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post Jul 24 2010, 05:45 PM
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Twelve years ago, Nigel Benn won a boxing match of rare brutality that left Gerald McClellan permanently paralysed and blind. The victor was scarred, too, but Benn has turned his life around since a suicide attempt. This month he meets McClellan for the first time since their fight, at a dinner to raise funds for his broken opponent

Just for a moment, the old anger flares as Nigel Benn gets ready for what will probably be the toughest fight of his life. He is in his mansion overlooking the Costa de la Calma in Majorca but the prospect of a reunion in London in two weeks time with Gerald McClellan induces anything but serenity in his soul. It has been 12 years since they met for the first time, 12 years since they nearly killed each other in a London ring.

'Where are these multimillionaires that were with him at the time?' Benn asks. 'Where are they now that he's paralysed, blind and 70 per cent deaf? Where are they now?'

It is a fair question. Don King, who promoted their fight, will not be there. Nor will any of the managers who made money from McClellan on the way up. Frank Warren, who helped King, will be there. And a lot of fine boxing people will have shelled out their money to help McClellan, who has pretty much nothing left of his earnings. Benn made £700,000 for beating McClellan, which went some way to sorting out his tax problems. McClellan's final cheque, after all deductions, was $62,920.75 (then worth about £40,000). The promoters, managers, ITV, Showtime, the sponsors: they did pretty well.

Benn insists with the impatience of an aggrieved man: 'Eh? Where are they?' The repetition of the challenge will be familiar to those who remember Benn at his Dark Warrior best, a confrontationalist of frightening intensity. He is more contemplative now, but old instincts do not fade easily.

'They drop you and they forget all about you. I just want to show people that God is real. God is greater than all of us, otherwise I would not be doing this.'

Benn, once one of the hardest boxers to manage, has a new corner man. He has been devoted to God since he tried to end it all late one night on Streatham Common in south London eight years ago. He sat in his flash car, crying. He had everything and he had nothing. He had kept his money and his health, but he wondered why he could not break the cycle of hurting those who loved him. There had been so many flings, orgies, lies, so much drinking. He washed a handful of sleeping tablets down with wine and waited for death. It did not come. Against all odds, he made it home to his wife Carolyne and fell into a heavy sleep. Two days later, he emerged, chastened and determined to change.

Benn is now a born-again preacher in Majorca with a Sunday-morning congregation of 40 or so. He wants to preach four times a week and build a church. He has found a sanctuary at last, but there is one final piece of business to attend to. On Saturday 24 February, Benn and McClellan will meet at a dinner at the Grosvenor House hotel organised in the American's honour. It will not be the usual reunion of old adversaries. There will be no back-slapping reminiscences, no reruns of left hooks and right crosses. The respect will be understood, but it will be muted in more ways than one.

How will he handle it?

'I don't know. One of the last things I remember reading about the fight in one of the tabloids was, "We want Benn dead, we want his money." You know what? That's 12 years ago. I've grown up since then. And so have they, I hope. His sister, Lisa, I want her to know that we're doing this to help her brother. Nothing else.'

For years, Lisa refused to have anything to do with Benn. Last year, a British TV director, Patrick Collerton, went to see her and Gerald. They went with the brief of converting a book I had written on the fight into a documentary that would raise money for the crippled fighter. From there, negotiations fanned out a little, culminating in this dinner. It took a lot to persuade Lisa that it was worth doing. There was much residual hostility but Kevin Lueshing, Benn's agent, and a hustler of the old school, pulled all sorts of strings to make it happen.

'Just one thing I want to say to you: this is nothing to do with me or Kevin. Nothing. It's to do with God. If God had not put this in my head, I would not have done it. It's for the ultimate glory of God, not for me or Kevin. Let me make that absolutely clear. If I'd done it for any other reason it would have been all about deadwood. And deadwood means all about my glory. That's what it boils down to.

'Pray to God that the dust has settled and we can let sleeping dogs lie. It's taken a young man from England to think about this. All these other professional boxers, who's come out of the woodwork to help him? How many have really gone out there? I just want to help him, that's all I want to do. It seems to be selling well, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed and hope we raise a lot of money for him.'

So far, the only American boxers making the trip are James Toney and Iran Barkley - but, to be fair to the boxing fraternity there, several fighters, including his old friend Roy Jones Junior, have raised money for him. Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali have been prominent too. Nothing is clear-cut in the fight game.

For Benn, meeting McClellan again will be tougher than for anyone else. They took part in the most ferocious battle most of us at ringside that night had ever seen, or ever cared to see again. It went 10 rounds, with both men seriously hurt, McClellan, breathing and blinking heavily, finally taking the count, on one knee, before collapsing in his corner.

On the 24th, Benn will stand in front of McClellan, nervously no doubt. McClellan will sit. More than likely he will be in his wheelchair and Benn will take his limp hand, look into his half-dead eyes and whisper softly into ears that absorb maybe a third of what is directed at them because of a brain all but closed down. It will be a little like how they last communicated, as they lay side by side in the London Hospital, Benn immobile with the hurt of McClellan's punches from a few hours earlier and doctors working feverishly to save the American's life.

'Sorry,' is what Benn said to McClellan then, kissing his eyes, although he knew he could not see or hear him. Now he will do it all over again, in a much more public way. It will be a qualified apology. Benn is sorry for what happened, but not for the fight. It was what they did. He knows McClellan would feel the same way.

'There are much worse sports than boxing,' he says. 'I haven't gone totally over to the other side! Some people go too far. I just look at where God wants me to go.'

Benn returns to God time and again during our conversation. His fervour might put some off, but he is not bothered. He was never one for books, now he quotes liberally from the Bible. It informs every move in his life - even buying a car. He wanted to change his six-litre Cadillac guzzler for something greener, so the family knelt down and prayed. God told him to get a Mitsubishi Colt. Although, as he says, he still has the Porsche.

Carolyne and their children have saved Benn from himself. 'I'll be honest with you, Carolyne's my knight in shining armour. If it wasn't for her, I guarantee you I'd be six foot under or in a mental hospital. I wanted something more out of life, though, because the sort of life I was leading I didn't want no part of it. It was affecting my wife, my family, my mum and dad. I got caught up in that world and it's only now that I fully understand what I was going through. It's weird but I look at myself now and I feel content.'

Is he still DJing?

'No, don't be silly! How can I go, "Praise God" and then go off to the nightclub where it's like Sodom and Gomorrah? It's funny how I ended up living in Majorca, anyway. After living in Miami for three years, LA for 18 months, I thought, "We gotta get a holiday out of this." So we came here. After the first six months God said, "I have plans for you." And I thought, "Why me, Lord? I'm not a member of any church. Why are you using me?" I've got someone in my church here, a physics teacher, who'd been a Christian for 27 years. And God said, "I don't want to use him." He said, "No, I want the Dark Destroyer." He knew that people would sit up and listen to me.'

And they do. Benn was always impressive in front of a microphone, emotional and articulate.

'You know what? I've had a revelation. I was one of the biggest sinners. I was Satan's right-hand man! And whatever my temptations were then, they are still there, right there outside my door. People who say they are not are lying. Within my congregation we have alcoholics, people on drugs, people with marriage problems. And I say to them, "Don't focus on me. I will fail you. Not intentionally. But I will fail you. Focus on Jesus." Also, I want to be able to pray to Jesus and laugh. I want laughter in the church. God does have a sense of humour, mark my words.'

For McClellan's sake, it would be nice if Jesus were keeping a divine eye on proceedings at Grosvenor House, too. The final equation is, after the emotion and the goodwill, McClellan could do with the money. 'By the grace of God,' Benn says, 'we can just make some money for a fallen comrade.'

The dinner has attracted a stellar array of boxing and showbusiness luminaries - among them Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Frank Bruno, Joe Calzaghe, Junior Witter, Naseem Hamed, as well as cast members from The Bill and EastEnders - prodded to fork out between £100 and £150 a ticket.

It has been nearly 16 years since McClellan first came to London. He was young, lean, handsome and extremely dangerous. On the undercard of a promotion at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1991, the American knocked down John 'The Beast' Mugabe three times in the first round to win a version of the world middleweight title, then went home as quietly as he had arrived.

Four years later, he returned. He was, if anything, more fearsome. And frustrated. He had not been given the fights that would make him rich and famous. Mike Tyson was in prison and McClellan was going to be the next big thing in boxing. But he boxed for Don King, with whom he had an acrimonious relationship. If he could beat Benn, King promised him, he would get to fight Roy Jones Junior, then the acknowledged best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Paranoia ruled: Lisa was convinced (and still is) that King wanted her brother to lose; Benn was equally adamant he was being set up as the losing patsy. Neither fighter really won.

