Sport on TV: Still no one will take the hit for McClellan's plight


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The Independent Online

Boxing will always be a sport apart. After the super-middleweight title fight between Britain's Nigel Benn and Nigel McClellan in London in 1995, which left the American with severe disabilities, Parliament debated a motion to ban the fight game.

Even once you get past the inherent danger and cruelty, you run straight into the shadier side of the sport, full of kids from the wrong side of the tracks and unscrupulous businessmen. So in this crazy world it hardly comes as a surprise that the referee that night, Alfred Asaro, was awarded France's Order of Merit this year. Well the French have always been a bit different too.

Asaro should have stopped the fight and had numerous chances to do so. The Fight of Their Lives (ITV1, Monday) laid out the arguments on three sides: Asaro, McClellan's bizarre new coach Stan Johnson, and the British Board of Control doctors.

Asaro claims McClellan's corner should have thrown in the towel; Johnson, with his trademark sailor's cap still perched on his head, insists of the referee: "It's your fucking job to stop the fight." The doctors saw nothing wrong with McClellan's gumshield hanging out of his mouth, or his uncontrolled blinking, or him falling to his knees twice in the 11th round without being hit. McClellan had to stop the fight himself.

Whoever's fault it was, it was not Benn's. Yet McClellan's family pursued a hate campaign against him for 12 years until Benn held a fundraiser for his victim in 2007.

One of the enduring images of that night was Frank Bruno jumping up from his ringside seat in a bright red suit. He was sitting between the fight promoters, Frank Warren and Don King, and he was so absorbed that he said: "It could have been Mickey Mouse and Batman on either side of me." He didn't say which was which.

Bruno, that most affable of British sportsmen, was brought low by mental illness after his career ended. Benn lived the life of a champ until its excesses led him to attempt suicide. As Britain contemplates the psychological pressures faced by its sporting heroes, boxing remains an environment which can act as a saviour to the most vulnerable in society but it then exposes them to a brutal examination of the psyche.

Boxing promoter Barry Hearn is trying to bring some razzmatazz into snooker, as he did with darts. But he was heavily criticised by Mark Allen last week for tinkering with the format of the UK Championship. It wasn't quite the "shouting and having a drink" that Allen feared, but his grievance is that the early matches have been made much shorter.

His abbreviated quarter-final against Marco Fu (Snooker, BBC2, Wednesday) certainly didn't need any bells or whistles as he won 6-5. There was even a "black ball fight" after the scores were level in a frame.

The only problem is that this tie-breaker is hardly sudden death, with the players resorting to safety as their default. It's like a penalty shoot-out where no one scores for 10 minutes. But it's still fascinating.

Snooker doesn't really need jazzing up. But with the highlights being shown in the middle of the night, perhaps it could feature a few busty blondes lounging on the baize – as long as they keep one stiletto on the floor at all times. That would put a few quid in Hearn's middle pocket.