his sisters Lisa and Sandra, who have been providing his care since the tragic night.
Both Lisa and Sandra were working full time outside the home and providing full time care for Gerald, until recently when Lisa was forced to stop working due to a heart condition. The compassion that these two ladies have shown to their brother and the full time care they provide is admirable. As Lisa put it, “It’s what family does”, which goes to show the love they have for their brother.
On the follow-up to the recent article I did, The Night the Boxing World Cried, about this tragic night, I sat down with Lisa McClellan and talked to her about how her family was affected by this night and how she, her family and Gerald are progressing. Here is the interview.
Bob Carroll (BC): Every boxing fan knows the story of what happened to Gerald on February 25, 1995, but the story of how you and your family were notified of his injury and how you got to England, has never been told. What is the story from you side?
Lisa McClellan (LMC): On the day of February 25th, my family and I had planned to go to my sister’s house to watch the fight. Being that England was six hours ahead of us and that we were heading over to my sisters to watch the fight, we got a phone call from England at maybe one or two in the afternoon stating Gerald had lost the fight and they were taking him to the hospital for observation. Maybe thirty minutes later, they called to say that Gerald was suffering from a blood clot, and they were going in for surgery. At that time, no one in the family had a passport, so none of us were able to immediately fly over. We had to wait for emergency passports, which took two days. Then, three family members flew over.
BC: When you arrived at the hospital, where they forth coming on all of the information of Gerald’s condition?
LMC: I actually stayed behind. My sister, Gerald’s girlfriend and my Aunt Linda flew over to England. It was very devastating, we probably communicated five or six times a day. When they first arrived, it was a touch and go situation with Gerald. At that point, it was a 50/50 chance that he would even survive. Every day meant more because he survived that day.
BC: Have you ever brought yourself to watch the fight?
LMC: No, I’ve never watched the fight. I thought I was going to be able to watch it after we met with Nigel Benn, but I still can’t watch it.
BC: Does Gerald have any memory of what happened that night?
LMC: He knows. We talked a lot about his condition now. Every day, I am again telling him what happened. He remembers from what I tell him, not from the actual event.
BC: Can you explain Gerald’s condition today?
LMC: He’s completely blind, over half of his brain is damaged from not receiving oxygen. That caused his brain to swell and the damage came from the skull itself. The damage is not in just one area, it is in all areas. There are reports that Gerald was deaf, or 90% deaf, but he is not deaf at all. His hearing is actually pretty good; it’s just that the brain damage caused problems with his comprehension. He hears very well, it’s just comprehending what he hears that is the problem.
BC: Has there been any improvement in Gerald’s condition since 1995?
LMC: Oh definitely. His short term memory is a lot better, his long term memory is outstanding, with the exception of the fight and everything that happened around the fight. He is physically able to get around more, we don’t use the wheelchair anymore, we walk, we make him walk. So we went from being advised in 1995 that Gerald would always be in a vegetative state, to now getting him out of the house, making him walk around. He loves to talk on the phone, he loves company, he interacts with the kids and his grandkids, so he has come a long way.
BC: You and your sister, Sandra, provide care for Gerald, and you both have full time jobs. Can you let our readers know what his care consists of and how you find the time and strength to be able to provide the care?
LMC: Actually, as of two years ago, I was diagnosed with a heart condition, so I no longer work other than taking care of Gerald. My sister, Sandra still works part time. We basically get him up in the morning, we take him to the shower where he is able to bathe himself, but we have to help him out of the shower. We make his meals for him, but he is able to feed himself. It is more the physical things we have to do with Gerald, the little things he can do for himself.
BC: I mentioned in the recent article that very few, if any fighters have taken the time to visit with Gerald. How many fighters have actually extended themselves to Gerald and your family?
LMC: There haven’t been a lot of fighters, but early on, just after Gerald got hurt, I had a fundraiser in which Evander Holyfield and Joe Frazier came to Freeport, Illinois (Gerald’s home). A couple of years after that, Gerry Cooney and a couple of guys from the organization F.I.S.T. visited. Roy Jones Jr. did a couple of fund raisers, when we were in New York for the Boxing Writers dinner in, I believe it was 1996 or 1997, Bernard Hopkins and a couple of other fighters came to see him. But that has been about it.
