Former Milwaukee boxer Gerald McClellan still in the fight of his life
You would have had a hard time convincing any of those in attendance that Gerald McClellan would just become a footnote to boxing.
"I wouldn't have missed this for anything in the world. Gerald was changing the fight game, and he was just that good. There will never be another G-Man," said former Milwaukee middleweight Marnix Stamps.
Stamps wished that the turnout would have been bigger but he understood. "It's hard for some fighters to see him like this but there is still some Gerald McClellan in there," he said.
Some people came in order to get close enough to the former World Boxing Council middleweight champion to get a picture. A few just wanted to touch him. Others just wanted to see if they could talk to him to spark a memory from one of his fights.
McClellan, 47, was severely injured during a brutal fight with super-middleweight champion Nigel Benn in London on Feb. 25, 1995. He underwent an emergency three-hour procedure to remove a massive blood clot from his brain. The surgery saved his life but after two months in a coma, he was blind, hearing-impaired, brain-damaged and unable to walk on his own.
Over the past 20 years, he has received 24-hour care from his sisters Lisa and Sandra McClellan. The dinner was a celebration of McClellan's life but also a way for people to honor his caregivers.
For the most part, McClellan looks like he could still box. His handshake remains strong, and he still expresses his love for the sport that nearly ended his life by repeating some fighters' names and big fight moments.
While he looks the part, he's not the Gerald who won 29 of his 31 bouts by knockout. That's still a hard pill to swallow.
One man was seen holding McClellan's left hand and repeating this in his ear: "Show me your moneymaking hand champ! Come on champion show me your moneymaking hand... And the winner and new middleweight champion of the world Gerald McClellan," Lamar Williams said.
McClellan balled up his right fist.
"There you go champ. That's your moneymaker," Williams said.
"Tell me again. Who did I beat?" McClellan asked.
"You beat them all champ. Every single one of them. You were the champion of the world," Williams said. "Remember how we used to run every morning champion? I'm Lamar. We were best friends growing up. I'm your cousin," Williams said.
The more Williams talked, the more McClellan grew frustrated. He nervously played with his bow tie before reaching for Lisa McClellan's hand.
"Lisa. Lisa." McClellan said. "I'm ready to go."
Lisa McClellan, who organized the dinner, told her brother that they couldn't leave because people had come a long way to see him.
I was one of them.
I've known Gerald most of my life. I first met him at the Al Moreland Boxing Club in Milwaukee when we were teenagers. I never met a more gifted boxer.
He had long, strong arms, strong legs, a wide back and a thick neck. He attacked like a pit bull in the ring with unbelievable punching power.
I was at Gerald's first professional fight at the Milwaukee Eagle's Club, a first-round knockout of Roy Hundley on Aug. 12, 1988. I also watched doctors fight to save his life in the ring after he collapsed in his corner during the Benn fight.
The fight was on a time delay so I actually received a call from London from his cousin telling me that Gerald was hurt. I didn't believe it because I was watching the fight at home and he looked dominant, knocking Benn out of the ring and through the ropes in the first round.
Later I saw my friend struggle to keep his mouthpiece in his mouth. He went down to one knee after taking a light uppercut in the 10th round. After he was counted out by the referee, he walked over to his corner and collapsed.
When I saw Gerald at the dinner, I waited my turn to approach him. I took him by the hand and told him that I was James Causey and that I loved him. He asked me if I still fought. I told him no, and he asked me who I was again and I repeated it.
McClellan receives a disability check and a small WBC pension, but it's not nearly enough to cover his medical bills and care. Boxing needs an insurance and larger pension plan for fighters who are injured. Family members should not be forced to sell their loved one's belts and trophies just to make ends meet. Even if 5% was set aside from every fight for a fighter's pension, it would go a long way.
McClellan's family had to sell his belt to pay for some of his care, but during the dinner former World Boxing Organization light middleweight champion Bronco McKart presented McClellan with an honorary green WBC middleweight championship belt.
The belt looked perfect in McClellan's lap.
"This is where the belt belongs," said McKart, who trained out of the famed Kronk's Gym in Detroit with McClellan in the early 1990s.
Lisa McClellan expressed some disappointment with the small turnout. She wished that hundreds would have filled the ballroom, but only about 60 showed up.
Then when she looked around the room, she smiled and said that the size of the crowd didn't matter because she knew that everyone who was there truly loved her brother.
I second that.
James E. Causey is a Journal Sentinel columnist and blogger. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: fb.me/jamescausey.12 Twitter: jecausey