Both have changed, of course, but McClellan dramatically more so. Once he had been brought back from his coma, had his brain restored to minimum working order and been shipped back to the small Illinois town of Freeport, 80 miles from Chicago, McClellan was doomed to spend the rest of his life as a barely recognisable version of the man he had been.

Some say boxing is a religious experience, moving men with bewildering speed between life and death. Others say it's about belts and money and fame. Of the two men who entertained us that night in '95, only Benn can tell us now what he thinks. Or, more accurately, Deuteronomy 30:19.

Benn reminds me: 'The scripture says, "I have set before you, life and death, blessing and cursing." I chose life.'

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post Jul 24 2010, 06:01 PM
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March 06, 1995
A brutal title bout left Gerald McClellan fighting for his life and the sport of boxing under attack once more
Richard Hoffer

In the time it took a fighter to slide all the way down the ropes, his consciousness slipping as he fell, an evening's exhilaration yielded to disgust. Of course, it's the way of this sport, a very old and resilient one, that it so often teeters between spectacle and shame. But to see Gerald McClellan, who had been a blur of ferocity for nearly 10 rounds last Saturday night in London Arena, arrested in a medical tableau on the canvas in his own corner was to watch that balance destroyed, perhaps forever. It was another vicious blow to boxing, and what might have been the fight of the year, the kind of occasion that ennobles both the fighters and their fans, has instead revived interest in the game's abolition.

Indeed, McClellan's condition had scarcely been stabilized Sunday before the British Medical Association renewed its call for boxing's ban. Although McClellan may survive his injury—a one-hour operation in the early hours Sunday to remove a large blood clot from his brain had given him a good chance of recovering as SI went to press Monday night—the sport may suffer more lasting damage. Precisely because British boxing authorities seemed to have taken all the right precautions, the blame must now go to the fundamental violence of the sport. There are no longer corrective measures to be taken; there is nothing to fix. "The problem," said a medical association spokesman, following the disastrous meeting between two superbly prepared world champions, "is that boxers are punching each other's heads."

McClellan, a former middleweight champion who has made a fetish of his own violence, of course had a more immediate problem than boxing. McClellan, 27, who relinquished his WBC title to challenge WBC super middleweight champion Nigel Benn, was celebrated for his cruelty in the ring, renowned for his first-round knockouts and a generally scary persona. In the week before the fight, he horrified the British media by comparing himself to one of his three pit bulls and by telling of the adrenaline rush he gets when his fist smashes into an opponent's face, of the pleasure he receives when a fighter falls before him. All in all, he became an extremely forbidding attraction, and the dreadlocked Benn, 31, was reduced to the role of sidekick in this entertainment, a designated victim.

And yet it was McClellan, following a savage bout in which both men fought for their lives, who lay dangerously wounded in the third-floor trauma unit of the Royal London Hospital with his family at his bedside. "We are all so scared for Gerald; he must not die," said his sister Stacey Caien. "He's too young."

There was not, as far as ringsiders could tell, any single punch that caused the damage. Indeed, McClellan, who had knocked Benn out of the ring in the first round (and thereby came close to registering his trademark early knockout—it would have been his 21st first-round KO in 34 fights), was getting the better of the action for much of the fight. McClellan also dropped Benn in the eighth. In a fight that surged back and forth, Benn came back thrillingly each time, but McClellan was deservedly ahead on two of the three judges' cards when the bout came to its eerie conclusion.

In seeking to explain McClellan's collapse, fight reporters remembered an encounter in the ninth round, when Benn lunged and his forehead smashed into McClellan's right cheekbone, just below his eye. McClellan sank to a knee, complained to the ref and later in the round put his hand to his head, as if to indicate he suddenly felt ill. Ken Jones of London's Independent remembers leaning over to another boxing writer at the time. "Something strange," he said.

Ferdie (the Fight Doctor) Pacheco, who was at ringside providing commentary for the U.S. cablecast, said on Sunday, "McClellan was blinking and rubbing the side of his head. I never saw anybody rub the side of his head like that. From there on out he didn't act the same. It was a different McClellan. Uncertain."

As the 10th round began, McClellan seemed strangely weak. He got hit with a solid right hand and went—voluntarily, it seemed—to his right knee for a count of seven midway through the round. Twenty seconds later he knelt again, presumably because of a right uppercut thrown by Benn, although it wasn't much of a punch. The scene was strange enough that referee Alfred Azaro, who was inept throughout the fight, seemed to pause in his count, as if puzzled.

"It's fairly evident from the time he first went down on his knee and took the standing count of eight that something significant was going wrong inside his head," said John Sutcliffe, the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery on McClellan. Sutcliffe added that he believed the blows McClellan took before the two knockdowns were probably responsible for the blood clot.

After being counted out, McClellan rose and stepped past a cornerman, asking, "I lost the fight?" He then moved back to his corner, leaned against the ring post, turned as if to sit and, before a stool could be placed beneath him, slid all the way down the post. He stretched out, lost consciousness and—even as Benn cavorted in the ring, taunting the media—became very much alone in a country 3,000 miles from home.

No country is as sensitive to the dangers of boxing as Great Britain is, and none has responded so well to the sport's inevitable tragedies. The Brits are well reminded, too, of their concern. A guest at ringside Saturday, in a terrible irony that seems available only to boxing, was 29-year-old Michael Watson, paralyzed in a fight four years earlier in North London. Strangely, if McClellan lives, it will be thanks to that young man in the wheelchair, who was stranded in the ring for 25 minutes after his injury and, when finally rescued, was taken to a hospital without a neurological unit.

The outcry following his botched care brought boxing reform that, in McClellan's case, could prove to be lifesaving, because on hand Saturday night were five doctors, including an anesthetist, four paramedics and two ambulances. This was McClellan's only luck, but it might have been luck enough. McClellan, his neck in a brace and blinking in and out of consciousness ("Did I get knocked out?" he asked a handler), was whisked from the arena with as much efficiency as possible in a crowd of more than 12,000. He was taken to Royal London Hospital, given a CAT scan and was on the operating table within two hours.

"I've never seen anyone this prepared," said Pacheco. "They did it right. If this had happened in Mexico City, he would have died—as he would have if it had happened in New York, L.A., Toronto, Miami."

Sutcliffe says the ringside treatment, particularly the immediate oxygenation, probably saved McClellan's life. It was Sutcliffe's job last April to operate on popular London super bantamweight Bradley Stone, who was injured in a title fight but did not receive the same immediate care. Stone died after his operation. "The advantage that Gerald has," Sutcliffe said, "is that he got here quicker than Bradley did, and that his resuscitation was more complete." Sutcliffe said that if McClellan had arrived 30 minutes later, "he probably would have died."

There has been a grim investment of human life in British boxing, and there may not be enough reform possible to guarantee a fighter's life. There was not enough Saturday night to assure McClellan of anything but a provisional recovery. "It is likely that there will be some problem for the next few months," Sutcliffe said of McClellan's future health. "It is too early yet to say whether there will be any long-term disability or any sign of damage as a result of this bleeding."

Asked if McClellan might return to the ring, Sutcliffe paused before saying, "His boxing career will be over."

It is certainly over, and if it was not complete, it was definitely a spectacular one, marked by the unadorned fierceness that lays boxing bare, reveals its terrible charm. McClellan's brightest moment as an amateur was his defeat of Roy Jones Jr. in the 1988 Golden Gloves semifinals. He missed the 1988 Olympic trials but went on to Detroit's famed Kronk gym, where he thrived as a pro. crafting a concussive career and grooming the violent demeanor to go with it.

McClellan has said he admires the late Bruce Lee and rapper Ice Cube and is especially fond of the bloodshed in the movie Scarface. In London he told writers that he kept his three pit bulls (one of which cost him $5,000) caged and that he some-limes puts them into fights. A likeness of a favorite pit bull, Deuce, is tattooed on his right biceps.

This is considered shrewd p.r. material in the world of boxing, and it played well to McClellan's talent in the ring, a brilliant aggression that opened and closed bouts with the equivalent of mortal gunfire. He'd had eight first-round knockouts in his last 10 fights, including his last three title defenses. One of those was a 30-second bout, the quickest in title fight history, which resulted when McClellan folded Jeffrey Bell with a body shot.

All this made for such a persuasive package that some of the prefight buildup addressed the problem McClellan presented promoters and broadcasters: a short-circuited program schedule.

