Sunday, July 03, 2005

The ethics of being a boxing fan...

This morning I watched Nigel Benn Vs Gerald McClellan. It is 30 minutes of pure carnage, at the end of which McClellan is physically damaged beyond repair. Powerfully struck by the fight... I searched online about McClellan and came across an incredible article from 2001, which paints an intimate portrait of who Gerald was before the fight, and who he is as a result of it.

This is the letter I wrote the author of the article, which I think elaborates upon what I was thinking and feeling:

I just finished reading an article you wrote about Gerald McClellan that was published in the Guardian in 2001. It was a powerful, beautifully insightful piece of journalism and I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on what I read.

I had awoken this morning to my Limewire (file sharing software) having downloaded Nigel Benn Vs Gerald McClellan on my computer… I have been a fairly enthusiastic boxing fan for about five years or so now, and I frequently enjoy downloading classic bouts like Castillo-Corrales, Gatti-Ward, Duran-Leonard, while also perusing the current crop of aspirant pound for pounders, like Winky Wright, and Floyd Mayweather.

I'm only relatively young at 26, and I must have been around sixteen when Benn fought McClellan in 95... too busy discovering girls, alcohol, and dance clubs todigest the sports stories of the day in any meaningful way. I became interested in the prospect of watching the fight after reading an article in Boxing Monthly where Ricky Hatton's victory was compared to the other great British victories by a vast array of the sports’ contempories. While I was familiar with most of the fights mentioned... the kind of dramatic context with which people described Benn Vs McClellan caught my attention. It wasn’t the tragic epitaph of the fight that caused what I read to linger in my mind… it was the dynamics of the fight itself… a stirring, spirited comeback from Nigel Benn in what had appeared a fight that he had lost. This was something I wanted to see and experience for myself.

I've watched many fights over the past few months online. I watched Gatti and Ward’s relentless power slugging over the course of three battles. I watched Corrales get taken apart by Castillo in their final round, only for Corrales to spit out his mouth guard twice during each knockdown and exploit the afforded extra seconds to gather himself. He finally arose to courageously walk through Castillo’s spitfire punches and knock him out in devastating style. And, of course, recently, I saw Hatton ferociously smother Kosta Tzyu.

These fights were beautifully brutal to me. Each of them made me gasp in exhilaration, and astonishment… each fight further educated me about the technical, and tactical science of the sport… each fight reflected the sheer will and courage of the human warrior spirit to overcome all odds.

Watching McClellan Vs Benn this morning was not an experience I can compare to those I've mentioned. The fight was more savage than all of the above put together, but in a very different way. It was savage watching McClellan’s mouth guard hang from his mouth as he struggled to breathe in the later rounds. It was savage slowly watching an outstanding ring craftsmen disperse in his own mind as something went terribly wrong physiologically inside his brain. It was savage and heart breaking witnessing all of the signs McClellan exhibited that he was becoming increasingly unwell... especially when contrasted to the aggressive bravado of his corner men, giving him no respite or potential opportunity to fully contemplate his physical condition in between rounds.

Yes, Benn would have been TKO’d in round one by any proficient referee today, but that doesn’t explain what followed... it only provides a sense of how tenuous circumstance is, and how, circumstance permitting, everything might have been so different. The savagery is made all the more difficult to digest because of Benn’s unremorseful attitude at the end of the fight, as, by comparison, McClellan’s physical pretense fades, and from walking to the corner, he sits on the ring apron, and eventually slumps onto the floor...

I was shocked, appalled and wracked with guilt as a boxing fan. I thought about Hatton walking through Tzyu’s big right hands, I thought about the glazed look on Castillo’s face as Corrales finally began to connect in that final round, and I thought about the joviality with which I enjoyed watching Gatti and Ward take themselves to the razor’s edge of destruction.

I could weigh up the ethical deliberations involved: the autonomy of these men as individuals to make their own choices, etc… but, I’m much more interested in the human dimension. These men are more than technique... more than a brawler, or a puncher, or, like Floyd Mayweather, a veritable magician in between the ropes. And, I guess that’s what I was searching for when I began to look online for news of McClellan. His humanity, which I felt, was so sorely demeaned by the events of that night.

Your article was everything I was looking for… an intricate evocation of the man. I one day hope to be a writer. But, I doubt very much I’ll ever write anything as important as the story you told. There was nothing sentimental about Gerald, and consequently all sentimentality drained from my thoughts as I read about his passion for dog fighting, and almost psychopathic characteristics, running over birds in the street. It’s funny that none of those details make the image of him lying under the ropes of ring, tended to by medical professionals any less tragic. The video I had was also of the Showtime production, and your quotations of the commentary made the description of the fight all the more personal as I relived it. His compassion he displayed for his dog, Deuce, showed that this was a man at war with the way the world made him, as much as he was at war with the world. The images you depicted of his health in 2001 made the reality so much worse. On that night everyone else walked away from the carnage, anecdotally reducing the events to an 'all time favorite fight', or even a moral distaste for the sport, or something ambiguously in between… and I do not doubt I will do the same… but, the minutiae of that night that you so brilliantly described is something Gerald McClellan has to live with every second he remains alive.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough as it is. I just really wanted to write to you and let you know how much I appreciated your article. It certainly helped me grapple with my own responses to the fight, as well as being a truthful representation of Gerald’s humanity.

I’ve always wanted to be a fiction writer, and recently returned to the UK, from Los Angeles and a successful marketing career to pursue that dream. But, such is the extent to which I found your article inspirational; maybe journalism is something I might explore.

Like I said, thanks for the inspiration.

************

It was a great article. The reason why I posted this letter was that I was just checking my favorite news feed for boxing stories and I saw that Martin Sanchez, a mexican, super lightweight contender, died after being knocked out in Las Vegas. It's a strange feeling i have right now... I still love the sport so much.

Whatever little it means, Gerald McClellan is a warrior, a courageous man still fighting his toughest battle, which just gets worse day by day. He is blind, and almost completely deaf. His story isn't one that I'll forget anytime soon...

...and maybe it should be that way for every boxing fan.

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Image hosted by flickr.com


Image hosted by flickr.com
  • The Gerald McClellan trust fund

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