For boxing fans of a certain generation, namely mine, the fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan represents a seminal moment in our love of the sport. Retrospectively however, the fight creates disharmony amongst those that saw it. Fans crave to revel in the intensity of the combat, the purity of two men willing to put their mind, body and sense of who they were under the most intense physical pressure imaginable in the name of sport. Respect, and a degree of embarassment given our love of a sport that fundamentally places men at risk, forces restraint because of the sad conclusion to the fight.
It is impossible not marvel at a sport that can drive men to such extremes and the fight was as dramatic as it was barbaric. But of course boxing fans can’t hold up the fight as a example of what is great about the sport because somewhere, in the middle of the maelstrom of punches, Gerald McClellan a young fighter of ferocious intent and incredible potential got hurt. Not hurt as in cut, or bloodied, hurt as in broken.
Now confined to a wheelchair, blind and with almost complete hearing impairment the former champion cuts a tragic figure and the storyof his sisters’ struggles to maintain his healthcare only serve to compound the discomfort his present plight causes fans of the fight game. Although brimming with genuine, salt-of-the-earth people – in stark contrast to the image of gangsters, shady middlemen and money motivated promoters (though there are plenty of them too) – the sport of boxing has no structure or process for supporting fallen fighters whatever their success or means during their careers. And so on Saturday, at the behest of his opponent on that fateful night, Nigel Benn, a benefit evening is being held in London to raise, it is hoped, £150,000 toward the G-Man’s future care.
A host of fight faces will be there for what promises to be a sensational evening for those fortune enough to secure tickets.
ITV’s Boxing site is running a full article on the event and the fight, which is one of my lasting memories of boxing, both because of the fight itself but also because I remember watching it, inside a packed pub, all glued to the screen. A stark contrast to the present popularity of boxing, where a request to watch the boxing in the pub is met with a look of curious bemusement.
Ah for the good old days. Hard to believe 12 years have elapsed since that night, a night I spent in the Windmill Inn, Thorne, crammed shoulder to shoulder with the baying masses.