And at the start that's how the evening seemed destined to play out. To see Benn crash through the ropes just 35 seconds into the fight and wobble back into the ring just at the count of 10 confirmed everybody's preconceptions about how the fight would go. That Benn wasn't counted out may have been a gift. Pacheco and some others at ringside were skeptieal that Benn had beaten the count.

And yet Benn, who is called the Dark Destroyer, rallied magnificently and had McClellan in trouble in the second round. He kept absorbing McClellan's jabs and long right crosses, and through the middle rounds accelerated the action. McClellan, who has struggled to make the middleweight limit in his recent title defenses but who came in three pounds under the super middleweight max of 168 for this bout, seemed troubled as the fight proceeded. He was breathing heavily, pushing his mouthpiece out to get more air. Was he dehydrated? Had he taken too much weight off? "I like this. I like this," screamed Benn's father at ringside.

But the momentum returned to McClellan in the eighth when, after some sustained pummeling of Benn, he drove the champ down again, for a count of eight. The fight was ragged, but the spirit of the two exhausted fighters was memorable. "I can't recall anyone showing as much raw courage as Benn." said the Independent's Jones. "It was incredible."

That is often the savage beauty of boxing, to see limits of courage and endurance stretched. Both fighters pushed beyond those limits—even Benn required a brief hospitalization for his exhaustion—and their fans were cheered to see so much will oil display. To some it might have seemed inspirational, even heroic. But many others insist upon more humane tests of manhood than boxing.

Indeed, this fight, as much as any other, exposed boxing as a blood sport. You could not pretend you were watching a sweet science. Seeing men fighting for their lives as furiously as these two were, well, there was no question about what you were watching. Sutcliffe, who saw the bout on TV, said matter-of-factly, "I had a feeling I might be needed."

In England now, the debate has been rejoined. How much of this can a supposedly civilized species stand? "I'm a little bit horrified," says James Tye, director general of the British Safety Council, "because right from the beginning of the fight there wasn't much boxing about it. Really, it was one bloke trying to injure the other bloke's brain."

Those who call for the sport's abolition insist that there is no further reform that can protect a man from those intentions. Whatever boxing satisfies in us, they say, that appetite ought to be ignored, be legislated against.

But if you can't ban boxing and you can't make it any safer, what can you do? Can you still enjoy it? It's getting harder, that's all. It doesn't help to know that McClellan, as he went to the Peacock Gym in Canning Town every day when he was in London, had to pass the recently erected statue of Bradley Stone, a cautionary talc cast in bronze. You wonder: Did he avert his gaze, did he tremble at the sight? Or, confident of his own capacity for violence, did he just sneer at the fallen and the weak. You just hope you can ask him someday.
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post Jul 24 2010, 06:07 PM
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Boxer's life caught up in ring of dogs, fighting

Boxer's life caught up in ring of dogs, fighting
By Elizabeth Merrill

FREEPORT, Ill. -- It is sad and maybe fitting, some would say, that the sound of a barking dog can make Gerald McClellan buckle in fear.

He prays to God now, sits in his home with the green trim at the bottom of a dead end, the scars reduced to a tattoo that says, "Deuce." If the ink could talk, it would say Deuce was a 65-pound fighting machine, a beige-and-white pit bull that could maul a Black Lab in 49 seconds, then slump over his master's back. It would say McClellan loved the dog because it reminded him of himself.

But the white-and-green house on Wyandotte Street is quiet, and McClellan is blind, partially deaf and brain damaged. Fighting did this. The money he won as a middleweight champion is gone, the blood clot ravaged his brain 12 years ago, and his sisters take care of him. Instead of donation checks, McClellan gets angry mail from animal-rights activists.

Gerald McClellan
Back in the day, Gerald McClellan took his dogs everywhere, including to this pre-fight press conference.
Maybe if they saw Gerald McClellan, in his wheelchair, gripping your hand as he speaks, they'd understand. Lisa McClellan Jordan won't have it. She says her brother isn't talking, and she calls the dogfighting stories lies.

But up a couple of blocks, past a sign that says pit bull puppies are for sale, Gerald McClellan Jr. sits on a porch, remembering his dad and the dogs. They call the son G-Man Jr., and he's a man now, the spitting image of his father. At age 6, he'd ride his bike on the East side of town while his dad trained his pit bulls.

"Deuce was his best. I swear to God his head was this big," Gerald Jr. says as he extends his arms about an inch past his chin and the top of his head. "I remember that was the best dog he had. It was the best fighting dog he had."

Before the national spotlight was recently focused on dogfighting, before allegations pointed to a Virginia house owned by Michael Vick, there was Gerald McClellan. Ferocious hitter, talented boxer, loyal family man … dogfighter.

Vick hasn't been charged with anything and, so far, there hasn't been a big-name face in professional sports to attach officially to an act that is a felony in 48 states. McClellan's face, in many ways, never belonged there. It has faded into a public smattering of sympathy, apathy and contempt.

"He was the most exciting middleweight in the world," McClellan's cousin, Donnie "The Black Battlecat" Penelton says. "He was the human pit bull. He thought like that, he ate like that, he dreamed like that. And he fought like that."

Stan Johnson is a 50-something diabetic who, according to his girlfriend, doesn't take very good care of himself. He starts his stories about Gerald McClellan from his home and continues them in a hospital in Milwaukee in between pokes and prods.

Johnson was McClellan's trainer, his friend and, sometimes, an unwitting sidekick. After the fight with Nigel Benn in 1995, a savage brawl that put McClellan in a coma, Johnson sought counseling for his guilt and grief.

He's done a few things he never imagined doing. The first time he went to a dogfight with McClellan, he felt sick and scared.

"Then," he says, "I kind of got into it.

"I don't know … it's just a competition, and it's like a race, a fight. You'd be surprised at what my eyes have seen."

Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan
Nigel Benn throws a punch at Gerald McClellan during their WBC Super-Middleweight bout Feb. 25, 1995, in London. Benn won with a 10th-round knockout. McClellan was permanently injured.
Johnson said he saw nine or 10 dogfights in all, some lasting 45 minutes, others so bloody McClellan walked out looking as if he'd been in a gunfight. Once, after McClellan's dog lost, Johnson watched his friend coldly pull a 9 mm gun out of his pocket and fire into the dog's head.

And then he saw a much gentler side of McClellan when it came to Deuce. When the dog was losing, McClellan screamed to stop the fight.

"He gave the man his money, picked Deuce up and threw him over his shoulder," Johnson says. "He was crying all the way home, petting his dog, saying he would never do it again.

"He was driving a green Mercedes Benz. Blood was all over the car. Deuce's neck was tore out, and you know what Gerald did? He sewed his neck up himself with a needle and thread. And that was the last dogfight I went to with Gerald."

McClellan was fascinated by the tenacity of pit bulls. Most dogs, Johnson says, whimper when they're hurt. But pit bulls keep fighting.

The breed's origins trace back to England nearly 200 years ago when, in the pursuit of a more discreet form of animal fighting, bulldogs were crossed with the now-extinct white terrier. The dogs that showed the most aggression, or gameness, were bred, says John Goodwin, deputy manager of the Animal Cruelty Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States. The others were killed.

"You do that enough," Goodwin says, "and you end up with a breed that keeps on trying to destroy an opponent."

McClellan used to get down in the pit with his dogs, Johnson says, ruining brand new suits. On his knees, he'd yell, "Shake, baby, shake," when his dog got hold of an opponent's neck.

"When he'd do that," Johnson says, "that dog would go crazy and bite the dog's neck off."

In the boxing ring, McClellan was just as ferocious. He had 29 wins by knockout, and dropped Benn out of the ring in the first round of that ill-fated 1995 fight in London. Nine rounds later, after an onslaught of punches, McClellan collapsed in his corner and lost consciousness.

In the days before the fight, he walked by a statue of Bradley Stone, a young boxer who died from injuries suffered in the ring. McClellan looked at the statue and told Johnson he'd rather go out like Bradley Stone than get knocked out.

"Gerald McClellan never complained about anything," Johnson says. "He didn't want to get knocked out."

The town of Freeport has a Farm and Fleet store, an outdated Wal-Mart and a sleepy-looking high school with a not-so-menacing nickname of "The Pretzels."

Gerald McClellan
McClellan collapses in his corner after being stopped by Benn.
Signs around town remind strangers that Freeport was the site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. On a sunny summer afternoon, the downtown is quiet, save for the sound of birds chirping and folks stopping to say hello.

