Referee defends himself

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The Independent Online

The French referee Alfred Azaro yesterday defended his handling of the fight that left Gerald McClellan critically ill.

He said he saw no reason to stop the fight earlier, and blamed McClellan's corner for not intervening if they knew their man was in distress. Azaro said Stan Johnson, McClellan's trainer, should have intervened if he knew McClennan had head pains.

Azaro said: "If I see a boxer is in difficulty, I stop the fight. But I can't guess if a boxer who continues to go on punching has head pains. I did notice his gumshield was hanging out, but what could I do? It was up to his trainer to ask him what was wrong and to stop him if necessary."

Johnson had called Azaro "incompetent" for not stopping the fight in the first round after Benn had been knocked through the ropes. Johnson claimed Benn failed to beat the count.

But Azaro said: "Whoever accuses me of a slow count only has to watch the tape and use a stop watch. If I had stopped the fight at that point, it would have been a premature stoppage."

McClellan remains in a critical but stable condition at the Royal London Hospital, who said his condition had not changed overnight.

Meanwhile, Nigel Benn flew to the United States yesterday to rest and contemplate whether to retire or continue boxing.

He said: "There's too much pressure on me being here at the moment. I don't know about my future. I need to see how Gerald McClellan is first. Once I know he is OK and that he has pulled through I will feel much better in myself."