‘The guy got hurt. It happens. It happens to fighters. I thought you knew that.‘
James Woods, as Gabriel Caine, in Diggstown.
In the 1992 picture, Diggstown, or Midnight Sting for those on this side of the pond, Lou Gossett Jnr. plays ‘Honey’ Roy Palmer. A long retired prizefighter for whom fame never called. Subjected to the persuasive patter of con-man Gabriel Caine, Palmer finds himself in the titular town with 10 opponents lined up to face him in a 24 hour period. The prospects of triumph seem distant and the consequences of defeat, and the lost bet for Caine, catastrophic given the Mafia origins of the money Caine has wagered on the outcome.
‘Honey’ Roy, like DeMarcus Corley, who boxes again this weekend two years on from the last of a long sequence of defeats, had retained a fighter’s physique and the wiles of a well-schooled pug, but he was, nevertheless, 47 years old.
At the time of Diggstown’s release, George Foreman’s comeback had wandered from satire toward serious. The bald former champion, then 42 and the beneficiary of a generous points victory over Alex Stewart that discouraged any lingering notion of a return to title glory, was considered on the downside of whatever peak his improbable comeback could reach. A courageous tilt at Evander Holyfield the preceding year appeared the last hurrah and the full stop on his aspiration of reclaiming a crown he’d lost in Zaire in 1974 to a ‘veteran’ 32 year old by the name of Muhammad Ali.
Palmer’s age was important to the narrative of the film and the con he, and Caine, were seeking to deploy against Bruce Dern’s John Gillan and his cohorts. It was a considered number. Older even than Big George. 47 is the age of the washed up, the worn out, the discarded. For all of the accomplishments of Bernard Hopkins two decades later or Archie Moore thirty years prior, 47 is beyond the veteran stage, beyond wily. Just good old-fashioned old. Even on a local club show in Diggstown.
One wonders, beyond the purse he will be paid to box club-fighter Cornell Hines, what motivates Corley, who has variously tangled with Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and Zab Judah at his peak, to continue putting his body, mind and faculties on the line in contests far removed from the main events he once graced. Corley will doubtless add rounds to the 610 he has already boxed, close to a 100 more than Hopkins, in what will be his 86th fight.
It isn’t a new story, nor is his 47 years now as uncommon as it once was, but for all the elusiveness of his prime, fighters shouldn’t be fighting aged 47.
Just don’t ask me to tell you what age they should stop.