November 20, 1991 – Royal Albert Hall, London, England. It was Gerald McClellan’s first pro fight in England. He would only fight in the UK once more.
It was on this day three decades ago, when a young, not unbeaten middleweight contender from The Kronk Gym faced former world middleweight title challenger John “The Beast” Mugabi in London. 24 year old McClellan was 22-2, the two losses coming via close decision to Dennis Milton and Ralph Ward.
31 year old Mugabi was 38-3 and he had won all of his fights by the short route. In fact, Mugabi had never gone the distance in a single fight. Best known for the all-out war he had engaged in with Marvelous Marvin Hagler back in March of 1986, Mugabi – who was finally overwhelmed by Hagler, being stopped in the 11th round of a fight that left Hagler urinating blood – was also a former WBC champ at 154 pounds. But by the time he met “The G-Man,” Mugabi had been stopped by Hagler, by Duane Thomas, by Terry Norris.
Still, was McClellan ready for someone as seasoned as the once-feared “Beast?” Well, yeah, he was – totally. Dressed in the famous Kronk gold shorts, McClellan proceeded to hammer a surprisingly faded Mugabi to the mat three times to get the quick and easy-looking first round win. At the time, the win proved little, but McClellan had won his first world title; the WBO middleweight belt. As we know, McClellan’s punching power was the real deal his annihilation of the close to totally shot Mugabi made it appear to be.
After wiping out the Ugandan who had pretty much left his career in a Las Vegas ring the night he slugged it out with Hagler, McClellan racked up four more quick KO wins, three of them coming inside a round. Then, in May of 1993, McClellan defeated yet another fearsome banger in Julian Jackson. McClellan was now the middleweight king. True greatness seemed to be in his future. Instead, sadly as well as shockingly, a second visit to London, this one in February of 1995, saw McClellan’s career, and very nearly his life, come to an end.
British boxing fans were lucky enough to witness, up close and personal, McClellan’s first breakthrough fight, while British boxing fans also saw the tragic fight with Nigel Benn unfold before their eyes. During his all too brief prime, Gerald McClellan was a true force of nature.
As for Mugabi, he tried a comeback five years after being crushed by McClellan, when he boxed in his new home of Australia. Mugabi won four low-key fights before he was KO’d twice up at light-heavyweight.