By Ivan G. Goldman
Around the time James Toney turned heavyweight he pretty much abandoned gym workouts except for sparring, which he loved. And at age 46 he’s still competing, set to fight on a small card in St. Louis this Saturday.
“Lights Out” Toney is one of many former world-beaters who treat prizefighting as though it were no more taxing than a round of golf and don’t appear to be quitting anytime soon. Some need cash or love the action or the spotlight.
But retirements and unretirements become an old joke that’s not so funny when a geezer gets hurt. Although super-long boxing careers have been a part of the sport for decades, there seems to be an unusual number of aged former champions who still compete.
Those with fights scheduled include Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver, who turns 47 in November, Sugar Shane Mosley, who will be 44 in September (fighting Ricardo Mayorga, who hits 42 in October), and Roy Jones, 46. You could also include Acelino Freitas, who’s only 39 but is long past his prime and last competed in 2012.
All were at or near the top of the list of the best fighters pound for pound and still capable of flashes of brilliance.
Ancient has-beens may be encouraged by champions Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather. Klitschko, at 39, holds three of the big four heavyweight belts. Undefeated Mayweather, at the advanced age of 38, sits atop virtually all best fighter pound-for-pound lists and may or may not compete again next month. As usual, he’s keeping it all hush-hush as long as possible.
But the state of Mayweather’s skills at 38 is a whole different kettle of fish than what you see in depleted Freitas, 39. You could measure the one year’s difference in dog years.
Trouble is, if Floyd and Klitschko keep competing, like Freitas, they will eventually lose. Guaranteed. Old fighters who say they’re as good as they ever were are like climate-change deniers. They can refuse to acknowledge science, but science doesn’t care whether they accept it or not. It doesn’t have to.
Yet some folks do tend to age slower than others. Or faster. The Nevada commission denied Terrible Terry Norris a license when he was only 32. He’d lost his last three and his speech was slurred. Norris claimed he was fine. Dr. Flip Homansky told the commission “The potential is very great that he could develop the classic punch-drunk syndrome, or Pugilista Dementia.”
Sometimes fighters try to extend their careers by cheating. Toney, Tarver, and Mosley have all been linked to performance-enhancing drugs by hard evidence. Toney and Tarver tested positive (Toney twice) and Mosley, under oath during the investigation of the notorious, now defunct BALCO PEDs gang, admitted buying and using PEDs before his second fight against Oscar De La Hoya.
For technical reasons, Sugar Shane’s “victory” couldn’t be stricken from the record after the PEDs use was made public.
Tarver’s positive test got him fired from his job as a Showtime analyst. He now works as an analyst for PBC when he isn’t chasing lost glory inside the ropes.
Tarver fights Steve Cunningham August 14 in Newark, New Jersey. It’s a PBC contest that will be televised on Spike. The next night Jones competes against an opponent not yet named in Mashantucket, Connecticut, and Freitas is on another card in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Mosley and Mayorga go at it August 29 in Inglewood, California. Mosley, still a gym rat, last competed in November 2013, when Anthony Mundine stopped him in Sydney, Australia. Cigarette-smoking Mayorga quit competing after Miguel Cotto stopped him in March 2011, but he came back three years later to win two straight.
Mosley’s geezer contest with Mayorga is set the same night featherweights Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz go at it less than ten miles away at Staples Center in Los Angeles. That’s a PBC bout on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
Win or lose, that choice doesn’t look terribly promising for Sugar Shane, who’s underwriting his pay-per-view card as its promoter.
Ivan G. Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class is a ‘gripping …triumphant read,’ says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with ‘howlingly funny dialogue,’ says Booklist. Available now from Permanent Press wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author.