Sunday, April 02, 2023  |



Should boxers older than 40 be allowed to fight?

Fighters Network

Older fighters who retain the ability to compete at a high level and make good money have often remained active even when common sense has suggested they should quit. Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson are just two of many to linger well into their 40s.

Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr. and Evander Holyfield are no different. Hopkins, 45, and Jones, 41, fight one another Saturday in Las Vegas while 47-year-old Holyfield faces Francois Botha, 41, on April 10 in the same town.

The difference between then and now is increased knowledge of brain injuries and much higher standards when it comes to fighter safety. Thus, it’s reasonable to ask: Should fighters past 40 still be allowed into the ring?

The answer to that question is yes — with qualification. Almost everyone agrees that boxers in their 40s who pass rigorous medical tests should have the right to fight but what constitutes sufficiently rigorous is up for debate. And it seems no one feels particularly good about the concept on a theoretical level. This isn’t a sport for old men.

“The further I get away from working fights the more nervous I get,” said Dr. Margaret Goodman, a former ring doctor for the Nevada State Athletic Commission and passionate advocate of fighter safety. “ÔǪ I hate to compare this to something as trivial as fashion modeling but people don’t expect models to work into their 40s.

“The point is that there are things people just can’t do forever.”

Few would argue that Hopkins should be denied a boxing license. The Philadelphian undoubtedly has lost a step but has lived a clean life, never gets out of shape and has always relied more on guile than physical tools. He’s 45 going on 35.

“It’s all about the way you take care of yourself, your lifestyle, and genetics,” Hopkins said.

The principal difference between Hopkins and fighters like Jones and Holyfield, who also stay in shape between fights, is what they’ve experienced in the ring.

Hopkins has never been knocked out or taken a beating. Jones has endured three brutal knockouts — including a one-round KO against Danny Green in his most-recent fight — while Holyfield has been fighting professionally for more than a quarter century and has been in many wars.

Still, all three, as well as Botha, met special medical requirements to receive their licenses in Nevada.

All fighters who fall into any of three categories — 36 or older, 425 or more professional rounds or returning from a layoff of 36 months or more — must undergo testing above and beyond that of others seeking licenses. That includes an exam by a neurologist.

Nevada officials also review older boxers’ fight-by-fight record to reveal patterns, study recent performances and compare the current speech pattern of fighters to interviews in the past.

For example, Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada Commission, said he compared Holyfield’s speech to that of an interview from 10 years ago he watched on and detected no deterioration in his speech.

Matchups also are a consideration. Kizer sees both Jones-Hopkins and Holyfield-Botha as well-matched, competitive fights.

“I don’t think you can say a fighter is necessarily done by a certain age or that he must be allowed to continue fighting,” Kizer said. “People say, ‘It’s a free country. They should be allowed to fight.’ I say, ‘OK, what if Muhammad Ali applied for a license to fight right now?’ They say, ‘Well, I didn’t mean Muhammad Ali.’ I say, ‘It’s a free country.’

“Obviously, it falls somewhere between the two. It’s incumbent on a fighter to prove his qualifications for licensure. And there are a lot of steps involved. We do the best we can.”

Goodman, who has been critical of Nevada for issuing Jones a license, acknowledges that determining whether a boxer is fit enough to fight is extremely difficult. However, she said Nevada and all other commissions should be doing more to protect fighters.

For example, she said the Nevada commission underutilizes it’s medical advisory board when it comes to policy and licensure. She suggested that Nevada appoint an independent panel of doctors, former trainers, former fighters, former referees — those with intimate knowledge of boxing — and give it the authority to do exhaustive screening.

The panel would then make a recommendation to the commission.

“The sad part is that it wouldn’t take that much money,” Goodman said. “I remember when we started doing MRIs. They were so expensive. This wouldn’t be expensive. It would just take some time and effort to do the right thing. I honestly don’t mean to criticize. I know how hard it is. It’s the hardest thing a commission ever does.

“The way they’re doing it just isn’t good enough. The fighters deserve higher standards.”

Of course, the commissions wouldn’t have to wrestle with this issue as much if the fighters and those close to them would use more common sense.

The sad fact is that many fighters stick around too long. We just might not realize it until later on.

“It’s going to catch up with them,” said Darryl Hudson, an experienced conditioning coach who currently works with Chris Arreola and Andre Dirrell. “I think about a couple of these guys, guys like Iran Barkley, and it almost makes me cry. I don’t think that boxing or football are sports for old men. I understand that guys like (Brett) Favre and Bernard want to be out there. They like to compete, they like to be out there.

“If you’ve made some money, though, if you’ve made some money and you’re old, just leave it alone.”

Note: Dr. Margaret Goodman wrote a column on criticizing the licensing of Jones. Read it here:

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]