The Dark Destroyer Part Five: Sudden Impact
Updated: Jul 16
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25th February 1995, London Arena
WBC Super-Middleweight Title
Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan
"They're going to set mini Mike Tyson on you," Benn was informed by his manager Peter DeFreitas. Mini Mike Tyson was Don King's nickname for Gerald McClellan. King's plan was simple; McClellan would knock out Benn and unify the WBC title with pound-for-pound number one and IBF super-middleweight champion Roy Jones Jnr, who McClellan out pointed in 1988 at the semi-final stage of the National Golden Gloves Tournament.
Born in Freeport, Illinois on 23rd October 1967, McClellan turned professional in August 1988, fighting out of his home city of Detroit, representing Emanuel Steward's Kronk gym. He blitzed through his first ten opponents before getting outpointed over eight rounds by Dennis Milton in June 1989.
Three months later he was outscored for a second time by Ralph Ward. He then walked through his next five opponents before winning a unanimous eight round decision over durable Sanderline Williams in August 1991. The following month he was taken the eight-round distance again by Charles Hollis, before embarking on an amazing KO spree.
He stopped his next four opponents and in November 1991 travelled to London's Royal Albert Hall to face John 'The Beast' Mugabi for the vacant WBO middleweight title. 'The Beast' managed to take Marvelous Marvin Hagler into the eleventh round in 1986, but after three knockdowns he wasn't able to last three-minutes with McClellan.
'The G-Man' never defended his new belt and carried on in 1992 with devastating effect, stopping all three opponents in the opening round. His first fight of '93 against fellow American Tyrone Moore in Mexico lasted two rounds.
He then challenged the hard-hitting WBC middleweight champion Julian Jackson on 08th May 1993. The defending champion won the vacant belt when behind on the scorecards and his eyes closing rapidly, sensationally knocked out Britain's Herol Graham in the fourth round. The victory made him a two-weight world champion as in November 1987 he claimed the vacant WBA light-middleweight championship with a third round TKO over In Chul Baek.
Against McClellan he was making the fifth defence of his his middleweight belt at the Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, on the under card to Lennox Lewis's first heavyweight title defence against Tony Tucker.
Jackson, who only lost to Mike McCallum in a WBA light-middleweight title challenge in August 1986, in a forty-seven-fight career with forty-three knockouts, was ahead on two of the judges’ cards going into the fifth round. In a battle of the punchers, it was McClellan who rendered the official's scorecards useless when he took Jackson out with two-minutes and 09 seconds of the round.
The new WBC champion made short work of his next two challengers, blasting them out in the first round before taking on Jackson again in May 1994. Jackson had won three on the spin, two one round blowouts and a ten round unanimous decision victory and was expected to be a dangerous proposition for the defending champion.
However, The G-Man was in no mood to wait around and had Jackson on the canvas in the first. The Virgin Islander clambered up on his feet but was soon taken out well within 90 seconds of the opening round.
McClellan would next travel to London to take on Nigel Benn and many pundits believed he would repeat his last performance in a British ring when he took out John Mugabi. McClellan's consecutive knockout strike of fourteen, ten in the first round, made him a firm three-to-one favorite to lift the title, despite splitting from Emanuel Steward, as he believed the Kronk trainer wasn't spending enough time with him and going with Stanley Johnson, whose fighters had some of the worst records in America.
Benn, who also sacked his trainer Jimmy Tibbs over money, went with Kevin Sanders, was making the seventh defence of the title he won in Italy in October 1992, had other ideas. "I've had more knockouts than he's had fights, so I'm not going to lose any sleep over it," said the defending champion.
The challenger at twenty-seven-years-old enjoyed a four-year advantage in youth and was also taller by three-inches (7.62 cm), but surprisingly he weighed in at 165 pounds (74.84 KG) compared to Benn's solid 168 pounds (76.20 KG).
The crowd drowned out ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Junior as he announced the challenger to the ring. McClellan looked undaunted as he made his way through to the ring as the spectators chanted 'Nigel! Nigel!'
The decibels raised significantly as the champion was announced to the ring, as the Big Ben chimes echoed through the arena. Benn looked in 'the zone' as he made his ring walk, determined that this would not be his final fight as a world champion.
Round One: They came out looking for each other straight away, not landing with anything significant. McClellan missed with a right and Benn retreated to the ropes, looking to bob and weave out of trouble as McClelllan caught him with a right on the side of the head, followed by a barrage of short hooks, punching the champion through the ropes onto the ring apron.
The French referee, Alfred Asaro, started his count as Benn managed to get back in the ring. The champion was shaken, and McClellan came over to finish the job. To his annoyance, the Frenchman was standing in the way, giving Benn extra valuable seconds of recovery.
McClellan had his man on the ropes and Benn, legs like jelly, managed to clinch to get some respite. Still, the American advanced and Benn offered hardly anything in attack. The challenger swarmed in and Benn tried a desperate left hook that nearly came off. His legs were unsteady, and he managed to survive the storm by actually connecting with a left that backed the American up. Still, it wasn't enough to knock the challenger out of his groove and the champion did well to survive the opener.
