• Harry Twort

Benn vs McClellan: A night that changed their lives forever

With Conor Benn taking on Columbian welterweight Samuel Vargas on 10th April, we have a look back at a night that changed Conor’s dad Nigel’s life forever. On 25th February 1995, Nigel ‘the dark destroyer’ Benn took on heavy fisted American Gerald ‘The G-Man’ McClellan at the London arena at the risk of the WBC World super-middleweight title with Benn fishing for his 7th title defence. The fight was co-promoted by Frank Warren and Don King who were at the time two of the best promoters in the world of boxing. The bout was made at super-middleweight with both fighters going into the contest with a win in their previous fights.

Prior to the fight, Benn, known as a fighter more than a boxer, came into the fight with an impressive record of 39-2-1 with notable wins against tough American Doug DeWitt and Iran Barkley, a man who knocked out Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns in 1992. McClellan was a 3-1 favourite and for good reason. His record at the time, 31-2 with 29 Ko’s, oozed power and explosiveness and it was clear the G-Man let his power known to opponents, coming off 14 straight knockout wins with remarkably 10 being in the first round

The Fight was a sellout with over 10,000 boxing fans being in the arena that night and were all in loud voice wanting the Brit Benn to beat the odds and get the job done. The first bell of the night was heard and the fighters went straight to the centre of the ring and it was clear that McClellan was trying to get Benn out of there early, pressuring him hard and landing numerous body shots. All of a sudden, Gerald’s pressure and bombardment of early heavy hooks eventually paid off causing Benn’s legs to give way sending him straight through the ropes. Benn climbed up and under the ropes but it was clear to see Referee Alfred Asaro had given Benn more time than the usual count to get up. Every single person thought that Benn wouldn’t make it through this round, as he looked to have very wobbly legs and the power that The G-man possessed was very frighting, so putting two and two together, any fighting fan would think this is the end of this brawl, right?

Benn, using his pure heart and determination, bobbed and weaved all he could catching a few vicious hooks to the chin on the way. The rest of round 1 was all McClellan as expected as Benn was fighting for his life by clinching and trying to move out the way of as many rockets from Gerald as possible. It really wasn’t looking promising for Benn. One minute was up and the fighters came out for round 2 and energetically Benn was now firing at all cylinders and backing up McClellan. The crowd were belting out excitement at the top of their lungs as Benn had turned the tables and is now chasing Gerald around the ring, ducking out of the way of McClellan’s attacks whilst swinging a variety of hurtful looking hooks towards the head and body of the American. As the roars of ‘Benn’ waved around the arena, it certainly looked like The dark destroyer had figured out McClellan. Landing hook after hook at the head of McClellan, it was clear Benn had taken round 2 in style and left everyone in shock as of how he’d came back and survived from a notoriously powerful fighter and made critics wonder how this one was going to end.

Round 3 began and started out the same way as round 2 with Benn chasing a more weakened McClellan around the ring, pulverising him with damaging hooks and jabs. A lacklustre looking Gerald looked like he didn’t know what to do to overcome the champ. Towards the end of the round 3 a sloppy looking McClellan started to gain some success but that didn’t seem to faze Benn too much.

Round 4 started with Benn again being the aggressor, backing Gerald down just like he did in the previous two rounds. Benn carried on bullying The G-man, having near enough all the success in round 4. Both boxers strolled out from both corners to begin Round 5 and it began with Benn using his high work rate to chase his opponent around the ring and applying a magnificent amount of pressure.

However, a worrying habit kept coming from McClellan and that was that he kept near enough spitting him gumshield out which suggested he was struggling to breath properly. Round 6 started with Benn again pushing Gerald around the ring landing many different shots and eventually hurting McClellan in the final seconds of the round. The 7th round ignited and saw Gerald become the aggressor towards the start, finding much more punching room and overall was a much more even round with both men having their own moments of success.

Round 8 was a downfall for Benn as he was purely exhausted, relying on his warrior-like heart to keep him going. He then got rocked by Gerald causing him to tumble down to the canvas with many doubting he will climb up, down to pure exhaustion. Nigel beat the count and came back with a beautiful left hook to bring the end of round 8. Round 9 began with neither gaining too much of an edge until Benn threw an overhand right, causing him to accidentally headbutt Gerald, forcing him to take a knee and making him go into his shell. It was very strange to see whilst watching. This then allowed Benn to bomb away with shots, winning the round comfortably.

Round 10 is one that would put the finishing touches to sadly end the amazing career of The G-Man. Benn came out the aggressor, swinging a left hook and causing McClellan to take a knee. Gerald got up but he was far from ok. Benn rushed back at him with an uppercut and caused Gerald to again take a knee... French Referee Alfredo Asaro counted to 10 and called the fight. McClellan had quit and walked back over to his corner and was in a worrying state. Before a stall was put in the corner, Gerald crashed to the apron and trainer Stan Johnson talked about the proceeding moments, “he looked up at me and said, man that water you squirted on my head feels like that s*** running inside my head”. Devastatingly, McClellan had suffered a massive blood clot to the brain being left blind, hearing impaired, brain damage and being unable to walk. The blood clot suffered from the fight limited his short-term memory and his long-term memory is only selected. He underwent a three and a half hour procedure to remove the clot which then left him in a coma for two months.

This fight was a travesty before it had even started, as the referee who was chosen couldn’t speak a word of English and many people believe he was one of the people at fault of the tragedy of what happened to Gerald McClellan. Another person who many believed could have prevented the tragedy was Gerald’s trainer Stan Johnson. Geralds sister and now carer said in an interview “I can’t even say you can classify him as a coach”. Former trainer of McClellan’s the late and legendary Emmanuel steward said “Up until the fight with Nigel Benn I understand it was complete chaos”.

Going back to the worrying sign in the 5th round of McClellan’s gumshield hanging out of his mouth, many people said the situation should have been looked over when his gumshield wouldn’t stay put in his mouth due to the indication that Gerald was not getting a substantial amount of oxygen. In round 9 it came apparent that McClellan kept on blinking, leaving everyone wondering why he kept doing it. Many people asked the Referee on the night as to why he didn’t stop it with warning signs of blinking and he simply responded “anyone can blink, it is not a reason to stop the fight”. Lisa McClellan also claimed that at the end of the 6th round Gerald said “I wanna quit, Stan”. However Johnson denies these accusations. In London on 24th February, 2007 an event was arranged by Nigel Benn to benefit Gerald McClellan with $175,000 being raised through items being auctioned off. A generous $50,000 was also donated by promoters of the fight Frank Warren and Don King. Gerald now lives with his carer and sister Lisa in his hometown of Freeport, Illinois, USA. Nigel Benn went on to fight another 5 times before calling it a day and currently has two sons who are in the professional game, Conor and Harley.

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Written By Harry Twort