But up the railroad tracks, on the east side, lies a darker history. Penelton says they had dogfights there in the early to mid-1990s, drawing as many as 150 people, throwing around more than $10,000. The woods and cornfields provided the perfect cover; the Pecatonica River gave them a place to wash the bloody dogs after their battles.

"Wasn't nobody going to say nothing," Penelton says. "We had all the money."

A big misconception of dogfighting, Goodwin says, is that it's rooted in the South. But places such as Detroit and Chicago long have been considered hot spots, and Penelton says he's seen as much as $200,000 wagered at a dogfight in Detroit.

"If people found out how big it was, they'd be shocked," Penelton says. "These guys come to a dogfight like they're going to a beauty pageant or the Oscars. That's how they dress up, diamonds and bling bling. You'd think Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder was showing up.

"Lots of athletes. Lots of professional boxers, a lot of basketball players. I've seen quite a few of them, too. I don't want to put a name out there."

Penelton, who also boxes and trains, says McClellan got his first taste of dogfighting when he was 11 or 12 and watched a group of kids try to get a wild dog to fight. It escalated to McClellan's owning six dogs as an adult, and limiting his lifestyle.

McClellan always drove fancy cars, Johnson says, but lived in a modest home in Freeport because nobody wanted to insure an expensive house for him with his pit bulls. With money to burn, McClellan, Penelton says, once bought his beloved Deuce a Cadillac.

How can a man love a dog so much, yet fight him to near-death? The answers, at least from McClellan, are tucked away with his sister in that house on Wyandotte Street.

McClellan recently surfaced, a weakened, dependent and humbled man. There was a London benefit in February, which was arranged by Benn and dubbed a great success. One British Web site said more than 1,100 people attended the benefit. McClellan, according to the Web site, was so emotional that he had to leave the room.

It also drew protests and petitions from animal-rights supporters. In the days before the event, Ronnie "The Rottweiler" Kerner, a boxer who's come from the underground circuit, was vocal about his wish that McClellan not be depicted as a hero. At the same time, Kerner doesn't want the world to turn its back on McClellan.

"If Gerald needs this kind of help and he needs his medical bills [paid] and he has no money, he should get the help," Kerner says. "Otherwise, everybody else would be just as bad for letting him suffer. But I can't see honoring a man who has done this to God's creatures. I really can't."

To understand dogfighting, former NFL running back Tyrone Wheatley says, you must consider a man's environment. Wheatley grew up in a neighborhood near the Detroit area where it was prominent, and took care of pit bulls when he was a kid. He says he saw one dogfight, when he was about 13, and was drawn to the breed's strength, power and loyalty. He understands why people do it, but says he's against it.

"For everybody, it might be something different," Wheatley says. "It goes back to the old childhood thing. Can Superman beat Batman? I don't want to simplify it, [but it's] my dog can beat your dog."

Goodwin can rattle off stories about Superman and Batman both being losers. There was the guy in Texas who was shot and bled to death over $100,000 that was wagered in a dogfight. And a pit bull in Ohio, with half of its lower jaw broken, that was kept alive for breeding. When the house was raided, the owner's foster kids were found in the basement cleaning up dog urine with sponges. One of the kids was 4.

For all the Gerald McClellans, the Humane Society knows that one high-profile conviction, maybe an athlete with Vick's stature, would be a major step in its cause.

"It would be gigantic," Goodwin says. "I don't know if the man's guilty or innocent. We're taking a wait and see attitude as far as that goes. But it's clear dogfighting was happening at that property."

G-Man Jr. is a boxer himself and has dabbled in the amateur circuit. He calls boxing "my way to get out of this town." If his dad wasn't sick, he says, he thinks he'd have a belt by now.

"I know so," Gerald Jr. says. "He would've been on me already."

Gerald McClellan jr
Gerald McClellan Jr., a boxer like his father, grew up around dogfighting in Freeport, IL.
When he saw the dogs as a kid, he thought it was natural. His daddy fought, and so did his dogs.

"I guess it's like a sport," he says. "You train those dogs the best way you can train them, and hopefully, your dog will be the one on top when it's time for him to fight."

G-Man Jr. says dogfighting doesn't really go on in Freeport anymore. Penelton isn't so sure.

They don't see Gerald McClellan as much anymore because of various spats with the family. Stan Johnson says he's talked to Gerald just twice since his injury, and sneaked over to the house one time while Lisa was at church.

Gerald asked who was there, and Johnson squeezed his hand.

"Who did you say your name was? Stan Johnson?" he asked.

McClellan eventually remembered.

"You know what?" he said to Johnson. "I want you to train me all the way to heaven."

They both cried, and for a minute, he was G-Man again. A dog barked, and Johnson looked at McClellan. He was frightened.

And then it became clear -- Gerald McClellan is not the face of dogfighting.

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.
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post Jul 24 2010, 06:28 PM
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McClellan's might looks bad for Benn

Ken Jones fears that Nigel Benn is likely to lose his world title tonight

Ken Jones

Saturday, 25 February 19

The opinion held by a majority in boxing is that tonight's contest at London Arena between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan for the World Boxing Council super-middleweight championship will develop quickly into a bad experience for the champion.

Few expect Benn to last long against the 27-year-old American challenger, who makes a habit of rapidly bringing his contests to a violent conclusion. McClellan is such an explosive puncher that all three defences of the middleweight title he recently vacated were each over inside two minutes. He was twice beaten on points at an early stage of his professional development, but his record since then is hugely impressive. Only three of 21 subsequent opponents have gone further than three rounds. Announcing his intention to score another quick victory, McClellan, the 1-3 favourite, says "I don't see Benn giving me any real problems. His best chance is to try and knock me out."

It can be assumed that Benn does not concur with this conclusion. Bearing in mind persistent doubts over the challenger's stamina, he may attempt to make it a long contest in the hope that McClellan will wear himself out. The "tear-up" he forecast when the contest was made no longer figures as a possibility. Neither would it make sense.

The destructiveness once evident in Benn's boxing diminished when he entered the 12st division. Now he is a decent rather than a chilling puncher. Taking McClellan on at his own game would be nothing short of suicidal. The champion has not declared the preferred method publicly but it will come as no surprise if he concentrates on damage limitation. From the look and the sound of Benn this week, the probability of defeat has not escaped him. "Even if I lose, I intend to carry on fighting," he said. When boxers take that philosophy on board, defeat can be imagined for them.

As the former WBC middleweight champion, Julian Jackson reveals, the effect of being struck by McClellan is quite frightening. Jackson, who separated Herol Graham from his senses four years ago and more or less ended his career, discovered in two contests that McClellan had far too much for him. The first lasted five rounds, the second barely more than a minute. "When Gerald hit me bang on the button with a right, it was eerie," Jackson said. "I didn't feel any pain but I was suddenly on my knees, staring at the canvas. I could hear the referee counting but I couldn't move a muscle. I'd never known anything like it before. Like a number of people I think Gerald may have a stamina problem, but he hits so hard that proving it is difficult."

In prospect, the contest has drawn comparision with Benn's defence of the World Boxing Organisation middleweight crown against Iran Barkley. However, the Barkley who was knocked out in one round was not the Barkley who twice defeated Thomas Hearns and gained two more world championships
after the loss to Benn. Medically blind in one eye, Barkley's career would be rescued by retinal surgery, but that night, on his manager's admission, he should not have been in there. "If Iran didn't need the money so badly, I wouldn't have allowed it," he said. Significantly, the British Boxing Board would not licence Barkley to fight in this country.

Benn insists that he draws strength from the nervousness he admits to. "I've fought people like Barkley, Doug DeWitt and Chris Eubank who put the fear of Christ into me and against them I always put in my best performances. Fear helps me. McClellan gives me a buzz and will bring out the old `Dark Destroyer'."

Upsets occur occasionally in boxing, but if McClellan fails to become champion tonight it will be nothing short of sensational. He can be expected to complete the task quickly, perhaps as early as the second round.
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post Jul 24 2010, 06:39 PM
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Fighting for life

Nigel Benn's 1995 world title victory over Gerald McClellan brought all the contradictions of boxing together in one moment of clarity. It was beautiful and ugly, thrilling and frightening. And in the decisive round, those who saw it knew the intensity had gone too far. This is the real story of the night that left a fearsome fighter irreparably brain-damaged

Kevin Mitchell
Sunday 4 November 2001
Observer Sport Monthly

In Las Vegas in 1994, when Gerald McClellan was preparing for his rematch with Julian Jackson, the one-eyed hitter he'd stopped the year before to win his world middleweight title, he was in his hotel room. He was bored, anxious. He got a video out and slipped it in the machine. The fight was only a few hours away. It was the biggest of his career. There was nobody about and the world champion settled down to get his kicks.

