by David P. Greisman
Wladimir Klitschko is 36 years old and the undisputed heavyweight champion. His brother, Vitali, also a titleholder, is 40. Wladimir’s next opponent, Tony Thompson, is also 40.
Look through the list of current and recent lineal champions and you’ll see men who are much farther from their beginnings and should be much closer to their ends. Look through the list and you’ll see them defeating, and sometimes dominating, much younger foes.
Bernard Hopkins is 47. He was 46 when he beat Jean Pascal, who was just 28. Sergio Martinez is 37. His next opponent will most likely be either Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., 26, or Andy Lee, 27. Floyd Mayweather is 35. Last year he bested Victor Ortiz, who is a decade his junior. Juan Manuel Marquez is 38 and still in top form nearly 20 years into his pro career.
Boxing has not tended to be a sport that followed the wisdom of Satchel Paige or the album titles of Aaliyah. Age wasn’t just a question of mind over matter in which if you didn’t mind, it didn’t matter. Nor was age just nothing but a number. Rather, as with so many other athletes, boxers’ slides arrive in their 30s, as their legs go, their speed fades and their reflexes diminish. By the time they approach 40, they’re not just nearing middle age, but retirement age, too.
It is often some time within this decade that a boxer will find himself in that proverbial crossroads bout, facing an opponent who is on his way up and looking to take advantage of an aging star who is on his way down. He wants to capitalize on veteran’s name and the past accomplishments attached to it, even if those accomplishments are so far in the past that the name is all that is left.
There have always been exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, as with Nolan Ryan pitching until he was 46, it’s because they have long kept themselves in good shape, like a truck that still runs well despite having hundreds of thousands of miles on it. And sometimes, as with Jamie Moyer still taking the mound in Major League Baseball at 49, it’s because they know how to adjust.
The Klitschkos, Hopkins, Martinez, Mayweather and Marquez all have two things in common — they are dedicated to their profession outside of the ring, walking around at or near their fighting weight; and dedicated to their craft inside of the ring, scientists and clinicians highly capable of defending themselves and dismantling their opponents.
It’s not the case that youth always prevails. The freshness preceding the ravages of time still doesn’t necessarily trump experience. And it also helps the old — and hurts the young — that the young just don’t have the same quality of experience anymore.
There is more of an emphasis than ever on guiding prospects around adversity instead of testing them against it. More prospects are leaping directly to title shots without having ever proven themselves as contenders. More beltholders are still learning on the job and are peaking at a lower level instead of growing to their full potential.
This makes sense, of course, to those most interested in making dollars. The promoters have invested money and neither want to squander it by making a bad deal nor let it go to waste by letting it sit around. They can maneuver their fighters through the rankings, onto television, into title shots and into the money. And the fighters themselves have little reason for patience — why stay in the minor leagues when you can still swing but get major league paydays?
You just don’t see many early tests anymore like those Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya had. Of course, you also don’t see many fighters with tremendously accomplished amateur careers anymore either.
Some styles of fighters age rougher than others; witness the difficulty that Glen Johnson is now having with opponents who’d never have beaten him just years ago. In those days, he was to light heavyweight claimants what Orlando Salido is showing himself to be now at featherweight. He nevertheless lasted longer and out-fought many who just didn’t know how to handle him, or otherwise simply couldn’t.
In some cases, though, class prevails. Acelino Freitas is 36, a former 130- and 135-pound titleholder, a fighter who retired after 40 bouts and who hadn’t been in the ring in five years. Michael Oliveira is 22, an undefeated middleweight who had a grand total of 17 wins under his belt. They met this past weekend at junior middleweight. Freitas knocked Oliveira down early and went on to stop him late.
Antonio Tarver, who is beginning to show his 43 years in the ring despite the lack of wear and tear on his body, was able to give the 29-year-old Lateef Kayode (he of just 18 wins beforehand) more trouble than Kayode gave Tarver. They fought to a draw; one guy looked raw, the other not well done just yet.
