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McClellan's world is upside down

By Greg Logan / Newsday


FREEPORT, Ill. -- Gerald McClellan was in one of his combative moods, arguing with his sister Sandra, whose turn it was to watch over her brain-damaged brother, a former middleweight boxing champion of the world. Sandra and sisters Lisa and Stacy, who divide each day into eight-hour shifts of shared nursing care, had learned patience with Gerald's outbursts since he returned home from a hospital in August, but this time Sandra put her foot down.

"Gerald threw something on the floor and told her to pick it up, but Sandra asked him to pick it up," said Lisa, describing an incident that occurred recently. "He told her he couldn't because he was blind."

Acknowledging that sad, simple truth poked the first hole in Gerald McClellan's wall of denial about the severe injuries he suffered in a 10th-round knockout loss to World Boxing Council super-middleweight champion Nigel Benn on Feb. 25, 1995, in London. For the first time since that terrible night, McClellan admitted, "I'm blind."

The Benn fight ended with McClellan being counted out after two successive knockdowns. He then lapsed into a coma after suffering a massive blood clot on the brain that was removed in a life-saving 3 1/2-hour operation. McClellan remained in a medically induced coma for 11 days and was hospitalized for slightly less than six months. Lisa McClellan said test results from the Mayo Clinic indicate Gerald suffered two strokes at the time of his injury, and he may have had a heart attack.

Although McClellan's eyes and ears are healthy, a high percentage of brain cells that affect eyesight and verbal comprehension are dead. As a result, he is blind and constantly asks those talking to him to repeat themselves as if he is hard of hearing. There has been slight improvement in his limited short-term memory and selective long-term memory.

Until his recent admission of blindness, McClellan refused to confront the subject of his injuries, excusing his lack of sight by saying, "It's dark."

"I told him he was blind, and he got angry," Lisa said. "But he accepted everything else. I told him he went into a coma and almost died in the fight against Benn. I explained the head butt (in the ninth round that doctors believe created the blood clot).

"I told him he won the fight but they gave Nigel the decision. I told him he stayed in the hospital six months. His questions went on for an hour. He hasn't talked about it since then."

How much McClellan really understands is a mystery. When he repeats the same conversation over and over, he appears to be straining to remember. In any case, his condition has turned his sisters' lives upside down. They now devote themselves to his full-time care, and for that, they each receive a meager salary of $227 per week from his trust fund.

The McClellan family, which had its share of troubles before Gerald's injury, has splintered because of differences over how to care for him. McClellan's mother, Genola, has an alcohol problem that prevents her from helping. His father, Emmit Sr., is estranged from the family since losing a guardianship hearing in November in which he was opposed by his daughters.

McClellan's aunt, Linda Shorter, was appointed guardian. Sandra, 31, Lisa, 26, and Stacy, 23, all of whom have families of their own, manage their brother's 24-hour care, and half-brother Emmit Jr., 32, sometimes helps. Another half-brother, Vincent, 31, is not involved, and brother Todd, 29, is serving a prison term for battery. Gerald's former live-in girlfriend, Angela Brown, moved out with their 2-year-old daughter, Forrest, because of financial and personal differences with McClellan's sisters. Gerald also has two sons, 6-year-old Gerald Jr., who lives with his mother in Madison, Wis., and Mandale, 5, who lives with his mother in Detroit.

The McClellans' family problems have become entwined in a dispute with promoter Don King over his financial and moral obligations to Gerald. When Lisa McClellan went public in November with charges that King paid Gerald less than he expected for the Benn fight and questioned the amount of an insurance settlement from the World Boxing Council, it attracted the attention of the FBI.

The central issue is the $250,000 purse McClellan received -- $200,000 plus $50,000 for training expenses. During the guardianship hearing, Emmit Sr. testified the purse was supposed to be $450,000. Asked why his son received $200,000 less, he said, "Because when Gerald got hurt, Don King took the original contract back and ran a phony contract on him." Emmit admitted he never saw any contract, but he alleged that King sent someone to retrieve the original from Gerald's London hotel room while he was hospitalized.

Since the hearing, Emmit has recanted, saying Gerald's former trainer, Detroit's Emanuel Steward, told him the purse should have been $450,000, but "as far as the record goes, Gerald should receive $250,000."

Steward said McClellan "went to the day before the fight and didn't know what he was getting."

King has turned down all requests to provide copies of the contract to news organizations or to the McClellan family, and he denies that it mysteriously disappeared after the fight. "The contract was never lost," King said. "It's here. It is what it says it is -- $200,000 plus $50,000 for training expenses."


Not counting the $50,215.37 he received for training, McClellan's purse was reduced to $62,920.75 by deductions for expenses, the largest of which was a settlement of $119,275.25 paid to McClellan's manager, John Davimos, and Steward, who split with McClellan before the Benn fight. Lisa says Gerald was led to believe King would pay that judgment without deducting it.

Davimos said he and Steward went to court to recover that amount from McClellan because he had not paid them for his previous fights with them. "Gerald told me Don King was going to pay the $119,000," Davimos said. "Two days before the Benn fight, I got a check from Don King Productions for $119,000. Immediately after the fight, Don King stopped payment on the check. I said, 'No chance. You made a deal with Gerald. I'll force the judgment.' King said, 'Gerald is in this situation; you can't take the money.' I told Don I'd pick my own charities. Who knew he was going to take it out of Gerald's purse?"

King agreed he asked Davimos and Steward not to take the money, saying, "These two guys are so cold-blooded they didn't give (the McClellans) a dime." But King denied Lisa's claim he promised to pay the $119,000 judgment.

King has been the largest single contributor to McClellan's trust fund with two donations totaling $56,519.44. He also paid $22,595 for McClellan's stay at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor after he was transported from London in April via an air ambulance that King said cost him an additional $90,443.25. That brings his total contribution toward McClellan's medical care to $169,557.69.

In typically grandiose King fashion, the release, titled "Promises Made, Promises Kept," said King paid more than $500,000 on McClellan's behalf, but that included the $250,000 purse. While King's noncontractual contributions of more than $258,000 sound generous, Lisa McClellan takes a more cynical view based on her allegations that King promised her brother $319,000 he never received, including additional purse money and payment of the judgment owed to Davimos and Steward.

Considering Gerald McClellan was WBC middleweight champion when he moved up to the 168-pound super-middleweight class to meet Benn, most boxing insiders would agree he was drastically underpaid at $250,000. Lisa said she believed Benn received $1.7 million. King said Benn's purse wasn't that high but said he did not know the exact figure. Although McClellan held the WBC middleweight title for nearly two years with King as his promoter, his assets at the time of his guardianship hearing totaled only $265,000.


Copyright 1996, The Detroit News

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