As the tape rolled, Stan Johnson, McClellan's coach, knocked on the door.

'He's some guy,' Stan recalls. 'I think he'd be in his room before a fight, gettin' a little pussy or somethin' before he go to the fight ...well, Gerald be in the room this time watchin' tapes of dog fights. I thought he be watchin' a sex movie. But I goes into the fuckin' room, Gerald's got a tape of himself watching the dogs with a stockin' over his head where you can't see who he is - in case somebody find the tape no one know it's him!'

This is how Stan saw Gerald and the whole dog thing: 'So he got this black Labrador, just went to the dog shop, told the man, "I need a dog to take care of, I'll take this Labrador home," and the man say to the dog, "Yeah, you got a good home now," and Gerald takes the dog home. He takes the dog down his basement and tapes the Labrador's mouth, takes his pit bull Deuce and says "Get him!" He lets Deuce start eatin' the dog up while he's timing it on a watch, see how long it would take his dog to kill this dog. And I said to Gerald, "Hey, Gerald, this Labrador wouldn't beat Deuce, no way, so why did you tape his mouth shut?" And he said, "Coz I just wanna see how fast my dog would kill him, for one, and, for two, my dog's a championship fighter and you don't need no dog scratched up and bit up by no dog, by no accident. This is like sparrin' for my dog, this is like my dog need to taste blood every day. My dog need to kill somethin' every day, Stan. Just like a fighter need to spar every day, he don't need nobody bustin' him up when he got a big fight comin' up. He just need to bust somethin' up hisself. Right?"'

It was impossible not to be mesmerised by the rhythm of the telling, and by the tale itself. It was a kind of rapping, old-style ghetto cool-speak, all mixed up like a cheap stew, bits of profanity chucked in to pepper it up. Comfort language served up by a badass dude.

Gerald got his comfort between the sheets. Any time of the day or night.

'It was nothin' for him to get some pussy just time afore he go in the ring, even, you know? So that was the main problem with Gerald, it was girls was his problem. But Gerald had a dark side to him, because he was a violent, violent, violent, violent, violent person.' I had to check: that was five 'violents'. Stan was just making sure.

'His whole life was about fightin' and all, pit bull dogs, he pay lotsa money on dog fights, he took money from his fights and he bet. It weren't nothin' him go down the projects in Chicago and bet $10,000 his dog beat your dog. And a bunch o' gang bangers with guns and drugs all come down to watch...'

Donnie Penelton, the Black Battle Cat, he remembers the dogs. He was there too on those dark nights.

'Yeah, Gerald's my first cousin. We grew up together. I'm older than him, and from the age about three, four, he hangin' around buggin' me from about then, yeah. He was a nice, young scary kid. He was a maniac with the pit bull dogs, man. He was like one hisself. Very aggressive. Very crazy. He had like a yard full of pit bulls. We'd mostly take 'em to Detroit with us, to the camps. I didn't like watchin' them dogs fight like that, I guess ...Kinda difficult, but them dogs, they goin' to fight naturally anyway. You know what he say, though? He always say, "Goddam, if I gotta fight for a livin', I be damned if them dogs ain't gotta fight for a livin' too. I gotta buy 'em their food. If it's a big fight and they win, they oughta be buyin' their own damn food."

'He brought Deuce down to fight this guy's dog in Chicago one time, and me and Donnie, we went down there with him ...Gerald was drivin' his Mercedes Benz, a green car with caramel-coloured seats and he had this big, beautiful truck behind where he carried his dogs in cages. So Deuce, he winnin' this particular fight and all of a sudden the dog got on him and he started rippin' Deuce's throat out. So I'm kinda, like, lookin' at Gerald and I was seein' the 'spressions on his face, you know, and just as his dog was gettin' beat, Gerald told the dude, "Stop the fight!" And the dude said, "No, man. No, man, you started the fight." And Gerald says, "You stop this motherfuckin' fight! Stop the fight! I quit, here your money."

'Gerald had a nice green leather suit on, he picked his bloody dog up, threw his dog across his shoulder, blood run all down his fuckin' coat. Instead o' puttin' him in the truck, in the cage, he put him in the back seat o' the Benz, mad as hell, rubbing his dog, cryin' up and down the road, tellin', "I ain't never gonna do this shit no more, I don't know why I did this, I keep a mess o' snakes afore I put a dog through this again." You know?

'Yeah, Gerald he had some companionship about this particular dog. He'd raised this dog, and this dog, he'd killed a few. This fucking guy, man, once his dog lost a fight and he was $7,000 down. He turns around, he looks at me, and the other guy says, "Hey, you want to wash your dog off before you put him in your truck?" Gerald just pulls a nine-millimetre out of his back pocket, aims it at the dog's head, busts a cap to the dog's head, and says, "Put that motherfucker in a plastic bag. I don't need 'em if they can't fight no better than that. I don't need no motherfuckin' dog that can't fight." This the kinda guy he was...'

I knew before I started that some of this story wasn't going to make easy listening, but this kind of information was confusing. It was not just hard-core boxing stuff; it was the sound of streets I didn't really know. But Gerald and Stan felt at home there. So did Tyson. Listen to Iron Mike's angrier outbursts: he is shouting at the largely white world and he is saying, I'm going home to the streets and you can't come. It's the place that Don King calls home. He's another big hitter comfortable with the argot.

Gerald wasn't a million miles from Don King in his attitude to humanity. King had brought grief - and money - to a lot of lives. He was cold too. Gerald hadn't killed anybody, as King had, but he had that streak in him, an icy vein of ruthlessness. He had to have it. He knew what was demanded to survive in the 'baahxin' bizness'. If you didn't have a hard outside, they'd eat away at your insides and spit you out. That's one thing he learnt from King.

Gerald was not shy of conflict. Used to go looking for it, often. It was part of his protective shell. Getting in the ring and throwing his well-schooled punches for three, regulated minutes per round was a run in the park for Gerald - after all he'd seen outside boxing. His personality was not informed by his trade, but by his life at large. The boxer is just the product. A celebrity. Television packages him and sells him. The G-Man. The Dark Destroyer. Iron Mike. The Hit Man. The Beast. Midnight. Vicious. The Black Battle Cat. Nightmare. All names invented to disguise the man underneath, not describe him.

I could only wonder what else they got up to. Stan, unsurprisingly, had a million stories.

'We in Florida one time,' he says, 'we in trainin', just before we go to fight Nigel Benn. Gerald says, "You wanna go to the mall to do some shoppin'?" So we go to the mall with the champ to do some shoppin', and we come outta the mall, and in Florida you got these pretty little pelican birds, what you call 'em? Flamingos, that's it. They just walk around the mall tryin' to make it look pretty. But Gerald comes out, and says, "Right, watch this, watch this!" And there's this flamingo walkin' around on the road. Gerald gets close and makes a dip with the car, he speeds the car up real bad and - boom! - he hits the damn flamingo! And the flamingo flies up all over the grille! And Gerald, he's laughin', like it's all in Disneyland, and he goes flyin' round the block and he looks at the grille and he looks at the bird feathers and he pulls the bird feathers and pulls the bird outta the grille, and, it's like, "Damn! Did you all see that? Did you all like that?" And then he was on his way out - and you know, you can go to jail for doin' that sort of shit, you know? That's a state bird! You know what I mean?'

I know what you mean, Stan.

'So then Gerald goes around again! He already run over a couple of pelicans and then here come another pelican and you know, like, this motherfuckin' pelican must be wonderin' what's goin' on here, like? He must be like a brother or sister, like, they all busted up. And then Gerald, he says, "Look at this nosy sonofabitch, watch this." And - bam! - he rammed over that one. I said, "Gerry, you gotta stop this, man, we gonna go to jail." And he tried to make it look like it's an accident, that the bird was there, like ...The kid was a violent kid. He loved killin' shit, he loved dog fights, like it was evident, he was want to go out like he went out...'

Like Deuce. Except he made Deuce quit.

25 February 1995: Benn v Mclellan

The fight is brutally dramatic from the first round, when Benn is felled after just 35 seconds and falls out of the ring onto television monitors. The count is very slow, with Benn given fully 13 seconds. Remarkably, he is able to box on, and despite being under severe pressure responds with some fearsome punches of his own. From the second round, McClellan realises something is wrong, he has trouble breathing and his right hand, which has given him trouble in the past is very painful. At the end of the sixth, according to his sister Lisa, McClellan returned to his corner and said, 'I wanna quit, Stan.' Johnson denies this. McClellan had never been past round eight in a fight. By round nine the fight was already a brutal, savage classic.

