Often, a relatively short but thoroughly action-packed middleweight title fight comes along, a fight that, though no gruelling, 11, 12, 13,14 or 15 round epic, deserves the E word all the same – think Hagler-Hearns (less than 3 completed rounds in total, but those eight minutes managing to pack in 15 rounds worth of thrills), think Sugar Ray Robinson-Rocky Graziano (both men down, Rocky hit so hard in the third he had to check to see if his legs still worked).
And on this day 28 years ago, we fight fans were treated to another relatively short but mesmerizingly violent, back and forth 160 pound encounter.
Gerald McClellan met defending WBC middleweight king Julian Jackson – as in KO King – in Las Vegas on May 8, 1993. What followed was a fight that should in no way have played second fiddle to any fight, not even a heavyweight title fight as proved to be the case. This fight was headline material – the highlight of the year, not only of the night.
Jackson, his sight in question but his reflexes and his withering power firing on all cylinders, was making the fifth defence of the title he had won by way of a crushing KO of defensive master Herol Graham. “The G-Man” was four fights removed from his quick destruction of a faded John “The Beast” Mugabi, the 1991 massacre seeing the Kronk fighter win the WBO middleweight strap. Was McClellan ready for as massive a puncher, as lethal an operator as Jackson?
“The fight wasn’t going the limit. I knew that,” said McClellan’s trainer Emmanuel Steward.
Those words were said after a little over 14 minutes of action had taken place. And it was pure, exhilarating action. McClellan and Jackson went at it from the very start. It was McClellan who scored first blood, hurting Jackson with a right hand, this causing the champ’s legs to dip. Jackson came back in the second round, scorching his challenger’s midsection with a left hand that must have felt like a slashing razor.
It was now a matter of who took the better shot.
Jackson was left bleeding in the third, this from an accidental clash of heads. Jackson’s sight, already a matter of concern, was now compromised further. McClellan dominated the fourth. Then the explosion came, in the fifth.
Jackson hurt his challenger – with a low blow. And then another low blow. McClellan went down, given time to recover from the second foul. Jackson was shaking his head. Then, when action resumed, McClellan crashed home with a monster right hand to Jackson’s head, the punishing blow followed by two sizzling lefts, and down the defending champion went. Laid on his back, “The Hawk” seemed finished. Instead, somehow, Jackson beat the count, only to be sent down again by another right. Once again Jackson got up, his face a mask of blood, but this time Mills Lane had seen enough.
It was a superb win by McClellan and he seemed set for superstardom. Disturbingly, more so in hindsight, Gerald said in the post-fight interview how he had “an enormous headache,” that he was going to “sleep for two days.”
Had the damage that would be made so, so much worse in the Nigel Benn fight that was 21 months away been inflicted? We will never know. But on this day in 1993, Gerald McClellan was without doubt the baddest middleweight on the planet.