Many thousands of words have been written and spoken about the fight in London on Saturday 25 February 1995 between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan but the ones that still matter most come from the fighters themselves.
It is a fight that will be embedded forever in the memories of 13 million people who watched it live on terrestrial television in this country, as well as millions more on delayed tape in the United States and more than 10,000 who paid for the privilege of witnessing it first hand at the Docklands Arena in London. It took us all on a journey to hell but we did not complain.
In contrasting eloquence the fighters relive the horror of the experience in a documentary that screens on Monday night on ITV, The Fight Of Our Lives, and we should resist the temptation to look away, because their testimony and that of others will tell us much about ourselves.
Both men suffered horribly. McClellan returned to America blind and crippled from the damage he sustained. Benn, the winner on the night, was haunted for years by the sorrow that seeped into his soul before he found peace in God.
They are filmed when reunited at a charity dinner in London, and McClellan, who speaks sparingly in faint, rapid whispers that his faculties can cope with, turns to his sister, Lisa, and asks, "Does he look sad?"
It is a poignant moment among many. Lisa, who cares for her brother in the small house they share in Freeport, Illinois, has let her anger subside but clings to the hope that there is more truth to be dragged out of the tragedy, that people who might have been responsible for what happened to Gerald, inside and outside the ring, will one day confess. "A lie lasts forever," she says.
The referee, Alfred Asaro, who speaks no English, maintains he was right in leaving it to McClellan's cornermen to determine if he should quit during the fight, even though he was visibly distressed as early as the third round, blinking and gasping for air, with his mouthguard hanging from his lips much of the time.
Stan Johnson, the American's trainer, vehemently contests the notion that it was his responsibility, or that McClellan wanted to quit (as Brendan Ingle, who was in the corner, told me years later). Instead Johnson bizarrely reasserts the accusation he made last year that Benn was on performance-enhancing drugs. Benn, who will soon emigrate to Australia to take up work as a preacher, is flabbergasted by the allegation and denies it.
There are recollections from the former world champions Barry McGuigan and Jim Watt, who manned microphones on the night and describe, as only fighters can, the conflicting emotions of thrill and danger in the ring.
Manny Steward, who split with McClellan before the fight, threatens to halt the interview when it is put to him he insisted on taking money owed to him previously by the fighter, even when he was left damaged. Don King, who co-promoted the fight with Frank ******, refused to be interviewed but his lawyers have watched preview tapes of the programme closely.
I covered this waterfront in a book I wrote about the fight in 2001. It remains the most brutal fight I have ever seen, or wish to see, and hours of watching both the ITV and Showtime tapes of the bout left me numb.
Talking to many of the people involved convinced me only of a truism: that we are quick to deny responsibility in life for anything that puts us in a bad light.
The principals in the story were as keen then as they are now to justify their part in it. Some refused to talk at the time; a few have fallen silent.
In 10 years some of the arguments have been resolved, some linger. Was he fit to fight? Did that blinking suggest a chronic problem? Certainly it had been evident in an earlier contest, when he was clipped innocuously by a light-punching opponent. Why was he breathing so heavily so early in the fight? Why did the referee not at least inquire about McClellan's condition between rounds, as he was entitled to do?
As Steward observed when I spoke to him, McClellan "dived at the weight", coming in 2lb below the super-middleweight limit, suggesting that his preparation was rushed and he might have been weakened on the night of the fight.
The surgeon who operated on McClellan did not think he should have been removed so early from hospital in London and flown back to the United States.
These and other imponderable questions will probably never be resolved.
There was nothing to suggest to the promoters or the British Boxing Board of Control beforehand, for instance, that McClellan was ill-equipped for battle, which made his collapse in the 10th round all the more shocking.
When he went to one knee for the second time and Asaro counted him out, Ferdie Pachecho, ringside for Showtime, accused McClellan of quitting, which only goes to confirm nothing in boxing is as it seems.
This is the stuff of the fight game: debilitating injury, recriminations, bitterness, claim and counter-claim. But there is nobility of sorts, too, whatever the abolitionists say. The courage is plain to see — too much of it, perhaps. And the spiritual bond that exists forever between Benn and McClellan goes to the dark heart of the sport. They know they shared something awful, willingly and for money, but they know they did it for us, too.
"You know what?" Benn says. "This is what you wanted to see. You got what you wanted to see."
And that is the most chilling truth of all.http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2011/dec/02/nigel-benn-gerald-mcclellan-fight