Only now did it dawn on me that we were watching two men careering towards the ultimate sacrifice. This had not been a prospect I had dwelt on in any of the previous rounds. To this point, it had been a collision of undeniable intensity, perhaps the 'best fight' most of us there had ever seen live, but contests between two dangerous punchers such as these invariably end in a countout, negating the possibility of death. Here in the ninth, however, doom cloaked the night. It was as if it had gone too far and nobody could do anything about it. The finish the crowd secretly craved was now a real possibility. Our own inner fight was with our guilt.

It seemed that McClellan was in the greater trouble. It also looked as if he were aware of his predicament. Benn, on the other hand, was hurting physically but his head, although constantly pounded, was clear enough for him to navigate his way through this terrifying jungle of pain. His brain was in place.

At ringside, we had the luxury of reflection, however brief, and could wonder about the morality of seeing Benn and McClellan risk dying for money and a title. There are moralists who will say that is a question we should be asking before rather than during a fight. But we don't. We surrender to our weaknesses.

If there is any morality in boxing, it surely resides inside the ring. That is where the honesty is. Elsewhere, in words and contracts and skullduggery, lies the profound sinning.

The final round

Albert: 'Nigel Benn hoping that he got a second wind between rounds ...A left hand by McClellan!'

Ferdie Pacheco (TV commentator): 'The only way McClellan can lose this fight ...well, he can lose it many ways ...but one way he can lose it is to be cautious ... He can't give it away. He's gotta fight.'

Albert: 'A confident Gerald McClellan. Benn just looking to hang on.'

Nigel lands another heavy right. McClellan is in serious trouble. That right has spun him into another zone. He is the one hanging on. It all starts to untangle now, halfway into the tenth. Nigel sweeps a right over the top of Gerald's injured head. Gerald goes down on his right knee. He rests his left glove on his other knee. He looks up at referee Asaro, who is counting. In French. 'Un! Deux!'

Time slows. Light is everywhere. McClellan is alone in a public place. Yet he is strangely serene. Relaxed, almost composed.

'Trois! Quatre!'

Pacheco: 'Gotta get up.'

'Cinq! Six!'

Pacheco: 'Now that is the strangest knockdown I've seen.'

Gerald gets up at seven. Walks into Asaro. Holds his gloves out. The referee looks at them, rubs them on the fighter's shorts. Lets him loose. Gerald's eyelids are working hard now, like a butterfly in a storm.

Nigel speeds another right on to the top and back of Gerald's head.

Albert: 'Everybody's on their feet, 11,000-strong!'

Benn shoots an uppercut, then a short, stiff right. Every punch is zeroing in on the danger area around the temple. McClellan is gone. He takes another half-blow and goes on that vertical slide, like an elevator smoothly travelling to the basement. He comes to rest on his right knee. Strikes the same pose as only seconds before. As does Asaro. With one minute and 35 seconds left, the referee starts to count again.

'Un! Deux!'

It is done without ceremony or emotion. This is Asaro's role.


Benn walks to a neutral corner, casually, like Joe Louis used to do. Like Joe, Nigel is used to seeing men fall before him. Except Gerald is kneeling. Waiting for something to descend around his shoulders, a veil of light.

'Quatre! Cinq!'

But the young American, getting older by the second, is not easy with the time-out this time. There is no peace in it. His body is shutting down. He blinks, gasps, gulps in the air. First time, he looked up at Asaro. Now he looks only at the canvas. Asaro has nothing to communicate to him now, nor has Gerald anything left to say. He just has to wait.

'Six! Sept!'

Asaro uses both hands, all 10 fingers, palms facing his own chest. He is shouting at McClellan. Gerald will wait until Asaro has stopped shouting before he moves again.

Benn shifts in from the corner a couple of feet to have a closer look at his prey, thin legs boyishly balancing a fighting man's body. His gloved hands are still coiled in tension. He's counting too. He counts and hopes. He hopes Gerald will not get up. If he does, he has work left to do. If he doesn't, the roof is going to blow. Everybody in the building is counting. The world has gone into super slo-mo. The noise has ebbed. Maybe a yard from McClellan, I can see the figure of Don King in his dinner jacket, standing, two hands resting on the ring apron, and screaming at his man. I turn my head slowly back to McClellan, a half-naked, totally defeated fighter.

'Huit! Neuf! Dix!'

Asaro crosses his arms and waves them in the accepted manner. It's over.

In a frozen moment, McClellan's right knee lifts from the canvas, Benn's knees dip, he spreads his arms wide, accepting the embrace of the crowd.

The whole room goes out of control. Inside the ropes, the canvas is covered instantly in expensive, shiny shoes. Fat rich men jostle for the spotlight vacated by the fighters; outside, row upon row of the mob move and shout as one. They high-five and laugh the smile-free laugh of the cruel voyeur. They are drunk on violent conclusion. They have thrown their last inner punch and they will soon be deflated.

The energy in the ring has travelled through the night like electricity to the crowd, who, collectively, could probably provide the material for a very acceptable orgy or riot, so high are they. This is what they paid for, this is why they came to Docklands when they could have watched the fight at home on television. This is why we fight and why we watch others who fight. At the moment of victory, you do not have to ask the question. In fact, the question is never asked. We just know.

The mob is at one with Benn. The champion's eyes roll, he screams with the wild joy of the conqueror...

Albert: 'Nigel Benn has won!'

Pacheco: 'I can't believe that!'

Albert: 'One of the most bizarre endings to a fight. One of the most compelling fight nights you'll ever see!'

Benn went up on to the second strand of the ropes, in his own corner. This was the place he'd gone back to nine times, after each round of scheduled torture. Now it was his place of celebration. He was waving his right glove at the crowd. There was anger, retribution and a fierce kind of happiness on his face. He screamed - but at nobody in particular. He'd shown us. Like Ali. He'd proved them wrong. He shook up the world.

And now, without turning away from the darkness, Benn pointed his glove dismissively in the direction of the spent challenger, whom he could not see because of the enveloping confusion in the ring. Stan and Donnie were wiping Gerald down - there was only blank resignation on the beaten man's bruised features. And, from where I sat, what looked like the cold fear of resignation.

Fighters can hate each other, physically, for half an hour or so, and then they're as close as is possible outside romance. But Nigel didn't move towards Gerald's corner, as convention dictates. There would be no ritual hug here. No warrior recognition. Nigel was in his own zone.

What I did not see during his celebration was a hint of a smile. His body message was triumph in battle, without a peace treaty. It was ugly and it was beautiful. He'd overcome. He was Superman.

Gary Newbon approached him with his ITV microphone. Benn set himself for another confrontation. He was still high on the fight, and he would stretch the joy of victory as far as it would go. Scientists have recently discovered that the winner in a fight has hyper-testosterone levels, while the loser's testosterone count drops. Darwin would have argued this prepares the winner for mating, and saves the vanquished from himself, reducing his will to fight, so that he will withdraw, perhaps to fight again later.

Benn might have been ready to mate, but he was extending no fraternal warmth to the man in the suit coming towards him. Newbon was in a sweat. He'd had his post-fight interview rows with Benn before, but it wasn't that which concerned him. It was the general air of confusion, and the plight of McClellan. The uncontrolled shouting and general shoving was not helped by King's superactive sidekick, Mike Marley. Marley, a former New York boxing writer who had crossed over to the promotion side, was waving his hands about, pointing to TV people, to journalists, to trainers and various hangers-on. King stood about with a slightly comical regal air, waiting, as ever, to be interviewed. He occasionally looked towards McClellan's corner. Frank Warren was in the ring too, and subdued. He could see that McClellan was badly hurt.

Newbon tried to calm Benn, to capture the excitement with dignity. The TV clock was running down. Newbon had to ask his questions before the ads kicked in. He started to tell Benn how great he was, how he'd defied the odds. He wanted him to listen then respond with a few appropriate soundbites, as is the deal when TV is paying the freight. But Benn doesn't do soundbites or platitudes.

'Nigel,' Newbon began, 'that was not only your greatest performance, that was one of the greatest boxing performances of all time in this country.'

'Yeah, well, all you lot were geeing him up, giving it this, giving it that. I knew he wouldn't be able to go the distance...'

Benn, never looking at Newbon, broke off to wave his still-gloved fist again at the simmering crowd. 'Yeah!' he shouted.

'But Nigel . . .'

