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Boxers are getting older.


An interesting trend has emerged in professional boxing. Some of today’s top fighters are, on average, markedly older than those of 20 years ago.

In years gone by a fighter was considered past his best, even approaching the end of his career at the age thirty. There were exceptions, however, such as Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep.

It recent years fighters have continued to campaign successfully and even won titles beyond the age of thirty. The most famous is George Foreman who, at the age of 46, knocked out Michael Moorer in November 1994 to win the WBA and IBF heavyweight belts.

A comparison of the age of top fighters over the past twenty years is interesting, to say the least.

In The Ring magazine ratings for December 1982 one sees Larry Holmes, the heavyweight champion, was 33 and top contenders such as Michael Dokes, Gerrie Coetzee, Greg Page, Pinklon Thomas and Tim Witherspoon were all around 24 years old.

In the December 2002 Ring, one reads Lennox Lewis is the champion at 37 and among the top contenders are Chris Byrd, 32, Evander Holyfield, 40, John Ruiz, 30, and Mike Tyson, 36.

Cast your eye over the other divisions, and you see the trend continues. Leading fighters in the light-heavyweight division in 1982 were Dwight Braxton, 29, and Michael Spinks, 26. Now, 20 years later, Roy Jones is 33 and Dariusz Michezewski 34.

In the middleweight division Marvin Hagler, who was champion in 1980, was only 28, but his counterpart today, Bernard Hopkins, is nearly 38.

Vernon Forrest, considered the number one welterweight in the world today, will be 32 in February. The top welterweight in 1982 was one of the alltime greats in the division, Sugar Ray Leonard. He was 26, having won the title in 1979 when stopped Wilfred Benitez in round 15 of a classic fight.

Kostya Tszyu, who holds the WBC, WBA and IBF junior welterweight belts, is already 33 years old and has no serious challengers in his division. Aaron Pryor, who must rank as one the top junior welterweights of all time, won the WBA belt in 1980 at the age of 24 when he stopped Antonio Cervantes.

Paulie Ayala, who is considered by most boxing critics as the number one junior featherweight in the world, was 32 in April this year and has an outstanding record of 34 wins and only one loss. Puerto Rican Wilfredo Gomez, the junior featherweight champion in 1982, was then only 26.

The most outstanding fighter for longevity in the modern age is Mexican junior flyweight Ricardo Lopez who is already 36 and still active. As a strawweight he won the WBC, WBA and WBO belts. He defended the WBC belt 19 times before going on to win the IBF junior flyweight belt. In an 18-year professional career he has remained unbeaten in 51 fights (37 knockouts). The only blemish on his record is a technical draw against Rosendo Alvarez in March 1998 when he sustained a bad cut over the eye.

Fighters such as Johnny Tapia, 35, Virgil Hill, 38, Thomas Tate, 37, Javier Castillejo, 34, Verno Phillips, 33, Micky Ward, 37, James J Leija, 36, Artur Grigorian, 35, and Melchor Cob-Castro, 34, are still listed in the current Ring magazine ratings and also feature in the rankings of some of the boxing organisations.

One must wonder about the trend. How can modern fighters continue well into their thirties when in earlier years a fighter was considered at the end of his career when he approached his 30th birthday.

Is it the modern training methods and diet or are the standards lower slipping? Certainly times were harder, fighters had to box more often and conditions were tougher back in the 1930s or 40s, but the 80s were already part of the modern era.

So one has to ask whether some top fighters in 2022 will be older than 40; even 50. And will it be in the interest of the boxers to continue fighting for more than 20 years? Looking at the damage some fighters suffer in only ten years in the ring, one does not want to see some of them after 20 years of pro boxing.

So the next question must be whether boxing authorities will, at some stage, have to introduce a compulsory retirement age for professional boxers, to save the fighters from themselves and from some promoters.


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