Benn vs. McClellan: Casualties of War
By Tom Gray (February 28, 2005) 
Gerald McClellan
The fight was ten years ago this month and I remember it like it was yesterday. I watched it live on a Saturday night and still own the copy of the fight I recorded that fateful evening. In many ways it was one of the best fights that I have ever seen, but its brutal artistry was marred by terrible injuries sustained by a terrific prize fighter, Gerald McClellan.

I had informed anyone who would listen that McClellan’s punching power was simply too much for Nigel Benn. McClellan had knocked out Julian Jackson twice, in terrific performances, and hadn’t been over eight rounds in his career. He could blast out his opponents with either hand and had a string of first round knockouts. I was a huge Benn fan, but thought he was out of his league, despite the fact that he was the natural super middleweight and McClellan was entering the 168lb division for the first time. The bottom line was that Benn had been knocked out twice by Michael Watson and Chris Eubank, so he would definitely fall against the ultimate knockout artist, known as the 'G-Man'.

The fight would take place in The London Arena and Benn’s WBC super middleweight title was on the line. The champion had trained like he was going to face the devil and was supremely confident of taking the visiting challenger into deep water and drowning him. He predicted a win between rounds six and eight and calmly stated; “Whatever he wants to front me – I will match him”. McClellan dismissed Benn as a free swinging pug who would be put firmly in his place.

The atmosphere was unbelievable in the East End arena and the crowd were with Benn all the way. McClellan’s awesome reputation had made its way across the Atlantic and the book makers had made him a prohibitive favourite to take the title from 'The Dark Destroyer'. Benn paced the ring like a wild animal, while McClellan seemed impervious to the hostile crowd and looked as confident as ever.

The fight was almost over in the first minute! The challenger caught Benn against the ropes and unloaded with an awesome cluster of power shots, which were enough to put Benn through the ropes. Luckily, none of the punches caught Benn on the chin or the temple area, and he was able to hoist himself back into the fray. It was at this point that the referee, Alfred Asaro from France, made his presence known. He gave Benn the mandatory eight count and as McClellan came out of the corner to finish his foe, he was cut off by the third man for no reason whatsoever. This gave Benn vital seconds to recover, as he was still unsteady on his feet. It would not be the last time that the referee did this in the round and Don King, who desperately wanted a McClellan victory, could be seen going crazy at ringside. I am not suggesting that the challenger would definitely have finished Benn, but he would have had a far better chance of doing so had it not been for these interventions. At the end of the round Benn looked like he had just came off a roller-coaster, as he staggered back to his corner.

In the second round the fight became competitive. Benn had become a far better boxer since his losses and he was able to bob and weave under McClellan’s assault and hit the target with perfect left hooks, which he did repeatedly. McClellan landed, but it was single shots and Benn was able to absorb them and push McClellan back, which was more than surprising. This pattern continued through the middle rounds and Benn was pulling ahead on most unofficial score cards through round seven. It was at this point that the challenger started voluntarily sticking out his mouth piece, indicating an oxygen problem. The commentators alluded to the fact that this could mean McClellan had suffered a broken nose or that he was having difficulty with such a fast pace. The real cause was far more sinister.

Showing championship heart in round eight, McClellan snatched the opportunity for revival and smashed Benn with a four punch combination which sent the champion reeling into a corner. Benn, using his experience, threw a left hook whilst off balance and fell on the floor, which meant he would get a count, but also a well needed rest. He survived the round, but McClellan had closed the gap and the momentum was on his side. The fight contained incredible action and the victor was never certain, both men looked like they had been through hell.

In the ninth McClellan took a knee after an accidental clash of heads. I’ve always felt this was a cry for help, because McClellan could feel the pressure building in his skull and was now very distressed. However, he would not knuckle under and confronted Benn, knowing that something was wrong. As the tenth began Benn came marching forward, only to be met by a bursting left jab which bounced off the champion’s distorted features. Suddenly, McClellan looked less keen to engage and Benn caught him with a right hand, which forced the challenger to take a knee. He got up bravely, but the end was near and an uppercut dropped him again, this time he sat still and let the referee count him out.

It was Benn’s defining moment and his warrior status would never be questioned again. He went through a complete nightmare in the ring and claimed victory with skill, bravery and willpower. I had doubted this fantastic champion and so did many others, but I would never make that mistake again. It was a stunning battle and 'The Dark Destroyer' earned his respect in a big way. He was very angry in the post fight interview with ITV, but that was only a reaction to the lack of faith that the media had in him. He would never be the same fighter again, but this was his night!

Both men were taken to the hospital, but the situation was now desperate for McClellan. He had a blood clot on the surface of his brain that was roughly the size of a small orange and emergency surgery was required to remove it. It would emerge later that in an act of compassion, Benn came into McClellan’s hospital room and kissed his hand. The man who gave his heart and soul, in a losing cause, remained in a critical condition for a very long time. When he did wake up, several weeks later, he began a long road to recovery and still his life would never be the same again.

Today, the G-Man has almost no vision or hearing and requires constant care. It remains absolutely heartbreaking that a man can be struck down to this degree, by a sporting event that people paid to see, but that is the uncomfortable reality in boxing. Gerald McClellan was not the first and he certainly will not be the last.

As Roy Jones JR said shortly after his friend’s surgery: “God bless you, Gerald McClellan”.

To contribute to the Gerald McClellan trust fund, send a check or money order, made payable to Gerald McClellan Trust Fund, to:

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