Wednesday, January 13th 2010


Gerald "G-Man" McClellan
Still where he was eight years ago. Only, boxing must've forgot.

By Jake Donovan

I remember sitting in the Rainbow Room at NBC on February 25, 2003 as Main Events was holding a press conference to announce that Boxing will be returning to the network for the first time in over a decade. During the entire press conference, I could barely focus, as it disturbed me as to why I felt like this day was important for reasons other than free boxing.

Then it hit me. Perhaps not as hard as what eventually led to a blood clot in Gerald McClellan's brain. Nevertheless, it dawned on me that February 25 should not be cause for a celebration, but a day of reflection.

For those who did not witness perhaps one of the most brutal slugfests of all time, it was eight years ago on the aforementioned date that Gerald "The G-Man" McClellan went from the hardest hitter in the industry to near death in the manner of ten rounds of boxing.

To truly understand and appreciate the aftermath, the best place to start would be at the beginning, or at least, the pre-fight buildup.

Despite moving up in weight, and having to travel across the globe to London, Gerald McClellan entered the fight as a 4-1 favorite. This was quite a statement, considering that Gerald had never fought before at 168 lb., was fighting overseas for the first time in his seven-year career, and was traveling to the hometown of the division's longest reigning champion in Nigel Benn.

Known as "The Dark Destroyer", Benn had won the title 28 months prior, yet found himself the underdog in his own backyard for his seventh title defense.

The reasons that Gerald entered as the favorite were simple.

First, even though he was only three years older, Nigel had also been in far many more wars, and was beginning to show signs of slowing down. His last fight prior to G-Man was a 12-round stinker against Juan Carlos Gimenez. The fight was so dull, that there was actually more action IN THE STANDS than the two combatants offered in the ring. Nigel himself even alluded to such in apologizing for such a lackluster performance.

For all the wars Nigel had been in prior to February 25, 1995, quite the opposite was true in regards to Gerald's career.

The closest thing to a war that McClellan ever engaged in was his 160 lb. title winning effort over fellow lights out bomber Julian Jackson in May 1993. For four rounds, Gerald gave as well as he was getting. In fact, he ate one final right hand before delivering a murderous right of his own. The shot froze Julian, and an ensuing flurry nearly drove Jackson out of the ring.

Jackson recovered, but another straight right ended any threat of McClellan eating any more punches that evening.

A new era was born, as McClellan would confirm with three straight first round knockouts, including his "don't blink" destruction of Jackson in their May 1994 rematch in Las Vegas.

The knockout extended his streak to 14 straight wins inside the distance, cementing the claim many had made in regarding McClellan as the sport's hardest puncher. Of the 14 knockouts, ten had come in the first round and with the most impressive of the lot being the two over Jackson, which was why many favored him to return from the other side of the pond with the WBC 168 lb. belt in tow.

Fast forward to fight night.

Despite fighting on the champion?s home soil, in front of a capacity crowd at the London Arena, Gerald went to work immediately. For those who questioned whether G-Man could carry his power eight pounds north, they had the answer about 30 seconds into the fight.

McClellan jacked Benn with a straight right that left the defending champion numb and defenseless along the ropes. Gerald sensed another first round knockout and moved in for the kill. Two shots to the head drove Benn through the ropes and nearly into the laps of the ringside photographers.

Once able to regain his senses and realize where he was - which at the moment was the wrong side of the ropes - Nigel scrambled to his feet and just barely beat referee Alfred Asaro's count, one that some consider to be a very long 9 seconds.

What appeared to be a 45-second path towards a future mega fight with Roy Jones, Jr. would turn out to be a dead end the moment Nigel was waved forward to continue fighting.

What went wrong after that? There's plenty who are responsible for what would transpire.

We could start with Alfred Asaro, who as mentioned before was the referee for this contest. Or at least was supposed to be the referee. You see, to be a referee, it is required that you do some officiating, to keep the action clean and to offer an unbiased and policed presence.

Asaro did none of this.

