The 40 Year Old Fighter: The Dangers in resurrecting a Boxing career

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After two years away from the ring ‘Sugar,’ Shane Mosley (47-9-1, 39 KOs) 43 years old, will face former rival Ricardo Mayorga (31-8-1, 25 KOs) 41 years old, in a bout at the catch-weight limit of 158 pounds in The Forum, Inglewood, California on the 29th August.

This fight is a rematch of their 2008 encounter which Mosley won via a 12th round knockout with only a second remaining in the round. There is an intense rivalry between the two exasperated in recent weeks by an online war of words via social media.

The fight which carries a hefty pay per view price tag in America is being heavily criticised for cashing in on the rivalry between two former stars, who are well past their prime. In his last six fights dating back to 2010, Mosley’s record stands at 1-4-1, and Mayorga has not fought a competitive fight since his 2011 knockout loss to Miguel Cotto.

The age factor involved in this fight is intriguing. It represents an ever growing trend for fighters to continue their boxing careers into their forties.

Last weekend, former pound for pound king Roy Jones Jr. 46, claimed a sixth round knockout victory over journeyman Eric Watkins. The consensus at ringside was that Jones Jr. (62-8, 45 KOs) was a barely a shadow of his former self.

The previous weekend Jones Jr’s former rival James Toney 47, returned from a two year layoff and lost a unanimous ten round decision to journeyman Charles Ellis aged 40. Toney (76-10-3, 46 KOs) now fighting at heavyweight is unrecognisable from the defensive genius that won world titles in the nineties.

In a sad way it’s all George Foreman’s fault. Before he became the standard bearer for health grills, ‘Big George,’ gave hope to middle aged boxers everywhere when he knocked out Michael Moore to regain the heavyweight title in 1994 aged 45.

Seeing George Foreman regain the heavyweight title twenty years after he lost it to Ali in the infamous ‘Rumble in the Jungle,’ showed fans there is no more exhilarating feeling that seeing a sporting hero turn back the clock and achieve greatness once more.

The hope of regain past glories is what drives fighters like Jones Jr and Toney. They seem to be able to convince the doctors and state commissions they can still do it so who can stop them? But then again who wants to see their heroes labour in obscurity? Or put themselves in positions where they could be genuinely hurt?

The previous holder of the ‘Sugar,’ moniker Ray Leonard proved the law of diminishing returns with two unsuccessful comebacks in the nineties. Firstly, Leonard at 35 years old, lost a points decision to Terry Norris in 1991 and then aged 41 he suffered a fifth round stoppage at the hands of Hector Camacho in 1997. If he had not participated in either comeback then the only loss of his career would have been the point’s loss to Roberto Duran in their first meeting in 1980. It illustrates the damage that a fighter can do to their legacy through ill-advised comebacks.

Despite the evidence that suggests a comeback in your forties is a bad idea, it does seem unfair to limit fighters by their age. Elite fighters such as Floyd Mayweather and Wladimir Klitschko are both within touching distance of their forties. The notion of what is considered middle-aged or even old is up for debate. One thing is for sure with advances in nutrition and training techniques fighters are able to prolong their career perhaps longer than ever previously imagined.

The greatest example of this in boxing, and perhaps the entire sporting world is Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins dominated the middleweight division in the nineties but now campaigns as a light heavyweight. At 50 years old he is currently the number two ranked light heavyweight according to Ring Magazine. Hopkins admits the secret of his longevity lies in his strict diet and training regime.

However Hopkins remains an anomaly, he is practically an extra-terrestrial. A fighter like Hopkins only comes along once in a generation.

Although it is not beyond the realms of belief that either Mosley or Mayorga could enjoy a career revival following a win next Saturday, it does not seem probable either. There is a list of former greats who damaged their legacy with comebacks; Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard and even as they approach forty both Mayweather and Klitschko are considering their retirement plans.

Boxing is not an easy sport and it certainly doesn’t get any easier the longer you stay. Still, the temptation to regain a fleeting moment of greatness remains too great for some fighters. I just hope that after next week both former champions come to their senses and retire for good.

Bernard O'Shea
I'm like George Clooney, only without the face, physique or the charm. I am passionate about writing and I have a particular interest in soccer and boxing.
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