Gerald McClellan - What Could Have Been

06.06.06 - By Jim Dorney: Much has been written (and rightly so, too) about the condition of Gerald McClellan after his fight with Nigel Benn. It was a tragic end to an unbelievable fight, a fight that was hyped yet more than lived up to its expectations. A fight that from the first round set such a bruising pace that there was seemingly no way that it could go the distance. A fight between two huge punchers, two great champions and two men who would never back down to the other.

You often hear about grudge matches in boxing, and in the case of Benn vs. McClellan, you could tell there was genuine dislike between the fighters. Many factors contributed to the terrible ending of that fight, for example, the French referee, Alfred Asaro, who, I feel, should have intervened numerous times to warn Benn about his rabbit-punching, and both fighter's intense stubbornness in refusing to give up, even at the detriment to their own health. Whilst Benn survived the ordeal, and came out of it without obvious permanent damage, he was never the same fighter again. The fight was undoubtedly his peak performance in terms of endurance and heart, and is probably the best argument that can be positioned for Benn going down in history as an elite fighter.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Nigel Benn and I'm British, too, but I think it's ironic that his defining fight is a fight he should never have won. He deserved to go down as a legend for his bravery alone in that fight, and deserves all the credit he gets for simply surviving McClellan and I'm not saying there was tangible foul play, but with proper preparation and a possibly a different referee, I personally feel that Benn would have lost that fight and more than likely in the very first round, too.

McClellan was always a murderous puncher. He'd been an outstanding amateur, famously once beating the great Roy Jones Jr. The Benn fight was designed to be the bout to set him up for a pro rematch with Jones, the idea being they'd both have valid titles at the same weight to contend - but it was never to be.

Early on in his career, McClellan was outboxed by a couple of wily slicksters in Dennis Milton and Ralph Ward, but after that point, up until when he met Benn, McClellan was an unstoppable force, brutally knocking out everyone he fought bar two good defensive fighters in Sanderline Williams and Charles Hollis shortly after his two defeats. Posessing knockout power in either glove, he sparked out the great (and equally heavy-handed) Julian Jackson twice, the first time to gain the WBC middleweight title and the second defending it. He moved up in weight to challenge Benn, looking past him to Roy Jones junior.

Looking past Benn was his first mistake. Benn, whilst susceptible to going down at times, was an incredibily resolute fighter, who, like McClellan, had a good amateur heritage and was a huge puncher.

Ill preparation was his second. He fell out with Manny Steward before the Benn fight, who I firmly believe would have seen Gerald to victory. Instead, he went with his old acquaintance Stan Johnston, a part-time heavyweight pro in a dodgy sailor hat. McClellan weighed in a full three pounds under the super-middle limit, whilst Benn (as usual) was bang on the money at 168lbs. Whether or not he overtrained, that lack of weight would prove crucial later on.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he wrapped his own hands before the fight, which is an absolute no-no. Wrapping your own hands takes away from the impact of your punches as it's not possible to achieve the same tightness in your wraps doing it yourself as it is with an experienced trainer. This, combined with the comparative weight disparity will have lessened McClellan's punching power. Clearly he was still a devasting hitter with that handicap, as evidenced by his first round near-destruction of Benn, but I believe that if he was on weight and had his hands wrapped, even with the long count the referee gave Benn, there was no way he would have made it through that first round.

McClellan refused to believe Benn could withstand his power until it was too late. He figured out something was wrong by the sixth round, but by then, there was no turning back and no way he could back down. Benn, to his credit, fought his heart out and was competely spent himself by the end, when McClellan apparently quit on one knee in the tenth. What wasn't obvious to people watching was that his body was shutting down and his brain was already damaged beyond repair.

We can only speculate what would have become of McClellan had he won that fight and gone on to bigger and better things. I, for one, believe he would have been a formidable force to contend with.

I welcome your comments.

Article posted on 07.06.2006

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