They say boxing is like war.
The object being for one man to destroy the other.
Observers may not like it, but that’s what fighters say.
Gerald McClellan was one of the hardest punchers anyone had seen.
A product of the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit, home to many champions.
McClellan came to London to fight Nigel Benn.
He said he wanted to damage Benn, to kill him in fact.
Now Benn was good.
But no one had ever seen anything like Gerald McClellan.
He had a punch like a wrecking ball.
He demolished his first four opponents inside the first round.
He knocked out fifteen of his opponents inside three rounds.
If you got hit by McClellan you stayed hit.
Lights out, game over.
So no one gave Benn a chance, the odds were four to one against him.
And the fight went pretty much as expected.
The bell rang, the two fighters came out of their corners.
McClellan connected and knocked Benn clean out of the ring.
Just as expected, another easy first round knockout for McClellan.
Except it wasn’t.
As McClellan was walking back to his corner, thinking about packing for his flight home, a strange thing happened.
Benn did something McClellan hadn’t seen before.
He got up.
He took the biggest punch McClellan could throw, and he got up and climbed back in the ring.
That wasn’t in the script.
What McClellan hadn’t allowed for was that Nigel Benn wasn’t a boxer, he was a fighter.
Before he turned pro, he’d been the champion of the British Army.
Which means he was harder and tougher than every other man in the entire army.
And in the next round, Benn did something else McClellan hadn’t seen before.
He hit McClellan back, hard, a lot.
And suddenly McClellan was in a real fight, a war.
And something else happened that McClellan wasn’t used to.
The bell went for round four, and his opponent was still standing.
The fight went beyond three rounds.
Now the four-to-one favourite was in uncharted territory.
He could knock this man down, but he couldn’t knock him out.
Benn kept coming back.
McClellan battered Benn around the ring, he threw everything at him.
And Benn threw everything he had back.
Benn said all he knew was that this fight was going to go the full twelve rounds.
Whatever happened, he’d make sure he was still standing at the end.
Then a strange, terrible, thing happened that no one could have foreseen.
McLennan went down on one knee, and he didn’t get up, he was counted out.
Then he went back to his corner and he collapsed.
He was taken to hospital where they discovered a blood clot on his brain and had to operate immediately.
No one, not McLennan, not Benn, not the seconds, not the experts, not the doctors, saw it coming.
At any point it could have gone the other way.
If Nigel Benn had listened to anyone else.
All the odds, all the expert opinion, said he was mad to continue.
This was only ever going to end one way.
But it didn’t end that way.
It ended a way none of the experts even knew was on the cards.
With Nigel Benn as world champion.
Of course it happened a terrible way.
Everyone wishes it hadn’t happened that way.
But McClellan had been prepared to kill Benn.
It just didn’t turn out that way.
Sometimes, no one can tell how it’s going to turn out.
All you can do is make sure you’re still standing at the end.
Just in case.