Older fighters shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed
It was hard to peruse any boxing coverage at all over the last couple weeks without happening on one diatribe or another about how we all should be ashamed of the back-to-back atrocities titled Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones and Evander Holyfield-Frans Botha.
From the hysteria, you would have thought the Nevada State Athletic Commission had sanctioned matches pitting rabid wolverines against baskets of puppies. And that the promoters put it on pay-per-view, charged $49.99 and forced everyone to watch.
And in the days since, many otherwise reasonable journalists and fans have called for – nay, all but demanded — that all the fighters involved retire posthaste, lest we be forced ever again to witness the awful degradation and indignities that accompany aging in professional athletes.
Well, not all of them. No one cares what Botha does — not here in the United States, anyway. He’s South African, has always seemed rather a buffoon and the platinum goatee gives him a sinister look many of us find unsettling.
So let “The White Buffalo” fight well into his dementia years. Who cares?
But the others — Hopkins, Jones, Holyfield — should not only be forced into retirement, but banned from any activity that doesn’t involve complaining about Democrats and watching The Price is Right. So say the majority.
The majority have forgotten that a mere two fights ago, Hopkins, already well into his 40s, took apart then-26-year-old, undefeated Kelly Pavlik.
Conveniently dismissed too is the inconvenient reality that going into the Jones fight, Hopkins was ranked in the upper Top 10 of any credible pound-for-pound list.
He beat Jones by a wide margin and his reward has been a nearly universal call to drop him entirely from all pound-for-pound rankings (a call ignored, I’m proud to note, by THE RING editor Nigel Collins) and a suggestion by his own promoter to have a serious talk with family, which is code for “stop bothering us and retire already.”
Why? Because it was an abominably ugly fight?
Can any of you name more than one fight out of Hopkins’ last eight or nine that wasn’t ugly? Does being in an awful fight mean he’s too old to compete?
“There’s no question Bernard Hopkins is still competitive,” Greg Sirb, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission told RingTV.com. Hopkins outpointed Enrique Ornelas in Philadelphia in December.
Sirb said his commission uses a four-pronged approach when it considers granting license to older fighters: Their medicals; their boxing record, particularly their most recent record; the matchup itself; and then the age of the fighter.
“If you put all those four together, a commission should be able to make a good decision,” he said. “Is he medically fit? Does his record show that he’s still competitive? Is the matchup worthy? It may not be a match between the two best guys in the world, but is the matchup, irrespective of anything else, competitive?”
With that criteria, it’s impossible to deny Hopkins a license or not sanction Hopkins-Jones, regardless of how old they are.
“You cannot make a sweeping statement, anybody over 35, anybody over 40, is not allowed to fight. That’s ridiculous,” Sirb said.
Jones’ knockout loss to Danny Green makes his a more-complicated case even though sometimes guys that are smack in the middle of their prime get hit on the sweet spot and go to sleep.
But consider this: Three out of Jones’ four losses over the last five years were to Antonio Tarver, Joe Calzaghe and now Hopkins — an elite group. All were decision losses.
If he were a perennial contender, say a Rocky Juarez type rather than the game’s former pound-for-pound king, and in between those losses had beaten Jeff Lacy, Omar Sheika, Felix Trinidad and Anthony Hanshaw, would you still be on your soap box?
Clearly Jones isn’t what he used to be. Who is?
Keith Kizer, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, in whose jurisdiction the subject fights took place, told RingTV.com that decline in a fighter’s skill level is not germane to the question of license renewal.
“That’s not relevant unless the reason for that is something we need to know about,” he said. “Let’s say a guy suffered a severe shoulder injury and never got back to where he needed to be and is still being bothered by that shoulder injury. Or it might be something neurologically that caused him to slow down. And you can see this guy is really messed up. That’s one thing.
“But to say a guy shouldn’t be re-licensed just because he’s not as good as he used to be? Then every fighter should lose his license after the best fight of his career.”
Kizer said that in Nevada, every fighter born in 1974 or before is subjected to a series of medical tests in addition to the tests all fighters receive. Then he reviews three criteria: how well the fighter has done in his career, how well he’s done lately, and how many times he’s been stopped.
For Hopkins and Jones, Kizer went the additional step of reviewing recent video that showed the fighters speaking and compared it with older footage of similar content.
“I was pleased to discover that they talk just as well now as they did 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.
Lastly, there is Holyfield, who at 47 years old has been viewed for probably 10 years as the poster boy for fighters over-staying their welcome. The outcry for the permanent revocation of his license is all but universal.
Here’s the problem: In December 2008, Holyfield lost a very controversial decision to Nicolay Valuev. In November 2009, Valuev lost what some saw as a controversial decision to David Haye.
It is logical, then, to say that Holyfield did about as well or almost as well against Valuev as did Haye. And if that is so, why is no one calling for Haye to retire? Where’s the outrage?
You can say Valuev has the mobility and boxing talent of a stone gargoyle, but that’s hardly Holyfield’s fault. THE RING and everyone else rated Valuev among the Top-10 heavyweights in the world.
As for sanctioning Holyfield-Botha — which some have suggested was a desperate measure to bring some business into Las Vegas’ flagging economy — it’s not as though Holyfield was facing Wladimir Klitschko or some other young stud. Let’s get real: It was Frans Botha.
“This was not a mismatch for either guy,” Kizer said. “Neither guy was coming in to fight the next big thing who was 20-0 with 19 knockouts and is 25 years old. This is not a situation where there was an unfair matchup.”
Kizer’s right. And though it’s never fun watching our heroes suffer a slow death, their once glowing expertise giving way to a kind of senile incompetence, it’s their right to hold on as long as they can, to fight it until their desire for battle is exhausted.
And it’s our obligation, within reason, to let them.
Some random observations from last week:/b>
The Kelly Pavlik-Sergio Martinez fight was going pretty much the way many expected it would until Martinez opened up Pavlik’s right eye in the ninth and “The Ghost” more or less quit fighting. Bad for Pavlik, who’s a class act. Good for Martinez, who appears to be one too. ÔÇª
On a related note, how many good smaller fighters have to beat good bigger fighters before people who should know better stop automatically picking the bigger guy? ÔÇª
And when did Corey Hart start training Martinez?
Lucian Bute gets better all the time. He’s like Joe Calzaghe with a punch. ÔÇª
Was anyone else disappointed by HBO’s “Real Sports” edition covering the deaths of Alexis Arguello, Arturo Gatti and Vernon Forrest? It felt a little dumbed-down for HBO, and not just because Frank DeFord has the most ridiculous hair in the long history of sports writers with ridiculous hair. ÔÇª
How bad do you have to be to make Tony Thompson look like George Foreman? About as bad as Owen “What the Heck” Beck, who would be a lot more fun if his name were Owen Buck. Or Tuck. Or Shuck. You get the idea. ÔÇª
The two most memorable lines from the latest edition of Mayweather-Mosley 24/7, both from Mosley’s camp: “I don’t bark; I bite,” from Mosley; and from the always entertaining Nazim Richardson: “No one wants to be the 21st person at the buffet.”
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at [email protected]