By: Oliver McManus
Hear at Boxing Insider we have committed ourselves to finding the unique angles of boxing history. In this series of Boxing Beffudlements we have already covered the heaviest and tallest boxers of all time but this week we cast our eye on some of the oldest fighters in history.
I’ll start proceedings by venturing a fairly obvious suggestion – Bernard Hopkins. Naturally when you think of the sport’s elder statesman the mind will drift towards the two-weight world champion. The smoothest thing out of Philadelphia since the eponymous cream cheese, Hopkins debuted in 1988, at the age of 23, infamously losing a majority decision over four rounds.
The Executioner took knockbacks in his stride. He was, afterall, raised in the offbeat social obscurity that were the ‘Raymond Rosen’ housing projects of Philadelphia. At 30 years of age he laid claim to the first world title of his career – the IBF middleweight belt – with a seventh round knockout over Segundo Mercado. 20 consecutive defenses, in which he unified and became undisputed, saw Hopkins become “the man” for nearly ten years. Victories over Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad were particular highlights.
Hopkins was far from done, we all know his story. He was not like his former foe Roy Jones Jr, however, continuing to carve out a “legacy” against nobodies. Indeed Hopkins avenged his 1993 defeat some 17 years later with a unanimous decision. Before retirement in 2016, Hopkins would have two more stints as world champion. Firstly in 2011 when he defeated Jean Pascal, at the second time of asking, having overcome an early storm from his Canadian opponent. That made history, in itself, though his reign would last a mere 14 rounds.
12 months on from losing the WBC, Ring and Lineal titles to Chad Dawson he would fight for the IBF belt against Tavorious Cloud. A unanimous decision ensured Hopkins broke his own record as the oldest champion in history. Aged 49 he would unify against Beibut Shumenov before being pasted by Sergey Kovalev for 12 rounds and sent lurching out of the ring by Joe Smith. A fighter of true calibre, going out on his sword, and refusing to settle for mediocrity. Bernard Hopkins chased greatness at every opportunity, it’s safe to say he achieved it.
The oldest world champion of all time, then, in Bernard Hopkins and he took that mantle from an equally infamous figure in George Foreman. Yet another icon of the sport, Foreman regained a version of the heavyweight world titles when he was 46. He’ll have to settle for a mere footnote in this feature, however, for he’s positively youthful in comparison to some of these next guys.
Gilberto Jacobs is a perfect example of fighting beyond your years with the South Carolina native boasting a career spanning some 30 years. He does, however, average just one fight every 40 months, however, with a record of 3-6. Debuting in 1989, already getting on at 34, he was knocked out within three rounds by, fellow debutant, Phil D’Amelio. Four months later and Jacobs made amends with a first round KO over Nick Tolomeo to level his record at 1-1.
And that was that, so it seemed. For six years, anyway, when Jacobs emerged from obscurity for two more bouts. Both lasted less than a round with the 40 year old getting dispatched comfortably by Jim Mullen and Jerry Moran. That definitely was the end of the story. Except, evidently, the lure of the ring drew Jacobs back some fifteen years later. In 2010 and at the age of 56, the light heavyweight recorded his first win in 21 years thanks to a majority decision over Pete Yates.
Three fights in the next eight years would see a return to his position of cannon fodder. As archaic as that warfare reference, no-one wanted to get beaten by Jacobs and no-one wanted to boast about beating him, either. On March 30th of this year, however, the 64 year old became the oldest fighter ever to record a victory in professional boxing. Jamil Shrine Temple – a venue that describes itself “as American as apple pie” – played host to the round that shattered records. Carlos Umanzor, dubiously licensed by the South Carolina Athletic Commision, found himself knocked out within a round to place Jacobs, forty-one years the older fighter, in the record books.
64 years and 105 days. I think it’s probably time for Gilberto to start settling into retirement.
Bizarrely, though, this doesn’t even allow Jacobs to dine-out on the honour of being the oldest boxer ever. You see, proudly in possession of that plaque is a certain Jack Lucious . His last fight came on April 6th last year in Houston when Juice entered the ring aged 64 years and 246 days.
Having turned professional in 1984 there was a degree of the ordinary to Lucious’ career, building up a record of 3-4-1 by fighting local Houston boxers at anywhere between 157 and 170lbs. A relative journeyman in the making. The background of Lucious was anything but ordinary, however.
His mother was killed, when Jack was five, by his father – later ruled an act of self-defence – and when he was eleven he had packed up and left home. Joining the army as a teenager, he was honourably discharged before taking up boxing, harbouring ambitions of representing the ‘States at the Olympics.
The eighth fight of his career, in 1986, came against, unbeaten in five, Charles Hollis. The contest ended in the seventh with Lucious suffering a broken leg. Just a temporary hitch with a swift return to the ring in the works. Alas it would be 32 years until the squared circle was graced with the presence of Juice, again.
21 years in jail following a case of “purse-snatching” would have been enough for anyone to give it all up. Jack proved to be quite the opposite, viewing his time inside – for a crime he professes his innocence – as merely “a two decade training camp”. Yail Eligo, a one veteran at the time, was his opponent at the Arabia Shrine, Houston. Ironically Lucious had proclaimed Eligo to be “too old” before the fight but, despite the desire for a victorious narrative, the contest lasted all of 141 seconds – Juice found himself, suitably, getting pulped.
And, finally, an honourable mention to Martin Rovcanin – everybody’s second favourite Serbian heavyweight (narrowly behind Boban Filipovic). The 48 year old resident of Belgrade has been fighting infrequently since 2013 to amass a record of 6-0. Mouthwatering victories over Nedeljko Cvorovic and Dragan Bajak have cemented his place in my heart as a true titan of Baltic heavyweight folklore.
Who, though, is your favourite fighter to have fought long after the rules of time suggest?