'No, no, you listen to me! I'd like to thank my trainer, Kevin Sanders. Everyone sayin' we ain't goin' anywhere without Jimmy Tibbs. Proved him wrong. And not only that, the person I'd like to thank most of all is Paul McKenna, who hypnotised me and made me believe in myself.'

Newbon, fearing a roll-call of everyone Benn had ever known in boxing, tried again to ask another question. Nigel would not be silenced.

'No, no. You listen to me. I'm always listenin' to you.'

They came to a muddled compromise and Newbon attempted to talk Benn through some highlights. But Gary started to lose it. As he swung around towards McClellan's corner, he said, 'Mike McCallum's actually very badly hurt and they've got a stretcher in here, Nigel. I'm sorry. Mike McClellan. Gerald McClellan. Sorry. I'm getting confused here.'

It was all unravelling. Mike McCallum, the world-class middleweight, had fought on the undercard. Newbon, who had his producer yelling corrections down his earpiece, motioned Benn away from McClellan's corner, where they'd been standing. And still there was no sensible dialogue between fighter and interviewer.

Out of the corner of his eye, Newbon had seen that McClellan had slipped from his stool and was lying on his back. His producer told him to get on with the interview and Newbon looked towards the board doctor to see if it was all right to continue. 'Gary!' shouted his producer. 'Get on with it!'

Benn had either not heard Newbon telling him about McClellan or had ignored it. 'No, mate. They only brought him over to bash me up, mate. I'm gonna say what I want to say. Let me tell you that now. They only brought him in to bash me up, mate. No chance ...no chance ...no chance...'

Benn was oblivious to everything and everyone, including McClellan. He only wanted to talk about the fight. At that moment in his life, it was his courage and his victory that defined him. He would allow nothing to intrude on that. 'I don't care if you knock me down, I was ready to go with him. Whatever he wanted to, I was going to match him. All the way, mate. All the way. Now you might start believin' in the Dark Destroyer. I'm number one. Second to no one!'

Benn's eyes had dimmed from wild to steady. Trance-like, even. He was still darting hard glances around the ring, only half-listening to Newbon, who had tried to signal to his production people to finish the interview as the ring descended into unmendable chaos.

'We're going to wrap this interview here, Jim, because we've got a serious problem with Gerald McClellan.'

Newbon was hoping the director would pan back for a final summing-up from Jim Rosenthal. The show had gone on long enough for Newbon. He was visibly affected by the fight and by Benn's responses and McClellan's collapse.

'It was terrible,' Newbon said later. 'My director wasn't really aware. Not his fault. So I'm saying, "This is serious, this is really serious." Everyone got a bit het-up and then we all realised there was a problem. We went into long-shot to get off the air.'

Benn turned away without ceremony. King touched his gloves in a gesture of congratulation, but Benn was not going to be soft-soaped by the promoter he reckoned had wanted him beaten.

Rosenthal, up in the gantry, wound it all down and the credits rolled over some of the key action. McClellan was still lying in his corner. The medics had gathered and the ambulance driver had his engine running outside the arena...

McClellan comes round in the ambulance and rips off the oxygen mask. Disorientated but briefly revived, he says to Johnson, 'What the fuck happen? I got knocked clean out, didn't I?'

Johnson squeezes Gerald's hand and tells him what he does not want to hear: 'No, man. You didn't get knocked out. You went down to one knee and you walked back to the corner and you quit.' This is the cold professional boxing assessment. Technically, it is accurate. McClellan refuses to believe it. He turns to Donnie and says, 'Donnie, you tell this motherfucker he lyin' to me, ain't he!' Donnie shakes his moonface from side to side and answers, 'No, G-Man, that's exactly what happen.'

In a little while, as the resident neurosurgeon Mr Sutcliffe and the staff at the Royal London Hospital begin preparing to save Gerald's life, Nigel Benn is wheeled into the cubicle next to him. He gets up, kisses Gerald's hand and says, 'Sorry.' Except Stan said later he never heard Nigel say that.

He heard something else, though.

Don King arrived soon after Benn to see the man who had been his fighter, the product he hoped would generate big money, but who would now definitely not play any further part in King's plans. Standing not far from Gerald's bed, Don turned to Stan and Donnie and said, 'Gerald quit, man ... He quit like a dog.'

Some dog.

Fighting for life (part 2)

Sunday 4 November 2001
Observer Sport Monthly

Illinois, August 2000: Gerald's house

It's the last one on the right. That's where the street ends. Near the old trainless railway line. It is an ordinary place, and anything but ordinary at the same time. Here is where Gerald sits as the noise swirls around him. The battle is all but done now, though. His sister Lisa does not expect the fight to carry on. When Gerald's money runs out, Lisa says she will move Gerald into her place. Stan reckons she will 'stick Gerry in a home'.

Lisa answers the door and I've yet to winkle a smile out of her. As I step inside, there on his green recliner is Gerald. This, as I had been warned, is a seriously disturbing moment.

In a way, any embarrassment or nervousness on a stranger's part is misplaced, given that McClellan would be unaware of who the stranger was. Yet there was an undeniable feeling coming off the big man that he knew more about you than you imagined. Maybe it was a fighter's sixth sense.

Lisa introduces us.

'This is Kevin!' she shouts into McClellan's left ear, the one that works best. 'Kevin, Gerald! From London, England!'

There is no response.

'He's a writer! He's come from London, England, to say hello to you, Gerald! Say hello to Kevin!'


'Yes! From London, England!'

'London? London, England? Kevin? Kevin from London? London, England?'

Gerald asks Lisa what's the difference between a writer and a reporter. Reporters he'd met. They were the guys who took down what he said after he'd won a fight. Lisa tells her brother reporters work for newspapers; writers, well, they write other stuff, like books.

'How much you weigh, Kevin?'

'About 12 stone, Gerald.'

'Twelve stone? Twelve stone?'

That was McClellan's division when he finished up, super-middleweight. It's struck a chord. Except he never reached 12 stone. He levelled out three pounds under the limit for Benn. Nobody would ever know if that was a factor in his collapse in the later rounds. Some suspected it was.

I am sitting awkwardly on the edge of the couch next to Gerald. Lisa tells me to take hold of his hand and to squeeze it as hard as I can. I'm not in the best position to do this comfortably, but I grab Gerald's right hand, the hand that only a few years ago was one of the most feared in boxing, the one that had made McClellan briefly famous, the right he'd busted on Julian Jackson's head then, nearly a year later, had used to hammer Benn.

As our skins touch, Gerald's face comes to life. He bears down tight on my much smaller hand, crushing the knuckles into a ragged line. I am unable to do anything about it and will remain in this bizarre position, perched on the couch with my hand in the grip of a blind man, for at least another hour. We try to talk, but there is not much of what you could call dialogue. Still, Gerald makes an effort to engage. There is a warmth in his faltering voice. He'd like to know about this strange man who's landed up in his front room.

'Kevin? From London, England? Hey, Kevin. Why did you come? Why you come to see the G-Man?'

'To see how you are, Gerald. To say hello and to see how you are. To wish you well.'

I would learn that Gerald could not take in a sentence of that length all at once. His powers of comprehension have been so shredded, he can only communicate in bursts of a few words, repeated over and over, shouted into his ear, as you prick some sensation in him by squeezing his right hand or pinching him above the right shoulder. These are the magic zones of life in McClellan's wrecked body. I am overcome with admiration for his courage.

We continue to shout each other's names at each other for several minutes, as Lisa sits nearby, attending to her stricken brother in a schoolmarm way, chiding him here and there, all the time rubbing his shoulder. Her face is emotionless. She has been through this wringer for more than five years. There is nothing left to cry about. Or to smile about. I think I see why she is so hard.

The television is on in the background, with the sound down. When Gerald talks it is with a crackling energy that drowns out the TV. He is a reduced presence the rest of the time, much like Ali, whose Parkinson's syndrome subdues a once overpoweringly alive human being. Gerald was a notorious 'rounder', to use the American expression. He once could not sit still. Now he has no choice. His movement is restricted to mundane bodily tasks. It is a world of milk and cookies, of trips to the bathroom, of going to bed, of getting up. He embroiders the boredom with love. If his children and other family come close, Gerald pours emotion on them, and asks them to give some back. It is as if all those wild nights in Detroit, with Deuce and Stan and Donnie and a cast of other unknowns, was leading to this. He was no saint, but he was an average sinner, by all accounts. He has come home.

My hand has seized up. It really has. I can feel nothing in my fingers. There is a patch of my back that has gone numb too. The only sensation there is a dull ache. It's going to take a Scotch or two to get rid of that. It's enough to have been allowed briefly into his heart, a stranger indulged and welcomed, but the exercise in stuttering communication is painful. I feel like a voyeur.

