REQUIEM FOR A MIDDLEWEIGHT - December 1997
By Thomas Gerbasi
I don't want you to think I'm getting sentimental, but this week I'll take off from my ranting and raving about the Sprewells and Phillipses of the world to focus on something much more important. This is a story that is great for the holiday season in that it should make you a little more thankful for the good things you have. So stop complaining about whether you can find Sleep and Snore Ernie, or whether you're going to get a bonus this year. The fact that you can get up and walk around and be able to complain makes you one of the lucky ones. Gerald McClellan is not one of the lucky ones.
It's been said that time waits for no man. This is especially true in boxing. As the DeLa Hoyas, Holyfields, and Joneses continue their assaults on their various weight divisions, there sits a forgotten champion in a room in Freeport, Illinois. There are no unification bouts, no million dollar paydays, and no visions of boxing immortality in his future. In fact, the brutal nature of his chosen vocation has rendered him blind.
This is no broken down old pug, no lifetime "opponent" used as cannon fodder for boxing's up and comers. This fighter was at the top of his game, one of boxing's pound for pound best. Gerald McClellan was on a collision course with Roy Jones Jr. to engage in a true 90's Superfight. But on February 25, 1995, everything changed...forever.
It's funny how some things leave a mark on your memory forever. On that Saturday night, I wasn't even planning on watching Showtime's tape delayed broadcast of McClellan's bout with England's Nigel Benn. McClellan had cut a path of destruction throughout the middleweight ranks, and I figured Benn to be another victim. But while watching ESPN's 11pm showing of SportsCenter, mention was made of the fight. The first word I heard was "tragedy". While waiting to see highlights, the anchors announced that the fight was still being shown on tape delay, so there would be none. I was instantly on the phone to my father to see if he was still awake. He was, and he was watching the fight. The second round had just concluded. In the first, Benn had been sent through the ropes by McClellan. "Don't bother coming. This one will be over soon." my father said. But unfortunately, I knew better. I made it to the house one round later, and I watched the drama unfold.
Based on the eventual result, it was fitting that the fight was held in a darkened English arena. It was an eerie atmosphere, made more so by the soccer style chants of Benn's supporters. The fight itself was brutal, with both men taking loads of punishment. Benn hit the canvas again in the eighth, but he rose, taking the fight to the Champion. By the tenth round, McClellan was blinking constantly, and you just had a gut feeling that something was very wrong. Gerald took a knee twice, the second time for a 10 count. The fight was over, and two things continue to bother me: the helplessness I felt at watching McClellan blinking in obvious distress, and Ferdie Pacheco's idiotic comments in which he questioned Gerald's heart.
And while the mainstream sports press relegated McClellan to a couple of paragraphs in the back of the sports section, I tried my best to keep abreast of the situation. We all know the rest. McClellan slipped into a coma, and while he came out of it, his life has been destroyed forever. He is blind, confined to a wheelchair, and he will be under 24 hour a day care from his three sisters for the rest of his life. This is a tragedy. To this day, this whole situation makes me sick. And I can't even say that it could have been avoided. McClellan was no club fighter, he hadn't taken any beatings in the ring previous to this, and he wasn't at the tail end of a long career. He was approaching his prime, and within 40 minutes in a London ring it was over. It was quick, brutal, and final.
And of course this gives the AMA more fuel in their quest to ban boxing. And what can a boxing fan say? This fight was a war, a toe to toe battle which left one man disabled for life. I can't say a thing. Boxing is a brutal sport, and one which has a goal of knocking your opponent senseless. But that does not stop me from following the sport as fervently as ever. And if you're reading this, I'm sure you agree with me. But we can never forget Gerald McClellan.
Over three years have passed since that night in London. While Gerald's condition has improved since then, he is still in need of constant care from his three sisters, Lisa, Stacey, and Sandra. Let's not forget Gerald McClellan.
This site is to help keep Gerald in the public eye. With current news updates from his sister Lisa, photos, articles, and an interactive message board, we can do that.
It's the least we, as boxing fans, can do...