Youth doesn’t always prevail anymore. It doesn’t always fail either. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at 21 had 40 fights under his belt and had no trouble against a 40-year-old Shane Mosley. And Peter Quillin, 28, was able to outpoint his toughest test to date — a 40-year-old Winky Wright who had been in the ring just twice in the past five years.
Bernard Hopkins eventually met a fighter in Chad Dawson who wasn’t just young and athletic, but was also skilled enough to take advantage of, well, Hopkins’ disadvantages.
These aging fighters don’t like to think of themselves as old, but rather as battle-tested. Many of these younger fighters would do better if they were better tested, if they allowed themselves to be true pro fighters rather than truly protected ones.
The 10 Count
1. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Floyd Mayweather Jr. began his jail time this past Friday, a sentence that could see him behind bars until Aug. 27 — but could also see the 35-year-old released as early as July 28, according to David Mayo of The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press.
A more interesting tidbit from that report, however, is this: “[I]f Mayweather is to fight this year, as he has said he wants to do, his next bout almost certainly must be negotiated during his June and July absence.”
I don’t expect a world-beater for Mayweather’s first post-incarceration opponent — not unless he and his team are supremely confident that he can stay in supreme condition while in jail. But it will be interesting to pay close attention to the goings-on anywhere between junior welterweight and junior middleweight over the next two months. Those bouts could help decide who comes next, and when.
2. I like that Showtime is putting up boxers’ Twitter names (and even ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.’s username) on its broadcasts — it’s a small thing that can make a big difference with the size of fighters’ fan bases.
It’s a tactic also taken by the UFC and the WWE, a tactic that gives viewers reasons to tune in beyond the main event.
We complain often about how pay-per-view cards, for instance, have too often consisted of a very noteworthy main event preceded by lesser undercard bouts. We also complain often about how regular boxing broadcasts are limited to one or two fights while mixed martial arts and pro wrestling shows give so much more bang for the proverbial buck.
And yet a majority of ticket buyers at boxing cards don’t get to their seats until deeper into the shows. As for broadcasts, I, for one, am guilty of mentally tuning out some undercard bouts during ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
Give fans a reason to cheer. Give them an opportunity to follow fighters for more than their two or three appearances a year. Give them an outlet such as Twitter or Facebook, and they will give more of their attention when these fighters step into the ring.
More and more boxing promoters are taking advantage of these “micro-audiences” at their cards, groups traveling to support someone with a geography or ethnicity in common. If we want networks to give us more matches on television, we need to show them the numbers (in terms of ratings) to justify their numbers (in terms of dollars).
3. I don’t care that riding a motorcycle is much more dangerous than driving a car.
I don’t care that Paul Williams was allegedly going too fast when he rounded a curve on his motorcycle.
None of that takes away from the tragedy of a young man who will probably never walk again, and who is lucky to be alive.
No amount of finger wagging from us will make Williams’ condition any better or worse. And while he will likely have his own regrets, he must now also be as positive as possible about what will be a drastically different lifestyle than any he had been accustomed to before.
Some athletes and actors notice that their entourages shrink and friends dwindle when the spotlight has diminished and the money is gone. Here’s hoping Paul Williams has the right people around him. And here’s hoping that the hard work that makes a boxer successful will now help him live his life as healthily and productively as possible.
4. As the James Kirkland Turns:
- May 29: A fight between Canelo Alvarez and Kirkland is seen as likely for Sept. 15, with Kirkland replacing the injured Paul Williams.
- May 31: A deal is reached for Alvarez vs. Kirkland.
- June 1: Citing lingering problems from a right shoulder injury that had required arthroscopic surgery on two tears, Kirkland pulls out of the Alvarez fight.
- June 1, later that day: Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer says he was told that Kirkland is not actually injured, but rather has a new adviser who told him to hold out for more money.
- June 2: Kirkland tells Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com that he truly is still hurt, but that he’d nevertheless go forward with the fight were he getting $2.5 million rather than the six-figure contract he was offered. (Rick Reeno of BoxingScene.com reported that the number was nearly $1 million.)
