‘Little G Man’ wasn’t there the night his world was turned upside down. He was at home, probably playing with friends or counting the minutes until his dad, champion of the world, his hero, returned to Freeport, Illinois. And although Gerald McClellan eventually made it back, some six months after his infamous, fateful fight with Nigel Benn, things weren’t the same as before. They never were again.
McClellan Jnr, nicknamed S.O.G (Son of Gerald), fights for the second time as a professional this week, and while those who recall the aftermath of his father’s punishing bout could query his decision to lace up the gloves, he tells Boxing Social that some things are just in your blood. He was six-years old on that night in 1995, and now, as he puts the finishing touches to an impressive camp in the U.S Virgin Islands, it’s his children that cross their fingers, hoping he escapes victorious, safe, and ‘dad.’ He knows only too well the two extremes of those phone calls.
“I was actually just on the phone to my Aunt Lisa,” McClellan Jnr explains, “She called me on FaceTime and even though [my dad] can’t see me, I’m looking at him through the phone. She tells him that I’m on the phone, he follows my voice and he’s talking to me. Seeing his demeanour change up, him getting happy, telling me I got this and I’m gonna do great… That right there, that’s added motivation. I’m a man with so much push – I cannot be denied. I cannot lose. When I place ego aside and I focus, I have so much to fight for, man. His legacy, my own legacy, Freeport, there’s a lot on the line.”
“To keep it short and simple: I’m a warrior, that’s why I chose boxing. There’s something special about the McClellans, and I always take pride in being a McClellan. Our blood, we’re fighters, we don’t give up; we persevere through the struggle. I feel like boxing is one of the things that came natural to me, whether I liked it or not. I always knew how to fight; I always liked to fight, and I got a rush from it. I would say it’s a curse. I’m cursed to love fighting so much that there’s no way I can’t. It’s in my genes, it’s in my blood. This is something that I had to do, you know.”
We chat over Zoom, and McClellan perches on the end of a little concrete wall, with a tropical backdrop of healthy green trees and glaring sunshine slapping the pavement. Mid-sentence, there’s the noise of what sounds like cattle, expressing their discontent, altogether different from the exhausts, house alarms, and the buzz that constantly pollutes the silence in ‘downtown’ Rockford, Illinois, where McClellan and his family are based. This isn’t suburban America – that much is clear. In chasing his dreams after an impressive debut (winning by KO in the third round last December), he’s travelled to the Caribbean, sparking intrigue from his followers on social media after an unlikely link-up.
“After my first pro fight in December 2021, I said, ‘Man, I’m pro, I’m going all the way with it.’ I’m fully focused, ain’t no turnin’ back. From then, I started hitting up Top Rank, different promoters, different trainers, I even started hittin’ up Golden Boy promotions, Floyd [Mayweather], Roy Jones Jnr. I was just hittin’ up anybody. I know a lot of these people have social media handlers that run it for ‘em. It didn’t get to them or whatever. But Julian was the first person to reach back out to me.”
You might have heard of Julian. One of boxing’s biggest ever punchers, International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, and three-time, two-weight world champ. Julian ‘The Hawk’ Jackson.
“I reached out to him on Instagram, I told him the same script I gave to everybody else: ‘I’m Gerald McClellan Jnr, son of former two-time middleweight world champion. I just turned pro, and I’m not signed to anybody, I’m a free agent.’ He bit back. He said, ‘Well, we’ve seen highlights of your first fight. We’d like to manage you and take your career to the next level.’ That was it. Julian, man, all he care’ about is: God first, family, then boxing. That’s his main things.
“The first day I met him, I got off the plane, I go to the gym, and he turns around and just welcomes me with open arms. Like another son. We embrace, we talk, it was like we’d known each other for years. If there’s a person other than my dad that gives me the ‘dad’ type feeling – it’s him.”
With Jackson by his side, he feels suitably equipped to stamp some authority on the professional code. But, at 33-years old, it’s a race against time. McClellan Jnr was discussed on blogs and message boards almost 15 years ago when he’d clocked up a 9-0 amateur record, and he spoke of looking to turn professional then as a teen. As is so often the case, life got in the way. The strain and trauma of living through his father’s troubles ate away at him beneath the surface, dragging him nearer negative influences, and ultimately holding his hand, firmly guiding, as he walked the wrong path.
“I had, erm, ran into some trouble,” the tattooed, chiselled light-heavyweight confesses with a wry, knowing grin. “I was young, hot-headed, and I ended up doing some time – I ended up doing seven-and-a-half years in federal prison. I did all my twenties in there, I came home when I was like 30-years old, and I left when I was like 22. In there, it was like everybody from all different states, east coast, west coast, north south, Islands, everybody that knew boxing knew my dad. When they would see me training, running, jumping rope, shadow boxing, they’d ask: ‘Are you a fighter?’ I’d tell them, ‘Yeah, I have amateur pedigree, my father was Gerald McClellan, two-time middleweight champion of the world.’ They’d say, ‘Oh, the G Man? Yeah, I know him.’ People from Philly, New York, Michigan, all over.”
