George Foreman and Larry Holmes never fought in their primes or during their impressive late-career comebacks but both former heavyweight champs are among boxing’s greatest over-40 fighters. Photo / Mike Nelson-AFP
At age 48, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins continues to push the boundaries of athletic performance. His ultra-disciplined lifestyle combined with exceptional genetics and supreme knowledge of his craft has allowed him to prosper in the most physically demanding of sports against men young enough to be his son.
In May 2011, Hopkins, at 46 years 137 days, became the oldest man ever to win a major boxing championship after out-pointing WBC light heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal in Montreal, breaking George Foreman’s record of 45 years 310 days set in November 1994. On Saturday, Hopkins, now 48 years 65 days old, will attempt to surpass his own standard when he meets 31-year-old WBC light heavyweight belt-holder Tavoris Cloud – who was just three months away from turning seven when Hopkins turned pro in October 1988.
Less than 30 years ago most fighters were out of boxing long before age 40. In fact, 35-year-old boxers were viewed as elderly because only a handful still were competing effectively. Since then, advances in nutrition and training techniques have lengthened careers to an extraordinary degree.
The sport’s most recent geriatric success story is Juan Manuel Marquez, who at age 39 transformed the trajectory of his legacy with a single right hand to Manny Pacquiao’s jaw. That punch lifted Marquez to an unprecedented stratosphere as he became the first fighter ever to win THE RING’s Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year and Knockout of the Year awards in the same year. When Marquez blows out the 40 candles on his next birthday cake August 23, his top-five pound-for-pound status will remain rock solid – an unthinkable concept a generation ago.
If Hopkins dethrones Cloud on Saturday he will add another brick to an already legendary foundation, one that never would have been crafted had he followed through on his promise to retire on his 40th birthday. The question to be addressed today is this: Is Hopkins the best over-40 fighter who has yet lived? Or are there others that remain above him?
The following list takes into account only the fights that took place on or beyond a fighter’s 40th birthday. Quality of opposition and overall success are among the criterion used in compiling this countdown, which, as always, is one man’s opinion. So without further delay, let’s begin the countdown:
10. Sugar Ray Robinson: Record after age 40 – 30-10-3 (15) with one no-contest
Boxing history’s greatest fusion of speed, power, intelligence and toughness was long past his peak by the time he turned 40 on May 3, 1961 but the remnants of his peerless talents was still enough to beat more than 68 percent of the fighters he faced over the next four-and-a-half years.
Two months after losing his fourth and final meeting with Gene Fullmer, Robinson’s first fight as a 40-year-old was an off-the-floor split decision over Wilf Greaves at Detroit’s Convention Center, a victory he improved upon 75 days and four fights later with an eighth round TKO at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. Robinson’s better victories during this stage came against future junior middleweight champions Denny Moyer (a disputed W 10) and Ralph Dupas (W 10), the 22-2-3 Emiel Sarens in Brussels (KO 8) and the 21-1 Frenchman Yoland Leveque in Paris (W 10). He put together two five-fight win streaks and of the 15 knockouts he scored after age 40, nine of them came inside four rounds.
However, when Robinson stepped up to the B-plus level or better his aging body produced competitive but losing efforts. Robinson dropped a 10-rounder to Terry Downes just five months after Downes lost the middleweight title to Paul Pender and Sugar Ray met the same fate against Joey Giardello less than six months before Giardello dethroned Dick Tiger. He lost the second meeting to Denny Moyer by 10 round decision and added a 10-round split decision defeat to Denny’s older brother Phil two fights later, avenging their uncle Tommy’s loss to Robinson as an amateur.
Robinson’s final fight was a 10-rounder against number-one contender Joey Archer and had Robinson won the 44-year-old might have garnered a final crack at his sixth middleweight title against Tiger. At times Robinson showed flashes of the old skills but an eighth round knockdown – Archer said afterward it was only the second knockdown he ever scored on an opponent – sealed Robinson’s fate as well as his boxing career.
(Click on the NEXT button at the lower right to view Nos. 9 through 1 of the best over-40 fighters of all time.)