BC: There was a lot of money behind the Nigel Benn-Gerald McClellan promotion with guys like Frank Warren and Don King involved. Has anyone involved in the fight spoken to your family or extended a helping hand?
LMC: When we were in England two and a half years ago at the function that Nigel Benn’s agent, Kevin Lueshing, put together, Frank Warren was present and he gave a $25,000 donation. Someone must have notified Don King of this donation, because he also donated $25,000.
BC: Like you just mentioned, in 2007, Gerald and your family flew to England to take part in a charity event for him. This event provided Gerald and Nigel Benn the first opportunity to see each other since that tragic night. What happened when they got together?
LMC: It was very emotional for Gerald, as soon as he realized we were in England. It was almost like he was nervous about being there. I don’t know if it was because he knew that we were going to be meeting with Nigel, but the morning that we met, it was very emotional. Gerald expressed things about his personal feelings to Nigel, which he had never shared with us. Things like never being able to fight again, he told Nigel that he almost took his life and it was very emotional for both of them.
BC: Do you feel it helped both fighters and the families deal with the tragedy?
LMC: I do. I think it was just as much of a healing for Gerald as it was for Nigel. It was also helpful for me and my family members as well as Nigel’s daughter and father. Our family and Nigel’s family talked throughout the night and Nigel’s daughter had expressed to me that he absolutely refused to talk about the fight in the thirteen years since the fight, he had very bad bouts of depression, I think he had started to drink a lot and tried to commit suicide. So this meeting was healing for everyone involved.
BC: How are you and your family dealing with the financial aspect of Gerald’s care?
LMC: It’s been really hard. We just learned how to live with what we have. The money that they raised in England made things a lot easier for us. I was able to pay off a lot of Gerald’s medical bills. I took some of the money and made things in the house handicap accessible for Gerald. I had a whirlpool tub installed for him. I was able to do a lot of things for him.
BC: How would our readers be able to help Gerald and your family?
LMC: We have set up a special needs trust fund that your readers can donate to.
The address is:
Gerald McClellan Special Needs Trust
C/O Gerald McClellan
839 E. Wyandotte Street
Freeport Il 61032
BC: You spoke about the house being made handicap accessible. Has Gerald had any problems dealing with the situation he is in?
LMC: Just recently, prior to coming back from London, Gerald started to acknowledge that he was blind, which he never did before this time. Maybe five times since then he would, all of the sudden, get really upset because he realized he could not see and be depressed for hours. After four or five hours, with the functioning of his brain, he would forget it. A couple of weeks would pass and he would get upset about it once again. He doesn’t like to acknowledge, otherwise, that he is handicapped.
BC: You and I spoke earlier about a documentary being completed about Gerald. How far along is this project?
LMC: Right now, I believe we are waiting on; I want to say ITV (an English web based television network) and the BBC to decide if they are going to air it over in England . So basically they are shopping it around, trying to find someone to broadcast it. We were going to do it for the cinema, but we were unable to get the theatrical rights released from Frank Warren, so we had to take another avenue. So that is what we are waiting on, and about 50% of the filming is complete.
BC: When it is completed, how can our readers find this documentary?
LMC: My best guess would be that it will come out on DVD in the United States . Most of it is happening in England . I will probably do something in the form of a press conference or something at the time it is complete. Then we will probably do something to promote the DVD sales in the United States .
BC: Tell us the address for the trust fund once more Time.
LMC: Gerald McClellan Special Needs Trust
C/O Gerald McClellan
839 E. Wyandotte Street
Freeport Il 61032
BC: Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
LMC: I absolutely appreciate the way you wrote the story (“The Night the Boxing World Cried” on Convicted Artist Magazine website), a lot. It’s good to see someone that is not interested in not airing dirty laundry, but just covering the subject at hand.
Lisa McClellan will be a very special guest on Wednesday nights Fightin’ Words Radio Show. Tune in and listen to Bob Carroll, Butch and "THE Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr. every Wednesday night on Fightin' Words Radio Show from 8-9pm EST.