“They’d say, ‘When you get outta here, are you gonna pursue it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah – of course I am.’ This was just a bump in the road. In there, I was prepping my mind; I was turning my body into a weapon; I was training day-in, day-out, I had a mission. I knew what I was coming home to do. I’d watch Friday night fights on ESPN, boxing on PBC, I’m watching all of ‘em, people said, ‘G-Man, you should be on here. When you get out, pursue your career. Make your father proud.’ I would just laugh and give them a smirk. ‘Y’all gon’ see me up there. Watch.’ You know what’s crazy? I just made a post today of my flier and a count down, there was a guy I was incarcerated with, he just left a comment about an hour ago like, ‘Man, this is what we talked about You talked it into existence.’ It gives me chills.”
After we ended our call, McClellan sent me his former prison mate’s comment: “We spoke this into existence. THIS BELONGS TO YOU! THIS HAS BEEN YOUR DESTINY ALL ALONG…” And he believes every word of it. You get the sense that ‘Little G Man’ has come too far to be denied, despite advancing age and relative inexperience. He’s in excellent physical condition and is training intensely in the heat of the Islands, getting ready to shake things up. Fighters that turn professional later in life don’t have the luxury of ‘building,’ but they don’t want it. Hard and fast is their only chance, and even then, it offers slim hope.
“How long?” McClellan asks, when asked about his plan for the next 12 months. “This fight here, this is gonna be fireworks. I’m an offensive fighter. We work on everything, defence, counter-punching, boxing, fighting on the inside, everything. But I’m a boxer-puncher like my father. He was a boxer, but as soon as he could see that moment, he’s coming in for the kill. That’s how I fight; I’ve always been a brawler, taking big punches. Julian, he wants me to be boxing first and as soon as I see an opportunity, jump on it. The promoter that’s putting on this show alongside Roy Jones Jnr on April 29th, he’s been liking everything he’s been seeing during training camp. He has a list of fights lined up for me after this one, maybe four, five fights. We’re staying busy this year, we’re staying real’ busy.”
The card, named ‘Sons of Legends,’ boasts a healthy line-up of second generation prospects. McClellan is one, of course, while the main event is contested between Kenzie Morrison (son of Tommy) and Hasim Rahman Jnr. The sons of Roberto Duran, Steve Cunningham, and Michael Hunter Snr all feature, with the Las Vegas card also providing an opportunity for Jones Jnr-trained Swedish middleweight, Shady Gamhour. Freeport and Rockford, Illinois, however, only have eyes for S.O.G. It seems their unwavering support has propelled their novice pro at a rate of knots.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to have their love and support when you’re doing something on a large scale. I have that times 10. I have my supporters and my followers, following my career, plus my father’s. It’s 10-times greater. My father had his fans and his supporters that he accumulated through his journey; I have his and mine. I’m getting emails, phone calls, DMs, every day. Social media people sharing my posts. I cannot ask for a better campaign than the one I have now, everyone is S.O.G crazy. ‘Son of Gerald.’ That pushes me forward; there’s nothing in this world that can take me off my focus.”
When asked about representing that famous fighting name, he swiftly responds, “Before you ended with ‘pressure on my shoulders,’ I was thinking, ‘I thrive on that.’ I use that as motivation. I use that to stay focused and to do great things in this sport of boxing. I am absolutely fearless, and I think that’s a trait I get from my father, man. Fearless. I’m aware of everything that can happen in the sport. It’s a combat sport, it’s a deadly sport, but I’ve always been a daredevil and I’ve always did things they tell me not to do. Always hard-headed. I was always the live life on the edge-type kid. I take this opportunity as a blessing – showcasing how much I love fighting. I’m an adrenalin junkie and this is second nature to me.”
He knows what can happen, he explains. How couldn’t he?
The vast majority of his life has been lived with dad and fearsome former world champion, Gerald Snr, blind, brain damaged, and struggling daily with round the clock care required. Every young boy’s hero is their father – whether they can legitimately “beat your dad in a fight” or not. McClellan Jnr went from having everything, to nothing at all, but he is determined to focus on the positives, and above all else, to make his father proud.
“My dad was a really hands-on father; he would take me everywhere with him: out of town, out of state, training camps, me and him dressed alike. Just a lot. Me being with him all the time. Out of nowhere, erm, 1995, all that was just ripped from me. The way it was ripped from me, me having to go and see him while he was in the hospital and while he had tubes down his throat, just… it was a little traumatising. As a kid, seeing things like that, you just never forget. I dunno. I guess those things made it so that I wouldn’t forget other [fonder] memories, too.”
As he stands up to end the call and walk towards his next training session, one of his many, many tattoos becomes visible. It’s on his stomach, a stack of bricks, 10-high in formation, rising upwards. It reminds us that boxing – and life – is a process. Gerald McClellan Jnr is adding to solid fighting foundations and will aim to continue building. He may not have been ringside when his father suffered horrendous injury, but a version of him has been stuck there ever since, peering through the ropes, waiting for a semblance of normality to resume.
‘Little G Man’ has a point to prove, and with his dad’s blessing, he knows the time is now. He’s all grown up.