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Should Boxing Take More Steps to Protect the Health of Aging Fighters

Bernard Hopkins has excelled as a fighter well into his forties.
Bernard Hopkins has excelled as a fighter well into his forties.Al Bello/Getty Images
Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2012

The history of boxing is filled with stories of boxers who reach their mid- and late-30s and exceed expectations.

Fighters like James Toney and Bernard Hopkins may fight even better at their more advanced ages than they did when they were in their supposed prime.

Instead of depending on speed, quickness and reaction time, boxers use their instincts, experience and strength to overcome a loss of reaction time.

However, while aging boxers who excel are exciting and make for interesting stories, most older boxers tend to slow down.

When boxers slow down in the ring, there is a greater likelihood of them suffering a serious injury in the ring.

As a result, there are questions about how long boxers should be able to fight. Should boxing take more steps to protect aging fighters from getting hurt in the ring?

Boxing, of course, does not have any one central governing body to make rules for the state. In most cases, individual state boxing commissions decide on the sport's rules.

That makes it difficult to come out with an organized set of rules, both in the ring and outside to protect the health of fighters.

It is difficult to call out individual fighters who have reached a certain age. A 35-year-old fighter may be in better shape to fight than a 25-year-old. Just because a fighter has reached a higher chronological age may not be a good reason to keep a fighter from competing in the ring.

All fighters must be cleared by a physician before he enters the ring. A fighter who does not pass a doctor's physical does not have the opportunity to get in the ring.

The best alternative may be to use the strictest standards to test all fighters.

The state of Connecticut may have the most stringent standards, according to the American Medical Association. All fighters must pass an EKG, an EEG, a dilated eye exam and a physical exam by the fighter's private doctor. HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C testing are also required.

Perhaps, if all states followed Connecticut's testing procedures and also added tests that required boxers to reach a minimum level in reaction time, it would help protect aging fighters.

However, boxing is always going to be a risky sport. A fighter's health is always going to be at risk, but he has to decide whether he will continue his career in the ring.

As long as he can pass tough tests administered by medical professionals, it should be his decision along with his family's.

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