No country is as sensitive to the dangers of boxing as Great Britain is, and none has responded so well to the sport's inevitable tragedies. The Brits are well reminded, too, of their concern. A guest at ringside Saturday, in a terrible irony that seems available only to boxing, was 29-year-old Michael Watson, paralyzed in a fight four years earlier in North London. Strangely, if McClellan lives, it will be thanks to that young man in the wheelchair, who was stranded in the ring for 25 minutes after his injury and, when finally rescued, was taken to a hospital without a neurological unit.
The outcry following his botched care brought boxing reform that, in McClellan's case, could prove to be lifesaving, because on hand Saturday night were five doctors, including an anesthetist, four paramedics and two ambulances. This was McClellan's only luck, but it might have been luck enough. McClellan, his neck in a brace and blinking in and out of consciousness ("Did I get knocked out?" he asked a handler), was whisked from the arena with as much efficiency as possible in a crowd of more than 12,000. He was taken to Royal London Hospital, given a CAT scan and was on the operating table within two hours.
"I've never seen anyone this prepared," said Pacheco. "They did it right. If this had happened in Mexico City, he would have died—as he would have if it had happened in New York, L.A., Toronto, Miami."
Sutcliffe says the ringside treatment, particularly the immediate oxygenation, probably saved McClellan's life. It was Sutcliffe's job last April to operate on popular London super bantamweight Bradley Stone, who was injured in a title fight but did not receive the same immediate care. Stone died after his operation. "The advantage that Gerald has," Sutcliffe said, "is that he got here quicker than Bradley did, and that his resuscitation was more complete." Sutcliffe said that if McClellan had arrived 30 minutes later, "he probably would have died."
There has been a grim investment of human life in British boxing, and there may not be enough reform possible to guarantee a fighter's life. There was not enough Saturday night to assure McClellan of anything but a provisional recovery. "It is likely that there will be some problem for the next few months," Sutcliffe said of McClellan's future health. "It is too early yet to say whether there will be any long-term disability or any sign of damage as a result of this bleeding."
Asked if McClellan might return to the ring, Sutcliffe paused before saying, "His boxing career will be over."
It is certainly over, and if it was not complete, it was definitely a spectacular one, marked by the unadorned fierceness that lays boxing bare, reveals its terrible charm. McClellan's brightest moment as an amateur was his defeat of Roy Jones Jr. in the 1988 Golden Gloves semifinals. He missed the 1988 Olympic trials but went on to Detroit's famed Kronk gym, where he thrived as a pro. crafting a concussive career and grooming the violent demeanor to go with it.
McClellan has said he admires the late Bruce Lee and rapper Ice Cube and is especially fond of the bloodshed in the movie Scarface. In London he told writers that he kept his three pit bulls (one of which cost him $5,000) caged and that he some-limes puts them into fights. A likeness of a favorite pit bull, Deuce, is tattooed on his right biceps.
This is considered shrewd p.r. material in the world of boxing, and it played well to McClellan's talent in the ring, a brilliant aggression that opened and closed bouts with the equivalent of mortal gunfire. He'd had eight first-round knockouts in his last 10 fights, including his last three title defenses. One of those was a 30-second bout, the quickest in title fight history, which resulted when McClellan folded Jeffrey Bell with a body shot.
All this made for such a persuasive package that some of the prefight buildup addressed the problem McClellan presented promoters and broadcasters: a short-circuited program schedule.