We take a look back on one of boxing’s memorable nights for the wrong reasons. The tragedy what came after Gerald McClellan’s loss to WBC Super Middleweight Champion Nigel Benn at the London arena which had been co-promoted by Don King and Frank Warren. McClellan would be coming into the fight a favourite with the bookies and was certain someone was going to get knocked out, but no one anticipated the horror that followed.
McClellan started the round superbly knocking Benn down in the first minute of the fight and actually sending Benn out the ring as he fell through the ropes and rolled out onto the canvas, and there was a lot of controversy regarding the referee at the time allowing Benn to beat the count. If you are knocked out of the ring completely, you are allowed a 20 count to get back to your feet, and likewise if your knocked down inside the ring, a count of 10 is given. Benn was knocked out of the ring, but was still hanging onto the canvas, and McClellan’s coach at the time was furious that the fight was allowed to go on. Benn was bouncing back strongly and the corner work in Gerald’s corner was clearly an issue.
He had recently split with Hall of fame legend boxing trainer Manny Steward and in turn hooked up with friend Stan Johnson. Stan’s knowledge of working the corner was questionable, when ITV interviewers went to see McClellan, it was reported he even said “these idiots don’t have a clue”, McClellan also used to wrap his own hands, is the coach’s job. Manny Steward said after the fight that if he was still working the corner, the tragedy would not have happened. McClellan reportedly said after round six to his corner “I wanna quit, Stan” However his coach Stan Johnson denies this ever being said.
The fight bought massive entertainment as the fight went on, turning in to an absolute brawl sending the fans crazy. Frank Bruno was seen jumping up and down in the front row in a bright red suit, supporting his long friend Nigel Benn. In the later stages of the fight, Benn was knocked down again but he came back fighting and throwing wildly, desperate to connect one of these slug punches on McClellan’s chin. Whilst this was going on it was clear to see McClellan was having trouble with his breathing as he was fighting with his mouth guard hanging out, implying trouble getting oxygen in. He was also repeatedly blinking and touching his eye as if he had a cut there, but there was no evidence of any blood. McClellan was showing clear signs in hindsight, but at the time it was going unnoticed to the doctors at ringside.
In the tenth round Benn hit McClellan with a punch that dropped him to one knee, causing the referee to start to count him out. He got back up, and after suffering a few more blows he took a knee again, this time allowing the referee to count him out completely. McClellan walked back to his corner and collapsed to the floor, being put in a neck brace and given oxygen and whilst this was going on, Benn had also collapsed on his way back to the dressing room due to exhaustion. Gerald had suffered a blood clot from his brain and his career as a world boxing star was over.
McClellan’s life was to be changed forever. He is blind, has very limited hearing, short term memory loss and he needs a wheelchair. For the first few months McClellan refused to think he was blind, and actually thought it was still nighttime.McClellan often asks his sister if he won the fight that night, and she will still tell him no. He is unable to care for himself and receives full time assistance. A massive shame that it wasn’t picked up on sooner, but putting the blame on anyone would be a harsh statement. No one anticipated what would have happened, and after calls for boxing to be banned, procedures were put in place to ensure the safety of all fighters.
Time had gone by, and McClellan’s trainer Stan Jackson claimed there had been blood found on Gerald’s boot which had been tested for drugs, and the results came back finding anabolic steroids, due to McClellan suffering no cuts in the fight, the blood did not come from him. This is an accusation Nigel Benn denies.