By: Sean Crose
There once was a time, not all that long ago, when any fighter aged thirty or above was considered over the hill. Back in 1987, for instance, when Ray Leonard challenged Marvin Hagler in a battle known solely as “The Superfight,” both men were considered a bit past their best selves. Leonard was thirty years old at the time, Hagler 32. There was good reason to consider ages 30 years and up “old” for a fighter, though. After all, John L Sullivan was 34 when the younger James Corbett knocked him out in what is regarded as the first modern heavyweight title bout. Larry Holmes was 38 when he tried unsuccessfully to best a prime Mike Tyson. Joe Louis was 37 when up and comer Rocky Marciano sent him into crashing defeat. The list of such tales could go on and on.
There’s little doubt, however that this is a new era. Ever since George Foreman won the heavyweight crown back by besting Michael Moorer via stunning knockout in 1994 at the age of 45, the idea of what an “old” fighter is has been steadily moving back further and further. Today, top fighters thirty years of age and upwards abound in the sport of boxing. Manny Pacquiao, Sergey Kovalev, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and seemingly countless other “big names” now fight at ages which were considered unfortunately advanced less than a generation ago. Still, there’s no denying that time can have an impact. That’s something Gennady Golovkin, at the age of thirty-seven, is willing to admit.
“I work as hard and as diligently as I can at this age,” he said to me during a recent conference call to promote this Saturday’s middleweight title bout against Sergiy Derevyanchenko at Madison Square Garden. I found those last three words of Golovklin’s: “at this age,” to be quite telling. Here is a man who is openly admitting that the years are taking their toll. That’s odd – and refreshing – for someone who makes a living always being in peak physical condition. Although he may not be the fighter of old, the terrifying Kazakh warrior who was essentially avoided by all, Golovkin still aims to do his best with the gas he has in his tank.
He can take a lesson from Bernard Hopkins, who made the needed alterations in and out of the ring to keep him performing into his sixth decade. Although Hopkins perhaps went one fight too far – as so many greats eventually seem to – there’s little doubt the man redefined what it means to grow older in the ring. While Golovkin is his own man (“I don’t specifically take an example form someone else,” he said in response to my bringing up Hopkins), it’s obvious that he, too, plans to remain at the top of the fight game.
Hence this weekend’s battle with the skilled Derevyanchenko. Not that Derevyanchenko himself is any spring chicken. Although he has a considerable age advantage over the venerable Golovkin, the Brooklyn based fighter will still be stepping into the ring on Saturday and the ripe age of 33.