Today, former middleweight king Gerald McClellan turns 55. Whenever a fight fan hears McClellan’s name, or thinks about him, one fight instantly springs to mind: February 25th, 1995 and the McClellan-Nigel Benn fight. We all know what happened that shocking, unforgettable, tragic night. Who knows where McClellan would be today, how much he would have gone on to achieve, how his final record would have read if the terrible injuries Gerald suffered during those ten hellish rounds had not befallen him.
Make no mistake – McClellan was on his way to greatness.
Tall, sleek, fast and deadly, with “The G-Man” also possessing an incredible fighting heart (how many other fighters would have quit after three or four rounds if they were going through the horrors McClellan was fighting through in the Benn fight?), McClellan defeated names like Michael Moorer and Roy Jones Junior in the amateur ranks and then, with Emanuel Steward training him, the man from Freeport, Illinois went pro, this in 1988.
McClellan didn’t burst onto the world stage quickly; he instead worked steadily towards his goal of ruling the world. There were a couple of setbacks along the way, with McClellan dropping close decisions to Dennis Milton and Ralph Ward. McClellan learned from the defeats.
Rarely being extended beyond a round or two (McClellan, by the time of his first world title challenge, this of John Mugabi for the vacant WBO middleweight belt, had scored an impressive 13 first-round KO’s), the 23 year old was taking care of business. A 1991 trip to London saw McClellan destroy what was left of Mugabi (yet another 1st round KO win), before McClellan won the real thing 18 months later.
Challenging feared banger Julian Jackson in May of 1993, McClellan won a war, his own power and ability to hold a good shot proving superior to Jackson’s punch and chin. McClellan’s fifth round KO was as spectacular as it was thrilling. He was now the WBC ruler. Three retentions followed, with McClellan’s brutal power seeing off challengers Jay Bell, Gilbert Baptist, and Jackson, in a rematch, in a round apiece. Could any man take McClellan’s power?
McClellan parted ways with Steward and, with “trainer” Stan Johnson working with him (years after the tragedy, Gerald’s sister Lisa said she wouldn’t even call Johnson a trainer) he again travelled to London. Having moved up in weight, McClellan was widely expected to take Nigel Benn’s WBC 168 pound title. And, for a few fleeting seconds, in a fight that was watched by an estimated 17 million people in the UK, McClellan almost picked up another one round win. McClellan sent Benn, a heavy underdog, clean out of the ring in the opening session and the fight seemed over.
But Benn clambered back into the ring and, controversially, the debate of whether or not Benn actually beat the count still going on all these years later, the gutsy Brit fought back. The fight then took on a weird, disturbing twist (all the more disturbing for any fan who wishes to watch the fight today, when knowing what happened). McClellan began blinking and twitching, and he seemed to have trouble keeping his mouth-piece in.
There were disturbing words exchanged in McClellan’s corner as the fight raged on; with Gerald, by now suffering yet fighting on, reportedly telling Johnson that the water that was being poured on his head felt like it was “running inside my head.” Still McClellan’s enormous fighting heart and raw courage kept him going.
Then came the end, in the tenth, with some “experts” throwing the quitter tag at McClellan, this as the stricken fighter was forced to take a knee. The referee (the non-English speaking Alfred Azaro, who proved to be a figure of controversy, with some saying the man from France “helped” Benn, this by breaking the fighters up when it favoured Benn, by pushing an advancing McClellan back when he went in for the finish during that opening round) waved the fight off.
McClellan made it back to his corner on his own two feet, yet he then collapsed and the seriousness of the whole thing hit hard. Today, Gerald is given around the clock care by Lisa and he has shown immense strength and determination by living on as long as he has done since that fateful night of over 27 years ago. Today, Lisa wrote on FaceBook, the former champ will celebrate by eating a McDonald’s. We fight fans wish Gerald the best possible birthday he can have.
Never should the fans forget Gerald McClellan. He is a fighter.