The image of an athlete trying in desperation to remain relevant despite the intervention and onslaught of time is an unfortunate one. In a sport like boxing, it can result in brutal and bloody consequences.
In deference to this possibility, on March 9, Bernard Hopkins at 48 years old, will attempt to break his own record of agelessness when he fights undefeated IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
This is a record Hopkins set when he defeated Jean Pascal at the age of 46 years, four months and six days year old to obtain the WBC, IBO and The Ring light heavyweight belts.
Hopkins made his professional debut in October of 1988 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, losing to Clinton Mitchell. Tavoris Cloud was six years old in 1988.
Since that loss, “The Executioner” has been grinding his wheels in the game for the past 24 years, and only suffered five additional blemishes to his record since that battle on the boardwalk in '88. However, four of those five losses have come since Hopkins’ 40th birthday in 2005.
The epitome of a Philly fighter—which is a character so relevant in the ring that Sylvester Stallone built a billion dollar franchise on the shoulders of such a persona—Hopkins has fought the best fighters of his era.
Some of those names read like a potential candidate list for the Hall of Fame; Roy Jones Jr., Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Ronald “Winky” Wright and Joe Calzaghe among them. There were also fights after the age of 40 with young relevant opponents like Kelly Pavlik—who was still undefeated when Hopkins beat him in October of 2008—as well as Jermain Taylor, Antonio Tarver and Chad Dawson.
The questions remains however: How is agelessness defined and when is intervention required? No one wants to be the one to have to say the proverbial prom tuxedo no longer fits or that the comb over is offensive, but it is another conversation, trying to rationalize with a man who is paid to knock other men into a state of unconsciousness referred to as “queer street.”
A place to initiate the debate would seem to define the age a boxer transitions into a part of his career that makes the adjective ageless apropos?
Saoul Mamby, a former WBC light welterweight champion, began his professional career in 1969—the same year that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to place their feet against the surface of the moon. Mamby fought in Vietnam, and yet in 2008 at the age of 61, he fought a different enemy—Anthony Osbourne in the Cayman Islands and lost in a unanimous decision.
Jack Johnson, “The Galveston Giant,” and the first African American heavyweight champion, was fighting exhibitions at 67 years of age, a year before his death in a car crash in 1946.
So the question becomes, what is the defining quality of agelessness? The sheer desire to compete—whether rational or not—or is it based on those who continue to fight and achieve some level of success? And at what age does a fighter transition into the period of his career when his deeds in the ring characterize him as ageless?
For the sake of historical debate, and to narrow the field of comparison, if we quantify agelessness in boxing as the period when fighters cross the symbolic dotted line into "fortydom," Hopkins has some intriguing competition historically in terms of success beyond that age.
The aforementioned Mamby would probably not qualify as a contender in the discussion, as he only won 34 percent of his fights after 40, going 9-16-1.
Johnson, however, won 71 percent of his fights past the age of 40, going 12-5. Although he lost five of his last six fights beyond the age of 48, which is how old Hopkins will be when he steps through the ropes against Cloud in March.
As for Hopkins, his post-40 career has consisted of seven wins, four losses, one draw and one no-contest—translating to winning 53 percent of his bouts during this era of his career. Not a bad percentage, especially considering the quality of the competition.
Although, while Hopkins did avenge his 1993 unanimous decision loss to Roy Jones Jr. in 2010 to the diminished skills version of the same fighter, along with his wins against Pascal and Pavlik, he also lost twice to Jermain Taylor as well as losing recently to Chad Dawson.
If the evaluation of ageless success is based on a combination of winning percentage, as well as quality of opponents, it would be difficult to deem anyone more deserving of the title of boxing’s ageless king than light heavyweight Archie Moore.
The “Old Mongoose,” waged professional wars amongst the gauntlet of gloved gladiators for 28 years. Based on his record beyond the age of 40, it is hard to argue his claim to the crown of all-time ageless wonders in the sport.
From the time that he turned 40 in 1956 until he retired in 1963, Moore compiled a record of 26-2-2, with 16 knockouts for a winning percentage of 86.
His only losses came to some 20-year-old upstart named Cassius Clay in 1962 at the age of 46 and in a 10-round points loss to Giulio Rinaldi. Yet he managed to win four belts in the same span, including the New York State Athletic Commission World light heavyweight title and the National Boxing Association World light heavyweight title.
After Moore, it would be difficult to give Hopkins superior rank over the man simply nicknamed “Big,” otherwise known as George Foreman. The transition into 40 reflected more than respectively on the heavyweight from Houston, as he compiled a record of 17-3, with 12 knockouts and managing to win 85 percent of his fights.
Beyond Moore and Foreman is the area in which Hopkins most likely resides currently. Although the immaculate “Sugar” Ray Robinson and to lesser-degree fighters like Roberto Duran and Larry Holmes—based on record and number of wins after 40—would be among the place shifters in the discussion.
Robinson was 30-10-3 with 15 knockouts, winning 69 percent of his fights. Duran’s record was 18-7 with 9 knockouts, winning 72 percent of his bouts, although he lost two fights to Vinny Pazienza, as well as once to Hector Camacho .
The other great “Sugar,” Ray Leonard once said, “You have to know you can win. You have to think you can win. You have to feel you can win.”
And in the end, although we may be confounded as to why a boxer would want to continue to fight into the years when he could be considered ageless, there is no reason to fault the belief that allows him to try.