The Thin Line Between Triumph and Tragedy in Boxing

By Matt Ford - 05/06/2023 - No comments

In life we are always posed with questions and dilemmas. We face new problems every day and for the most part we tackle them head on. Heck, we thrive on them.

As a boxing fanatic, there are always plenty of moral dilemmas and questions being thrown our way; ‘You fund and encourage a blood sport on a constant basis’ is one popular generalization that can probably be thrown around without any thought.

In this game that we like to call the ‘sweet science’ the line between triumph and tragedy is razor-thin, and it is just as entertaining watching that line as it is watching the fighters who walk on it.

Being a boxing fan is a unique feeling, an embrace that probably draws some people to the game in itself. Joe public loves huddling around to watch a Tank Davis or Deontay Wilder knock somebody senseless in their bi-monthly pay per view extravaganza. This is different.

I have these feelings spark inside of me every time I immerse myself back into the brutality that was the 25.02.1995 bout between Gerald McClellan and Nigel Benn.

For the less informed, the almost unstoppable American Gerald McClellan ventured to Britain for his first fight at super middleweight after seemingly conquering the middleweight division. In his way was the champion of the weight class, Nigel Benn. A blockbuster fight was signed. Benn, who was still lightly regarded in the presence of the ‘G-Man’ (McClellan) was more than ready for the violence that would ensue.

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In front of a hostile British crowd, McClellan knocked Benn down and out of the ring (literally) in the first round. To experts and observers alike it was going to be an earlier night than expected. That is where the fun stopped. Benn pulled himself back into the ring at the ‘9 count and the battle was on.

What came next were nine more rounds of back and forth brutality, dominated mostly by Benn but with numerous one punch power shots from McClellan which would of put a lesser man to sleep. Things got worrisome when McClellan started struggling to keep his mouth guard in place and demonstrated a strange blinking pattern. Round ten arrived and Benn landed an innocuous right hand to the temple area of McClellan, causing him to drop to one knee with a look of utter confusion on his face. McClellan got up and after another few feather duster punches, the G-Man was on the floor again.

Same knee, same facial expression. The fight was waved off, as was McClellan’s life as he knew it.

Gerald McClellan wandered back to his corner after the wave off, leant on the ropes with the support of his elbows and promptly collapsed. As jubilation and exuberance filled the ring around Nigel Benn, the G-Man lay motionless with paramedics rushing the over crowded corner of the ring that he lay in. Gloves still strapped and sweat still fresh.

McClellan, the odds on favourite pre fight and the most terrifying man in and around these weight divisions at the time of the bout was rushed to hospital and taken straight to emergency for the removal of a blood clot on the brain. He was in a coma for 11 days.

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McClellan has lost the ability to walk, is 80% deaf and is legally blind. It is hard to confront things like this and it happens often in the fight game- more than ‘casual’ fans may ever know.

This is a high profile case, and we need to appreciate that this is the name of the game we follow and that most talented fighters who get into it have a thirst for this. We just feed them with our money and general interest. An interesting aside is that not one big name fighter had visited the crippled McClellan before 2007, and most say it was just fear of seeing what could happen to them the next time they jump in the squared circle.

Fighters and fans alike know what they are getting themselves into by investing so much into this sport but not many would want it any other way.

The grandest of all competitions and the most pure way of judging physical ability, the sweet science sits alone. Serious injury and death are a stigma this sport has but beyond that it is the most graceful of art forms.

It is as barbaric as it is beautiful.