And at the start that's how the evening seemed destined to play out. To see Benn crash through the ropes just 35 seconds into the fight and wobble back into the ring just at the count of 10 confirmed everybody's preconceptions about how the fight would go. That Benn wasn't counted out may have been a gift. Pacheco and some others at ringside were skeptieal that Benn had beaten the count.
And yet Benn, who is called the Dark Destroyer, rallied magnificently and had McClellan in trouble in the second round. He kept absorbing McClellan's jabs and long right crosses, and through the middle rounds accelerated the action. McClellan, who has struggled to make the middleweight limit in his recent title defenses but who came in three pounds under the super middleweight max of 168 for this bout, seemed troubled as the fight proceeded. He was breathing heavily, pushing his mouthpiece out to get more air. Was he dehydrated? Had he taken too much weight off? "I like this. I like this," screamed Benn's father at ringside.
But the momentum returned to McClellan in the eighth when, after some sustained pummeling of Benn, he drove the champ down again, for a count of eight. The fight was ragged, but the spirit of the two exhausted fighters was memorable. "I can't recall anyone showing as much raw courage as Benn." said the Independent's Jones. "It was incredible."
That is often the savage beauty of boxing, to see limits of courage and endurance stretched. Both fighters pushed beyond those limits—even Benn required a brief hospitalization for his exhaustion—and their fans were cheered to see so much will oil display. To some it might have seemed inspirational, even heroic. But many others insist upon more humane tests of manhood than boxing.
Indeed, this fight, as much as any other, exposed boxing as a blood sport. You could not pretend you were watching a sweet science. Seeing men fighting for their lives as furiously as these two were, well, there was no question about what you were watching. Sutcliffe, who saw the bout on TV, said matter-of-factly, "I had a feeling I might be needed."
In England now, the debate has been rejoined. How much of this can a supposedly civilized species stand? "I'm a little bit horrified," says James Tye, director general of the British Safety Council, "because right from the beginning of the fight there wasn't much boxing about it. Really, it was one bloke trying to injure the other bloke's brain."
Those who call for the sport's abolition insist that there is no further reform that can protect a man from those intentions. Whatever boxing satisfies in us, they say, that appetite ought to be ignored, be legislated against.
But if you can't ban boxing and you can't make it any safer, what can you do? Can you still enjoy it? It's getting harder, that's all. It doesn't help to know that McClellan, as he went to the Peacock Gym in Canning Town every day when he was in London, had to pass the recently erected statue of Bradley Stone, a cautionary talc cast in bronze. You wonder: Did he avert his gaze, did he tremble at the sight? Or, confident of his own capacity for violence, did he just sneer at the fallen and the weak. You just hope you can ask him someday.