When experience overcomes youth, the oldest men to win boxing world titles
Winning world titles at an advanced age is nothing new. Bob Fitzsimmons was the first 40-year-old to do so, claiming the light heavyweight championship in 1903.
That illustrious record stood until November 1994, when a George Foreman reclaimed the heavyweight crown. There were many who felt the record would never be beaten, but in May 2011, Bernard Hopkins one-upped Big George by winning the light heavyweight crown, and, after suffering a defeat, broke his own record by regaining another.
New-age training methods and reappraising dietary habits are two reasons why fighters have more longevity now.
Here we look at the 10 oldest fighters to win a world title. Interestingly seven of the 10 occasions occurred within the past 20 years.
Bernard Hopkins (49 years, 3 months and 4 days): Light Heavyweight – Hopkins held the record for longest middleweight title reign (9 years and 3 months) and a division-record 20 defenses before moving up to 175 pounds. In May 2011, at the age of 46, “The Executioner”, or “The Alien”, became the oldest fighter to win a recognized world championship by defeating Ring Magazine and WBC titleholder Jean Pascal. In March 2013, at the tail end of his Hall of Fame career, Hopkins still had too many ring smarts for then-IBF titleholder Tavoris Cloud, and further extended his own record when he added the WBA title by outboxing Beibut Shumenov in April 2014.
George Foreman (45 years, 9 months and 25 days): Heavyweight – Foreman was a wrecking ball in the 1970s before retiring for 10 years. In 1991, at the age of 42, he took on undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield but dropped a unanimous decision. Unperturbed, Foreman stuck at it and in November 1994, while trailing badly on points, knocked out the much younger Michael Moorer with a bone-breaking right hand. Foreman claimed IBF and WBC titles with this incredible triumph.
Sugar Boy Malinga (42 years and 8 days): Super Middleweight – The skilled South African unsuccessfully challenged three times for world titles against Graciano Rocchigiani (UD 12), Lindell Holmes (UD 12) and Chris Eubank (SD 12). Seemingly past his prime, Malinga caused a huge upset by beating Nigel Benn for the WBC 168-pound title in March 1996. After losing to Vincenzo Nardiello, he outboxed Robin Reid to regain the title in December 1997.
Cornelius Bundrage (41 years, 5 months and 16 days): Junior Middleweight – The long-time contender shocked IBF titleholder Cory Spinks in August 2010, stopping the St. Louis native in seven rounds. “K9” made two defenses before dropping the title to Ishe Smith, who in turn lost to Carlos Molina. Bundrage regained his title by outpointing Molina in October 2014.
Manny Pacquiao (40 years, 7 months and 3 days): Welterweight – Modern-day legend rolled back the years to win his 10th world title in eight weight classes, when he dropped and outpointed the previously unbeaten WBA 147-pound titleholder Keith Thurman.
Sam Soliman (40 years, 6 months and 18 days): Middleweight – The Australian became the oldest first-time world titleholder in boxing history by dethroning then-IBF ruler Felix Sturm. This impressive win came in May 2014, some 17 years after Soliman had made his professional debut.
Bob Fitzsimmons (40 years, 5 months and 30 days): Light Heavyweight – Dropped from heavyweight to light heavyweight to claim that title at the expense of George Gardner in November 1903. Fitzsimmons held the record of oldest fighter to win a championship for 91 years. He was also boxing’s first three-weight world champion (middleweight and heavyweight inclusive).
Antonio Tarver (39 years, 4 months and 21 days): Light Heavyweight – “The Magic Man” was a mainstay of the division throughout the 2000s. Having previously held different versions of the light heavyweight title, he regained the IBF 175-pound title by easily outpointing Clinton Woods in April 2008.
Muhammad Rachman (39 years, 3 months and 27 days): Strawweight – The big-punching Indonesian held the IBF strawweight title in the mid-2000s. Appeared to be in the twilight of his career and a steppingstone for young fighters when he snapped a four-fight losing streak to knock out the unbeaten Kwanthai Sithmorseng in April 2011 in Thailand.
Giacobbe Fragomeni (39 years, 2 months and 11 days): Cruiserweight – After a successful amateur career, Fragomeni turned professional at 31 and rebounded from a loss to David Haye to win the vacant WBC title against Rudolf Kraj in October 2008.