'I have to go now, Gerald!' I shout into his ear.

'Kevin? From London, England?'

'Yes! Thank you very much for having me in your house!'

'Hey, Kevin! Kevin! You stay with the G-Man next time, yeah?'

'Yes, Gerald! I'd like that. I'd like that very much!'

I prise my hand free. It is as white as a china plate. My back is in spasm. I stand up, physically drained and spiritually high. Gerald is led into his bedroom. His legs, which once conveyed him so smoothly around the ring, shift cumbersomely on their familiar journey. As he leaves the room, a horrible, cold emptiness takes his place.

Why do they do it? Why do we watch it?

Why? Why do men allow themselves to be led to a ring and fight each other for nothing more tangible than glory or money - when the price can be death or a lifetime of half-death?

It is Pride. Ego. The need to establish an identity. To make a living the only (or most efficient) way some men know how. All of these. And something else, surely.

An American scientist, Dr Craig Venter, disturbed some unshakeable verities earlier this year when he concluded that man is not genetically superior to the rest of nature. 'In many cases,' he said, 'we have found that humans have nearly exactly the same [number of] genes as rats, mice, cats, dogs and even fruit flies.'

Of mice and men and fruit flies. All God's dumb creatures.

If we are biologically little better than animals, maybe it is our baseness that makes us fight, a deep, rarely tapped urge to survive that can never be wholly 'civilised'.

This drags the conclusions closer to Darwin and his idea of survival of the fittest than it does to Nietzsche, who saw something more cerebral in the struggle, who urged us to conquer our inner self, without God, to become Superman. The triumph of the will.

For me, Eddie Futch expressed it best. I asked the wonderful old trainer once why he thought boxing existed in a society that might know better. 'Men just fight,' was his simple response. 'Look at kids. They run about, compete against each other without thinking. It is just natural, it's in them.'

And Eddie knew the flip side to fighting. Eddie was the man who probably saved Joe Frazier's life.

When Eddie accompanied Joe to Manila for the third fight between Frazier and Muhammad Ali in 1975, the air stank with cheap language. Ali, at his worst, called Joe a gorilla. 'Ignorant. Stupid. Ugly.' It slipped beyond pantomime. When Frazier heard what Ali said, he told Eddie, 'Whatever you do, whatever happens, don't stop the fight ...I'm gonna eat this half-breed's heart right out of his chest. I mean it. This is the end of him or me.'

After 14 rounds, Joe's right eye, his good one, was a purple mess and he could barely see. His body was closing down. So was Ali's. Futch, who knew Frazier's wife and children as friends, looked at him sitting spent on the stool and would not let Joe risk another three minutes. The most relieved man in the drama was not Joe, who felt cheated, but Ali. Joe and Eddie didn't find out until later, but Ali had had enough. He had 'gone through the trapdoor', as he described it afterwards. Joe, however, was ready to risk suicide - which is why he harbours bitterness towards Ali to this day. Joe is even sore, still, at Eddie.

Certainly, he resents the insults levelled at him, arguing with some strength that Ali demeaned his fighting integrity, as well as his dignity as a man. That, in Joe's view, demanded retribution. But they'd fight each other no more - which opened up a bigger hurt for Joe. He reckons now that, if he'd come out for the fifteenth round, Ali would not have been there to meet him. There is good evidence for that view. People in Ali's corner alerted his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to what was happening on the other side of the ring, as Futch was motioning the referee over to tell him Joe was quitting. A second or two later, and it might have been Dundee telling the referee that Ali wanted to quit. And Frazier would have won what the fine American boxing writer Jerry Izenberg called 'the championship of each other' by two fights to one.

For Futch at that point, however, the result of a boxing match was irrelevant. In pulling Frazier out while there was even a trace of fight left in him, he made a decision not based on animal urges, thirst for revenge or smart philosophy. He was not driven by the macho leanings of unbruised Fight Writers or the considerations of those who had promoted the fight. Futch just knew that, however compromised, man always has a choice.

Eddie had saved Joe having to make that choice. So Joe could always say it wasn't him who quit. Frazier didn't like to quit altogether, though. In his next bout, he even fought with contact lenses in. He boxed on too long for his own good, like Ali did, like Benn, like a thousand others. Futch only doused the fire for a moment. It flickered dangerously in Frazier's heart until even he could rise no more.

Joe is one of the few fighters who still makes the trip to the house at the bottom of Wyandotte Street. Sitting opposite him in the green recliner, he sees what might have been. And he knows Gerald is no motherfuckin' dog.

This is an edited extract from Kevin Mitchell's new book, 'War, Baby: The Glamour of Violence' published by Yellow Jersey Press. To order a copy for £8 plus p&p, call the OSM book service on 0870 066 7989.

Readers who would like to make a donation to Gerald McClellan should send it to the Gerald McClellan Estate, Fifth Third Bank, PO Box 660, Freeport, IL 61032.

The title fighter who wrapped his own hands

Kevin Sanders, Nigel Benn's trainer, had come to inspect the wrapping of Gerald's hands, as is boxing's custom. It is a gesture of fair play, but Kevin didn't reckon on finding any underhand activity, it was just a formality.

But, as he was walking back to Nigel's dressing room, Sanders thought about what he'd just seen: Gerald was wrapping his own hands. Fighters will do this in the gym, but just before a contest? It's not only difficult, it's pretty much impossible to do properly.

A boxer's hands are bomb sites, bumpy with hillocks of crunched-up gristle and bone. Much of the damage is inflicted on the back of the fist and near the wrist. That's where bones break if the wrapping isn't sound. I've seen it done expertly, trainers dragging the bandage tightly and precisely across the base of the wrist, securing the middle part of the thumb to bring balance to the hand, bulking up over the outside knuckles to level off the hitting area at the top of the fist, which relieves pressure on the two more prominent knuckles, then bringing the bandage around and under to form a comfortable ball in the palm of the hand. This is the Manny Steward method, copied by a lot of American and British trainers. What it puts on the end of a boxer's arm is a wrecking ball. As Glenn McCrory, the former world cruiserweight champion, put it to me once, wrap your fists up the right way and you can punch through a wall. Get it wrong and you're hitting with candyfloss.

Gerald had arrived in London without Steward or Willie Brown, his regular trainer and the man who latterly had been wrapping his hands. He had fallen out with Steward over money and soon afterwards Willie became unavailable. He told Gerald he was leaving the game, getting married. Gerald didn't believe him.

On fight night, therefore, Steward was sitting in front of the television back home in the States, and Gerald picked up the gauze and wrapped his hands. He would overcome.

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post Jul 24 2010, 06:56 PM
Post #6

Choppin Headz Boi!

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Gerald could've been one of the greats. He is better than Nigel Benn even though he lost that fight. I think he probably would've been Jones toughest fight back in the 90's.
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post Jul 24 2010, 07:07 PM
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McClellan vs Hearns - Kronk Exhibition

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post Jul 25 2010, 11:18 AM
Post #8

Born in England, Live in England, Die in England.

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Benn-McClellan was one of the most ferocious fights of all time. Absolutely brutal - both men gave everything in that fight. I'll always remember Benn, before he knew the severity of Gerald's injuries telling the post fight interviewer, "They brought him over here to bash me up!!"

Still, a few years later I read the book "War Baby" all about McClellan and I lost all the sympathy I had for the man. Of course, I wouldn't wish what happened to him on any fighter but that book, shit, it changed my views on him. Totally.
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post Jul 25 2010, 11:34 AM
Post #9


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QUOTE (Maxy @ Jul 25 2010, 12:18 PM) *
Benn-McClellan was one of the most ferocious fights of all time. Absolutely brutal - both men gave everything in that fight. I'll always remember Benn, before he knew the severity of Gerald's injuries telling the post fight interviewer, "They brought him over here to bash me up!!"

Still, a few years later I read the book "War Baby" all about McClellan and I lost all the sympathy I had for the man. Of course, I wouldn't wish what happened to him on any fighter but that book, shit, it changed my views on him. Totally.

Why did you're views change? I never read that book and I really don't know much about McClellan outside of the ring.
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post Jul 25 2010, 06:05 PM
Post #10

The Savage

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QUOTE (D-MARV @ Jul 25 2010, 11:34 AM) *
Why did you're views change? I never read that book and I really don't know much about McClellan outside of the ring.

I'm with you on that..Maxy,inform us..How ya gonna just post that with 0 details??
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