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Benn v McClellan – One night in 1995

Gerald McClellan Nigel BennBy Daniel Hughes: In over 30 years of watching boxing from here in the UK the one fight that stands out for me on these shores as the most brutal, enthralling but ultimately tragic fight I have witnessed, has to be Nigel Benn v Gerald McClellan.

On the 25th February, 1995, in the new London Arena, in London, UK, bared witness to the coming together of Nigel Benn 42(35kos)-5-1 and Gerald McClellan 31(29kos)-2 for the WBC super-middleweight title.

The hype pre-fight had seen many hard words spoken by both. McClellan making threats lit a fire in Benn and responded in kind no one was left in any doubt both were going in looking for a knockout, neither thought the judges would be needed. The type of hype that is genuine and not manufactured, the public wanting to witness a war only boxing can provide were about to witness a fight that changed both men’s lives forever. To the writers, fans here in the UK we had heard a lot about McClellan.
McClellan, the mini Mike Tyson in many ways, moving up from middleweight to challenge Nigel Benn, be under no illusions the written scribes here and many of Benn’s own fans made McClellan a clear favorite. He had just knocked out the vicious punching Julian Jackson at middleweight for a second time, dispatching him in one round in 1994. Jackson was a feared, respected fighter by everyone in the fight game. The warning of what Benn was about to face he heeded. The training and preparation Benn put himself through would serve him well. The champion trained like the challenger.

McClellan’s the preparations for Benn were all over the place. It looked like the fighter ran the camp. The training team inexperienced and frankly incompetent at this level. McClellan had moved up in weight a forgotten fact he came in 2lb’s under the 168lb limit. The inside word being the fighter was almost training himself. To think he was trained by hall of famer Emanuel Steward. He had left the camp the falling out being about his fee. How he was missed in the preparations and the corner that February night in 1995.

The fight itself could and possibly should have been over in the first round. Benn knocked clean out of the ring in the first, pushed back in fighting on instinct the first few rounds as the haze cleared. The referee Alfred Azaro could not speak English and looked in over his head as both fighters tried to get away with fouling. It was brutal back and forth action. Benn landing cleanly against McClellan who had neglected it seemed, his defensive work. War of attrition, the action relentless. Benn getting clear instructions between rounds, McClellan getting organized chaos.

Benn stayed in the fight, and even took another count in round 8. McClellan, going for broke, he was visibly tiring the pace and intensity had started to slow his work. He had started to look distressed between rounds having problems with his mouth guard and blinking his corner oblivious to what was unfolding.

The 10th and tragically last round, McClellan twice had to take a knee the second time being counted out. The events that unfolded afterwards of course sadly, changed many people’s lives. Boxing beautiful at times brutal at others. Many thousands of words have been spoken about the most brutal fight I have ever witnessed. It started off as just another fight, another day 25th February, 1995 boxing laid bare.


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