Instead, he constantly pushed Gerald back whenever breaking up the two fighters. He stood in between the two fighters for far too long on every break. He stepped in and broke apart the fighters seemingly every time that Gerald would move in for the kill. He warned McClellan for infractions that weren?t even committed, or at least not by him.

Was it a conspiracy? Not really; just a horrendous piece of officiating. And this was just his first round performance.

Asaro's antics over the course of the rest of the fight were questionable at best.

However, in order to have such a situation, it would mean that a fighter is in fact committing the unpunished infractions.

Enter Nigel Benn.

Long renowned as one of boxing's bad boys, many have often interpreted Nigel's style as win at all costs. Others would just refer to it as downright dirty.

The reason many became furious with how Asaro handled the action on this fateful night was because Nigel did in fact walk a fine line between doing what you have to do to survive and going beyond the specified rules of prize fighting.

Frequently throughout the contest, Nigel would hold Gerald and hit him behind his head, and would also dip below Gerald's waist, hit on the break, just to name a few.

This is not to suggest that his fight plan was merely limited to breaking the rules. It was clear, though, that Nigel was getting away with far too much than even the normal home court advantage should allow.

Yet for all of the punches - clean or illegal - that landed for both fighters, it was an accidental headbutt that proved to be the beginning of the end. Benn lunged forward with a right, missed and fell to the canvas, but not before an inadvertent headbutt clipped McClellan over his eye.

McClellan, thinking he was rightfully entitled to a five-minute rest period, took a knee even though Asaro never ruled it an accidental foul. Instead of allowing Gerald to recover, he waved his hands frantically, demanding that Gerald rise up and continue fighting.

Fight on he did, though it was obvious to everyone (except, of course, Asaro and then-Showtime color commentator Dr. Ferdie Pacheco), that the headbutt clearly affected him, with his eyes constantly blinking throughout the remainder of the round.

Round ten would be remembered as every bit bizarre as it was tragic. McClellan came out with his vision and frame of thought still impaired. His power advantage clearly handicapped by his inability to clearly see, all Gerald could really do was attempt to stay outside. Benn sensed that the end was near, and went on the pursuit in search for closure.

Closure on this night, however, was not exactly of the highlight-reel variety.

The cleanest punch that Nigel landed was a long right hand that caught McCellan flush on his stellar chin. It hurt the American challenger, but only to the point where he had to hold on.

Benn then missed with a follow up overhand right, and again missed with a left hook - and down goes Gerald! Partially from the effects of the initial right hand, but more so because his brain was becoming more and more clouded by the seconds.

All he could do was rest on a knee and watch Asaro count away. He arose at the count of eight, but really was no longer able to defend himself. Once again in close quarters, McClellan held on to catch a breather. He was met by a right uppercut that was clean enough to force McClellan to a knee for the second time in the round.

All he could do at this point was stay down and watch Asaro count to ten, ending the fight ? and his career - with 1:22 remaining in the round. McClellan was ahead on two cards and even on a third at the time of the stoppage, though it ultimately proved to be a moot point.

As Benn leaped into one corner, wildly celebrating one of the greatest upsets in British boxing history, McClellan had risen from a knee and simply walked back to his corner. He never even made it to his stool, slumping along the turnbuckle with his arms draped across the ropes.

On a night where many ponder who to blame, a hero had arrived in the form of the British Medical Board. To their credit, they were in the ring the moment the slugfest was stopped.

Had they not reacted as quickly as they did, Gerald would be in a far worse state than he is today. After given a thorough diagnosis in the ring, McClellan was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he slipped into a coma. Again, had the ringside physicians not reacted in the aforementioned manner, he could have just as easily died that night.

It was at this moment where the effects of such a brutal slugfest were clearly visible. Even in victory, Benn never made it back to his dressing room, collapsing as he attempted to work his way out of the ring. He too was rushed to the hospital, the same hospital as the man he had just conquered. He was revived quick enough to pop in on McClellan and express sorrow over what had taken place, realizing at that moment that even victory has its price.