5. That leaves Golden Boy searching for a suitable opponent for Alvarez for Sept. 15, to headline a pay-per-view card that would allow the promoter to capitalize on Alvarez’s popularity and the traditional PPV we tend to get during Mexican Independence Day weekend.
Junior-middleweight beltholder Austin Trout had been one of the names raised as a possible foe, despite him being a little-known titlist and despite him not being part of the Golden Boy stable.
Yet Trout didn’t help his cause by not putting forth a signature performance this past Saturday against Delvin Rodriguez. While he has more name recognition with the victory than he did beforehand, it’s probably not enough to market a major pay-per-view, especially given that any such marketing would need some eye-opening highlights.
The reports on Alvarez’s next foe have mentioned Trout, Cornelius Bundrage and Erislandy Lara. Other guys are nominating themselves, of course, among them Vanes Martirosyan and Carlos Quintana.
The best possible option, however, is to have Alvarez face Miguel Cotto…
We haven’t heard Cotto’s name mentioned, though, and so that doesn’t seem likely. It’s a shame — you could probably hold Alvarez-Cotto in Cowboys Stadium were the fight not taking place during football season.
There are other fighters who’ve appeared on major boxing broadcasts in recent years. Alfredo Angulo, alas, is being held in the United States at an immigration detention center. Antonio Margarito will likely be put in with another Top Rank fighter rather than potentially being sacrificed to one from Golden Boy.
6. In the darkest reaches of my mind is this combination dream and nightmare: Canelo Alvarez vs. Ricardo Mayorga.
7. Austin Trout threw 699 punches against Delvin Rodriguez, landing 151, according to CompuBox. Rodriguez threw 440 punches against Trout, landing 89. In total, their bout saw 1,139 thrown punches over 12 rounds, with 240 landed.
Leo Santa Cruz alone, in his bantamweight title bout against Vusi Malinga, threw 1,350 punches and landed 410. That’s about 112 thrown punches per round, or about 37 per minute.
After just three rounds, Santa Cruz was 102 of 351. Contrast that with Dyah Davis after nearly 10 rounds against Sakio Bika — Davis was 49 of 314.
Santa Cruz was the most exciting thing about Saturday’s five Showtime fights (including the Bika-Davis fight on Showtime Extreme). If only bantamweight bouts brought in ratings…
8. Biting the hand that feeds, starring cruiserweight prospect Lateef Kayode:
- Aug. 6, 2010: Kayode appears on Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation,” defeating Alfredo Escalera Jr.
- Dec. 3, 2010: Kayode appears on “ShoBox,” defeating Ed Perry.
- Feb. 4, 2011: Kayode appears on “ShoBox,” defeating Nicholas Iannuzzi.
- June 10, 2011: Kayode appears on “ShoBox, defeating Matt Godfrey.
- Sept. 9 2011: Kayode appears on “ShoBox,” defeating Felix Cora Jr.
- June 2, 2012: Kayode goes from five appearances on Showtime’s series primarily for prospects to headlining the main event of “Showtime Championship Boxing” against Antonio Tarver. The bout ends in a draw, and Kayode goes off on a rant, saying he lost to Tarver because Tarver is a Showtime commentator. Any rematch, he said, would have to be on HBO.
9. The repercussions?
Early on June 3, 2012: Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, via Twitter, notes that Showtime exec Stephen Espinoza “tells me that Kayode will not be welcomed back on the network after his ridiculous tirade after the fight. Further, Espinoza said he has no intention of doing a Tarver-Kayode rematch after their draw.”
And also on June 3, 2012, Kayode spoke with Ryan Maquiñana of BoxingScene.com: “I want to apologize for everything I said to Showtime after the fight.”
Yeah, no kidding.
10. My sole comment on Manny Pacquiao’s religious reawakening?
If he’s praying for one thing, it should be for no accidental head clashes this Saturday — for his sake, and for ours…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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