BOXING : Distraught Benn considers retirement

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An emotional Nigel Benn was contemplating retirement yesterday as the horror of Gerald McClellan's condition struck him. Benn, visibly upset by the news, said: "I just feel so empty. I've been up all night thinking about Gerald McClellan.

"It may have been a superb fight, but at the end of the day somone was injured badly and it has taken it all away. It doesn't mean anything now.

"I am very distressed with the way things went. I would not wish it on anyone, and I am very, very upset about it."

A glittering boxing future should have beckoned for the 31-year-old Benn after Saturday night, but his thoughts were elsewhere. "It's not that I can't take it, but I'm not going to take a battering like that again in my life. Maybe if he is all right it will be different," he said.

The ferocity of the fight took its toll on Benn, who went to the same hospital as McClellan to check his own injuries. "I'm in a lot of pain myself," he said. "I have never been like this before. I feel battered from pillar to post."

McClellan's injuries re-opened the debate on the sport's future, but the British Medical Association's call for a ban was challenged by the British Boxing Board of Control's secretary, John Morris.

"Boxing is wonderful entertainment, and contests like that do not come very often. It's a terrible shame, because it would have been remembered as one of the great fights," he said. "Ten rounds of ferocity within the rules like that is incredible.

"When I watch a fight like that I always have a nagging worry for the boxers' safety. Butwhile strength, courage, sheer skill and ability are put to the test as severely as that I think it would be wrong of the people who administer the sport not to worry for those boxers.

"If we did not have those feelings I do not think we should be doing the job. I want to be sure we are doing all we can for the boxers' safety. I do not want to lose the sport's entertainment, which packs a hall like that and attracts a television audience of 11-12 million."

The Board has an independent working party, chaired by the neurologist Peter Richards, to make the sport safer. "Virtually everything our working party will recommend shortly we would have done anyway, and if anything else turns up we will do that as well," Morris said. "Everything worked as well as it could, and if we have not got our act completely right then I am confident we are close to it."

The British Board's medical regulations are extremely thorough. "Not only did we have an anaesthetist present, but also four other doctors, two ambulances and two sets of paramedics," Morris said.

Don King, the American promoter who helped stage the contest, said the medical arrangements had been more than satisfactory. "I want to specifically commend the British Boxing Board of Control for their high standards of safety and the professional manner in which they expedited that high standard."

As Government spokesmen argued against a ban yesterday, Rod Douglas, the former British middleweight who suffered a brain injury in 1989, argued in favour of a ban, saying: "There's going to be a lot more injuries and a few more deaths still to come because the men are actually getting stronger and fitter and punching that much harder."