A few disparate references got me thinking this week. First it was the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, brought into sharper focus by this weekend’s Welterweight face off between Cotto and Margarito, then it was a YouTube compilation of Prince Naseem getting battered from pillar to post with super slow-mo’s to make the former Featherweight king look like a clown. And finally, it was the news Bernard Hopkins, the veteran determined not to fight beyond 40 to keep a promise to his mother, apparently signing to fight Kelly Pavlik just shy of his 45th birthday. Too early, too late, boxing fans will crucify you either way.
Perhaps, collectively, fans don’t celebrate the retirement of fighters enough. Perhaps, we should venerate the likes of Lennox and Mayweather more for their courage to retire whilst still at the top, healthy and wealthy. But boxing fans don’t. Lewis is criticised for not rematching Klitschko following their slashing encounter. As Lewis said “there will always be another challenge, one more fight”. Just as there always would be for Mayweather, if he overcame Cotto and Oscar the clamour would be for him to tackle Paul Williams or Manny P. I understand the thirst to see fighters like Lewis and Mayweather fight one more time, particularly when they seemed at their zenith in the preceding contest but it maybe time to realise that fighters know before anyone else.
Despite the vast remuneration and enhancement of his historical position both fights would garner for Mayweather, he’s had enough. In truth, he’d had enough long before this year but the riches on offer in fighting Oscar the first time and then British ticket-seller Hatton proved impossible to ignore. Of course, Mayweather’s abdication may prove short-lived if the clamour for a Cotto fight reaches fever pitch next summer but for now perhaps boxing fans should take the opportunity to applaud the bold step Mayweather has made.
Ironically, it will be the self-same fans who complain at the continuation of the careers of shop-worn legends like Trinidad, Hopkins, Holyfield and Jones Jnr who criticise the former pound for pound king the most. All of the current ‘senior’ tour are far removed from their respective primes, are on losing streaks and yet blindly refuse to acknowledge the dieing of the light. One wonders whether they do in fact realise the pointlessness of the quest they continue to pursue and accept their prime motivation is now money and the lofty hopes of their youth; belts, respect, triumph are such long-lost companions that they no longer actually matter.
Had Jones elected to retire having beaten Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight belt, or even having squeaked past Antonio Tarver for the Light-Heavyweight belt one wonders just how highly he may have been regarded. Claude Abrams, editor of Boxing News and not a man for outlandish statements, believed Jones to be the finest fighter ever following his peck-peck-peck victory over Ruiz. Subsequent defeats to Johnson and Tarver – who Jones would have knocked out on the same night in his prime – has sullied that repute to the point, comparison with the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Ray Robinson is now sneered at. It wasn’t once.
Hamed too, got out when he realised the reality of training, weight making and finding the motivation to put together his physical talents no longer existed within. A sprawling, rusty jerky version of his best in his last contest versus Manuel Calvo in London, Hamed heard the jeers that accompanied his shutout victory and realised his time had passed. Despite the fact millions could still have been earned rematching Barrera or tackling Morales, Tapia or Marquez.
He never rekindled the desire and despite self-indulgent noises to the press, never came close to a comeback.
As always, the power to control the intentions and aspirations of these ageing fighters lays with the fans. They often forget it, but without a viewing public these increasingly forlorn figures don’t hold appeal to broadcasters, promoters and current champions. Additionally, a little more respect and congratulation for those that opt to depart at the top may well encourage one or two more to follow their path.
Boxing, and these 30 somethings, might just be healthier for it too.