When someone uses the term ‘old man’s sport,” golf and fishing are often the first activities that come to mind. But now there’s another sport that has made its unexpected assertion unto the list: boxing.
At one point, young bloods that wanted to channel their aggression and fighting abilities from the streets and into a ring dominated boxing. However, those same young bloods of the past decades are our mainstream fighters today. Thus, the age of 30, which was once considered the age when a fighter should think about cashing out, has turned into the age of opportunity.
This isn’t an indication that the modern fighter’s boxing abilities are peaking at a later age, but more of an indication of the modern fans’ selfish demands for blood. Perhaps fans believe that they have seen so much that fighters have more to prove before they are given their well-deserved acclaim.
Among the world’s top fighters is Philadelphia’s Bernard ‘Executioner” Hopkins. Hopkins is recognized as the top pound-for-pound fighter at the age of 43. He has been boxing since 1988 before half of us were born culminating a record of 49 wins (32 knockouts), five losses (none by knockout), and one draw. Most recently, Hopkins manhandled the younger, stronger and undefeated Kelly Pavlik (34 wins, 30 by knockout) in a 12-round boxing lesson.
By the age of 40, Hopkins managed to defend the middleweight title for 21 consecutive bouts, having dominated the division for 12 years. While some middle-aged men are hunting and golfing, Bernard Hopkins is switching weight divisions to beat down pound-for-pound fighters that are often a decade younger than him.
Ironically, Hopkins’s marquee fights have taken place when he was well past his prime. But the fans’ show-me-something-I-haven’t-seen attitude robbed Hopkins of his earlier deserved respect.
Many critics chastise boxers for refusing to let it go. But, in reality, it’s only a direct result of the fans’ refusing to let them go. Fighters like Mike Tyson have developed such strong followings in their primes that fans don’t know when to accept their fighter’s retirement.
With every fight past their prime, loyal fans are always on the tip of the chairs under the delusion that their fighter is still the old tiger they once were and can produce one last hurrah.
On Nov. 8, I was the delusional fan. As Roy Jones Jr., age 39, returned to the pay-per-view scene in a super match against Wales’ Joe Calzaghe, no one could tell me that Roy didn’t have a shot. But, in reality, Roy had lost three of his last six fights two losses by knockout and three victories over nobodies and washed up legends. But I was convinced that Jones was a phoenix that would fight for eternity. Jones, a man who was nearly immortalized because he has never bled in a boxing match, was cut for the first time that night.
It took his blood for me to realize that I had seen enough and that a four weight division champion, only one of two middleweights to also win the heavyweight title, didn’t have to go through what he went through that night. So long as a fighter isn’t beaten to a bloody pulp, we continue to believe that they are young enough to compete like they have in the past. Thus, we have old men roaming the playground.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.