Round Two: The champion was off his stool first and came to the centre of the ring, with the referee pushing him back to his corner. Benn met fire with fire as he came out blasting. The entire crowd were on their feet as the wounded Brit ducked under the American's bombs and fired in lefts and rights of his own. McClellan looked smooth as he backed away behind his jab, but the champion was able to get underneath and land some hard shots of his own.
Round Three: Benn continued with his tactics of ducking low and firing in over the top, backing McClellan up as he turned boxer. The American was still dangerous catching the champion with a couple of devastating long right hands.
Round Four: McClellan was still being backed up as Benn landed big punches at will. The challenger would jab and throw straight rights whilst Benn would evade and get in his own left or right. The hunter had become the hunted as the champion had the challenger holding on. It was as if McClellan couldn't fathom out Benn's style, who, apart from the first round, was now fighting the perfect fight.
Round Five: Still Benn came forward and backed McClellan up, notably with a left hook or a long right-hander. The challenger even turned southpaw in an attempt to confuse the champion.
The American at times kept his mouthpiece half out of his mouth from the third round but in this round, it was more noticeable. McClellan did manage to score with some powerful rights, but it was Benn who was doing the stalking.
Round Six: A scrappy round with both men feeling the effects of the pace set and the amount of bombs exploding around the ring, surprisingly more so from Benn, as the McClellan camp believed they would be sipping champagne at this stage.
The champion was still bossing the action, backing McClellan up and seconds from the bell knocked out the challenger’s gum shield that was dangling halfway out of his mouth.
Round Seven: McClellan boxed with measure and composure, creating the right distance to get his punches off. Benn was still effective and in the latter part of the round had his own say in the proceedings to make it hard for the judges to score a clear winner of the seventh.
Round Eight: Both fighters were feeling the effects of the great battle that ensued the previous seven rounds. Benn was still backing McClellan up and it looked like the champion was going to bank another round.
Then the American found two tremendous rights, forcing Benn to the ropes. The champion, wounded, fired back with a flush left and a cuffing right, but it was McClellan’s right that forced his man to the corner.
Benn, shipping punishment threw a wild left, which brought his momentum forward and a grazing right from the American brought the champion to his knees. It looked as if the WBC belt was going to change hands as the referee issued his mandatory eight-count.
McClellan had time to end the contest, but it was Benn who came forward and finished the round the stronger.
Round Nine: Unchartered territory for McClellan as he’d never boxed past eight rounds in his career. He started the round with two big rights, the most explosive start from the challenger since the opening round.
He was boxing well behind the jab and catching a weary-looking Benn, who looked like the fight could be slipping away. The champion threw a right and accidentally clashed heads with McClellan as Benn’s forward momentum put him on the canvas.
As Benn was having his gloves wiped clean by the referee, McClellan was complaining about the butt and took a knee, to the displeasure of the fans and Benn’s trainer Kevin Sanders.
Now it was Benn who looked the fresher, as if seeing his foe on the floor spurred him on, landing the more telling punches to close out the round.
Round Ten: Benn looked stronger now as he chased the back-pedalling challenger, who was sticking out the jab, blinking as he did so.
McClellan looked to measure Benn with a straight right, but it was the champion who landed a powerful right to the jaw. The following left and right barely landed but McClellan took a knee. He rose and went to a corner raising his hands to signal he was OK to continue. He took a big gulp of air just before Benn swarmed in.
They were in close quarters and a right uppercut put McClellan on his knees again. As the French referee counted, Don King was shouting at his man to get up and fight on. McClellan ignored him and concentrated on the count. When Asaro reached ten, he rose and walked back to his corner. Many believed at that precise moment McClellan had quit, which was way short of the mark.
The crowd went crazy as Benn celebrated, realising they had just witnessed one of the greatest fights ever to unfold in a British ring, McClellan had collapsed in his corner. He was put in a neck brace and wore an oxygen mask as he was carried out of the arena on a stretcher and taken to The Royal London Hospital. The greatest fight was about to start for McClellan, as he battled for his life.
Dr. John Sutcliffe performed a three-and-a-half-hour operation to remove a blood cot form McClellan's brain. The surgery saved his life but after two months in a coma, he was left blind, impaired hearing, brain damage and unable to walk.
Benn also suffered bad effects, collapsing in his dressing room after the fight. He too was taken to the same hospital and after being checked over was released the following morning.McClellan was eventually allowed back home to Freeport, Illinois, where he is cared for by his sisters Lisa, Sandra and Stacey. He receives a WBC pension plus social security disability benefits, but this hardly covers the $70,000 a year medical expenses to care for him around the clock. These costs have exhausted his ring earnings and the family depends on donations to the Gerald McClellan Trust.
For those who would like to make a donation to the Gerald McClellan Trust, you can click on this link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/n4hjic
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