vs. McClellan, A Tragic Epic
By Murali Para
In the world of boxing, there have been countless
thrilling battles in the past thirty years. You know the names.
The Ali-Frazier trilogy. Duran-Leonard I. Hagler-Hearns, certainly.
More recently, the Holyfield-Bowe trilogy. Barrera-Morales
even. There are too many to mention. These exhilarating fights
have been watched again and again by fans and have never ceased
For my money, the fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan
definitely belongs among the pantheon of these epic encounters.
Yet it is very infrequently cited when battles of this nature
are discussed. This is almost certainly because of the tragic
aftermath that left McClellan blind, half-deaf and severely
disabled. While this reluctance to relive the fight is understandable,
I believe it should be acknowledged as a titanic battle of
wills between two great boxers at the height of their powers.
I do not propose to review the events of 25 February 1995
at the London Arena in minute detail. That would be superfluous.
But I do want to look back at the fight as the pivotal moment
in the careers of two very fine champions. Benn gave a career-defining
performance that evening, after which he was never quite as
good again. And we are sadly all too aware of what happened
to McClellan who now lives in reduced circumstances (more
of which later).
Nigel Benn was an excellent British fighter who was the reigning
WBC super-middleweight champion. A tough ex paratrooper, he
was one of the most popular British champions of recent years.
The Dark Destroyer was enjoying a very good run of form, having
put behind him his two early losses at middleweight when his
explosive, ragged power-punching was mastered by the more
technical boxing of Michael Watson and Chris Eubank. He was
unbeaten in the previous 5 years. He retained his walk-forward,
heavy-hitting style, but was not scoring as many knockouts
in the early rounds. He was considerably more mature as a
At this moment, Gerald McClellan was looking set to become
a modern boxing legend. The only blotches on his record were
2 defeats on points and they were clearly a learning experience.
He claimed the scalp of his friend Roy Jones in his amateur
career, a win whose significance would grow with the passing
of time. Like Benn, he was an awesome, brutal fighter. For
the record, 27 of his 31 wins up to that point lasted no longer
than three rounds, against 25 of 39 wins for the Briton. The
way McClellan despatched the highly rated Julian Jackson twice
for the WBC middleweight crown made him a strong favourite
to beat Benn.
The fight was incredible. It is almost unrivalled in recent
years for sheer emotion and frenetic energy. McClellan started
explosively like a young Mike Tyson, knocking Benn clean out
of the ring in the very first round. With a generous count
from the referee though, the Dark Destroyer managed to survive
the round. Somehow. Maybe it was because he was hypnotised
by Paul McKenna. Who knows. And then, bit by bit, Benn managed
to set the agenda, turning it into an all-out slugfest. Each
new round was a battle in itself. Brutal and brilliant shots
landed from both parties and plenty missed too. Such was the
burning intensity and the desire to end the fight. And when
McClellan fell to one knee in the tenth round in what has
now become a poignant, harrowing image, he was still aheadon
two of the judges' scorecards.
* * * * *
Freeport, Illinois. This small town two hours west of Chicago
is the home of Gerald "G-Man" McClellan. This is
where he resides today with round-the-clock help from his
sisters, Lisa, Sandra and Stacy. Gerald will never again see
his son, Gerald Jr. or his daughters, Forrest and Mandale,
as they grow up. It is tempting at this point to be critical
on moral grounds. Critical of the referee who spoke no English
and didn't stop the fight sooner. Critical of Don King. Critical
of the boxing fraternity. But I believe that would be wrong.
Boxers are aware of the dangers of their trade. And the public
pays to watch boxing as a sport, as entertainment. There is
nothing further to add on that score.
All that remains is to say that Benn-McClellan was a phenomenal
fight. And Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan were both superb
champions. Only in McClellan's case, perhaps not quite as
superb as he might have gone on to be.
Reference was made to Kevin Mitchell's excellent book War,
Baby (Yellow Jersey Press 2001) as well as Teddy Blackburn's
Forgotten Warrior article in Boxing Monthly September 2001.