Friday, July 12th 2024

Classic Bouts: Benn vs McClellan

By Anthony Evans

On February 25, 1995, Nigel Benn, perhaps the most popular British fighter of all time, repelled the formidable challenge of American Gerald McClellan in 10 of the most thrilling, exciting and frightening rounds ever to be contested in a British ring. Over half a decade has passed since that fateful night at London Arena, but the memories of that fight, and its terrible repercussions, are too deeply etched to ever fade.

Benn, the reigning WBC super-middleweight champion, was a 3-1 underdog with the British bookmakers. American bookies knew the destructive force that had been dispatched from their shores and they made Benn a more distant outsider.

McClellan was the undefeated WBC middleweight king, and the manner in which he had won and defended that title had boxing journalists on both sides of the Atlantic calling him the most explosive puncher on the planet. Even the most experienced boxing scribe could not see past McClellan’s 93-second demolition of former champion Julian Jackson – where his punching-power seemed almost inhuman.

But Benn had an intensity of pride and, perhaps most importantly in this fight, a love for his country few could match. “No Yank is coming over here and bashing me up in front of the British people, my people,” repeated the champion.

Benn possessed courage, skills and wrecking-ball power in each hand and, after eight weeks of relentlessly pounding his body into super-human condition in Tenerife, the “Dark Destroyer” was ready for the fight that would define his career.

Within seconds of the fight, Benn took a right hand and moments later another sent the champion staggering towards the ropes. Now McClellan, his feet planted in a wide stance, unleashed the punches that had swept aside Jackson and the others.

McClellan rained in blow after blow, until a final devastating right knocked Benn through the ropes and onto the ITV commentators’ table. McClellan celebrated, Benn’s fans were stunned, and journalists exchanged knowing glances as they reached for their notebooks. Never before had America’s supremacy of the boxing ring seemed so absolute.

But Benn was getting up. Slowly, he clambered back through the ropes and managed to see out the round. Sixty seconds later he was a different man. A grim, frightening look in his eyes, Benn set about his foe and, despite suffering a second knockdown in the eighth, pounded his way to a 10th round victory.

Every fan of this beautiful, but often terrible sport, knows McClellan suffered serious injuries during those 10 rounds and he remains a listless shadow of his former self, requiring 24-hour care. Benn, too, was never the same. He fought on for another five fights, losing three of them.

Benn and McClellan paid an awful price for giving the sporting world one of the greatest prizefights of all time. Not even the most callous among us would claim it was a price worth paying, but as long as there are boxing fans those two warriors will never be forgotten.

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