Benn was eventually released and would go on to fight for nearly two more years, but his career was never the same. He would score two more wins, before going 0-3 in 1996 and eventually retiring from the game (actually retiring three times, after every loss in '96).

As anti-climactic as was the end of his career, he was at least afforded the opportunity to fight on beyond February 25, 1995.

McClellan, on the other hand, became an afterthought.

In the beginning, the boxing community was concerned. Three weeks after the fight, Roy Jones Jr. made the first defense of his 168 lb. title. The bout was supposed to be a prelude to a future Jones-McClellan bout, but was obviously not the case come fight night.

Rather than view the matter as a fight that would never happen, Roy instead reached out to an old friend (and former amateur opponent, one that soundly defeated Roy in the National Golden Gloves competition nearly a decade before) and offered to donate 10% of his purse he was to receive that evening. HBO was so moved by Roy's generosity that they offered to match Roy's donation.

Shortly thereafter, a trust fund in Gerald's name was established to help offset the growing medical costs in order to care for him. While many have reached out, the McClellan family has been overwhelmed since that tragic night, both in time and financially.

While many point to Gerald's state as a barometer for the precautions necessary to take when fighting, very seldom does anyone in the fight game keep in touch with Gerald. Only through fundraisers do fighters seem to make an attempt to reach out to the G-Man.

Other than that, it has all fallen in the hands of Gerald's two sisters, Lisa and Sondra - and of course, the fans.

"The fans have been great in their response and support to Gerald," says Lisa, who juggles working full time and going to school full time in between splitting 168 hour per week care with her older sister. "Unfortunately, the fighters and promoters have been less than responsive in regards to Gerald's care."

Not all in the fight game have turned their back on Gerald. Roy Jones, through his advisors, Stanley and Fred Levin, consistently offers help via donations and fundraisers. Emmanuel Steward (Gerald's former trainer when he trained at Steward's Kronk gym in Detroit) is also looking to arrange a fundraiser for Gerald.

The only contact that fighters have made with Gerald was at the 2002 Boxing Writers Association of America Awards. Gerald was on hand for the ceremony, and was greeted with a thunderous round of applause.

Otherwise, "fighters don't choose to see Gerald, perhaps because they are scared that if they see him, reality will settle in," offers Lisa. "They feel that by seeing him, they will become scared that the same will happen to them."

Perhaps fighters should be constantly reminded of what can become of them without the proper safety precautions beforehand, and without the proper support afterward. McClellan himself never believed that this could happen to him.

"Gerald used to walk by this statue of (fallen former British fighter) Bradley Stone in days leading up to the fight," recalls Lisa. "He would stare at the statue, and shake his head saying, 'That will never happen to me.'"

While it did not reach those extremes for Gerald, he did suffer career ending damage in the ring, a mere ten months after Stone encountered his life-ending fate in the ring.

Unlike Stone, McClellan has come a long way. Perhaps not long enough, but certainly better than in '95, Lisa reveals.

"These days, Gerald can talk on the phone, and is also able to dress himself. One thing he always loved to do, and is now able to do, is talk! He's very talkative - and very opinionated - but most importantly, very happy. Recently, he was reintroduced to boxing by someone other than myself. Richard Slone (who has been very involved in raising money and care for the McClellan family) was the first one beside myself to sit with him and discuss boxing."

So, while Gerald can do more for himself than he could eight years, it is not a reason that he should be forgotten, or bypassed for more recent events. He was a boxing warrior, who offered everything - almost including his own life - to please the fans. He deserves a better fate than to be an afterthought.

In the meantime, we can continue to help by doing what we’ve been doing for the past year, and keep contributing to the Gerald McClellan Trust Fund. For those that are unaware, or have forgotten, donations can be made to:

Gerald McClellan Trust
C/O Fifth Third Bank
PO Box 120
Freeport, IL 61032

Photo by Chester Hollins
© Copyright 2003-2010 - Gerald McClellan and geraldmcclellan.com. All Rights Reserved.