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Monday, August 29, 2011

Will Floyd Mayweather's age catch up with his perfection in ring vs. Victor Ortiz?

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The sight of Joe Louis’ head dangling off the ring apron, right leg draped over the bottom rope, after his career-ending confrontation with Rocky Marciano, still ranks among the great cautionary tales for fighters who cling too long to the rapture of money and fame, against the greater will of their physical limitations.

Roy Jones found out, crumbled by a single punch from Antonio Tarver.

Oscar De La Hoya found out, left to quit on his stool in his last fight, against Manny Pacquiao.

Floyd Mayweather, the 34-year-old boxing sensation from Grand Rapids, has reached the point in his career at which he, too, could be playing fast and loose with his 41-0 record, leaving the biggest question of Sept. 17 -- Is this the night Mayweather gets old before our eyes? -- for him and 24-year-old Victor Ortiz to resolve.

Age remains boxing’s one ageless question, and Mayweather-Ortiz are merely the latest to test it.

Fighters train their bodies and minds to overcome people who intend them harm. Some become so convinced in their continuing aptitude that they do the harm themselves.

At that point, the opponent virtually is incidental, though destined to become defined by that single moment. Frankie Randall practically would be forgotten by now, if not for becoming the first man to beat Julio Cesar Chavez. Gene Fullmer, a solid middleweight champion, always gets a disproportionate status boost from being the only man to twice defeat a past-his-prime Sugar Ray Robinson.

The pursuit of big fights demands that the most famous figures risk themselves against the best challengers around, deep into their careers. They usually reap their biggest paydays only after a career forged through years in the sport, when the wear and tear take their greatest toll. The body is at its most deteriorated state when the paychecks reach their most inflated size.

So they fight the big fights, over and over again.

And all too often, they hang around too long, if only one fight too long.

With which opponent do you most identify Marvin Hagler? How about Michael Spinks?

If you answered Sugar Ray Leonard and/or Mike Tyson, it’s a most unfortunate reflection on two great careers.

Mayweather, after fighting Ortiz, almost certainly will not be able to cram in another fight before turning 35 on Feb. 24, 2012. Historically, most fighters who hang on too long start to show deterioration before that age. Today’s fighters are somewhat better preserved because they don’t compete as often, although 35 is still a very advanced age for someone to be undefeated, rarely challenged and showing few signs of decline.

Mayweather has promised to stand mid-ring and fight Ortiz. In truth, his appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" was the last anyone has seen of the twinkle-toed Mayweather. He has transformed from perimeter dancer to a stand-down fighter.

Such a tactical change often is viewed as a fighter with diminished mobility. In ring-speak, such a fighter has lost his legs.

"It’s not that," Mayweather said. "I’m just versatile. Versatile fighter. If I have to move on a guy, of course, that’s what I’m going to do. Of course, I’m not in the sport to take no abuse."

The willingness to engage has made Mayweather fights somewhat more interesting in recent years, although it also resulted in Shane Mosley landing a shot that wobbled him last year. The inability to avoid punches also can be a sign of age.

"Am I upset about that still?" Mayweather said. "You know, it’s over with now, but was I upset, dealing with the shot? I wasn’t tripping. I just said, ‘It comes with the territory.’ "

Roger Mayweather said his nephew could fight another "three or four years" on skills alone, even if he did begin to deteriorate physically. Then again, Roger Mayweather, who trains his nephew, lost 13 times as a pro.

Floyd Mayweather, who coyly refuses to disclose the few things he knows he doesn’t do as well as he used to, is loathe to take a loss. His harshest critics say he’s too cautious, and that’s why he hasn’t fought Pacquiao. Mayweather steadfastly says he wants the fight.

Some fighters never slip. Marciano was 49-0 and, if anything, retired too early, at 32. Carlos Monzon was on a multi-year win streak when he retired with the middleweight title at 34. Archie Moore never really had a losing streak in a brilliant light heavyweight reign before retiring at 46, the same age at which Bernard Hopkins bounced back from some late-career losses to become the current light heavyweight champion.

Those fighters who did slip often were in unpreventable positions. Would anyone have advised Alexis Arguello not to fight Aaron Pryor, or Willie Pep not to fight Sandy Saddler, or Joe Frazier not to fight again after his win over Muhammad Ali in their first meeting, thereby depriving boxing of some of its most historic events?

Would anyone advise Mayweather not to risk fighting Pacquiao, even if the end result could be a similar analysis, years from now, that he hung on one fight too long?

The best any fighter can hope for is to maximize his earnings potential, win his biggest fights, get out healthy and hope he doesn’t overstay his welcome too much.

On Sept. 17, and each time he steps into the ring thereafter, part of the intrigue will be discovering whether Mayweather has overstayed his.

Some great fighters who took a disproportionate number of late-career losses, with the ages at which their declines began to show in their win-loss records, records as of those birthdays, and records after those birthdays:

Muhammad Ali, 36
Before: 55-2, with losses only in his epic first bout with Joe Frazier and to Ken Norton when he fought through a broken jaw.
After: 1-3, split two fights with a youthful Leon Spinks, suffered his only stoppage loss against Larry Holmes, and was decisioned by Trevor Berbick.

Alexis Arguello, 30
Before: 70-5 and beat some of the sport’s biggest stars while cleaning out three weight divisions from featherweight to lightweight.
After: 7-3, including 5-3 in his final eight fights, although two of the losses were in his historic fights with Aaron Pryor, who handed him two of his three stoppage losses. Final loss came after a brief comeback at age 42.

Henry Armstrong, 28
Before: 110-13-8 and the only boxer in history to hold world championships in three weight divisions simultaneously, from featherweight (126 pounds) to welterweight (147).
After: 40-8-2, beginning with a loss to Fritzie Zivic in his last title fight, which was a rematch of another Armstrong loss in his previous fight.

Tony Canzoneri, 23
Before: 93-14-8, with championship reigns in two weight divisions after turning pro at age 16.
After: 44-10-2, including a loss to Wesley Ramey in Grand Rapids, after which he briefly regained the lightweight title. Career ended at age 30 with his only knockout loss, to Al “Bummy” Davis.

Julio Cesar Chavez, 31
Before: 87-0 and universal acclaim as pound-for-pound king.
After: 20-6-2, with a couple of decisions he might not have deserved, and four stoppage losses. Retired after four rounds against someone named Grover Wiley in his final fight, at age 43.

Oscar De La Hoya, 26
Before: 29-0, en route to undisputed status as the highest-earning fighter in history.
After: 10-6, including 8-6 in his last 14 fights, with losses to Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Felix Trinidad and two to Shane Mosley.

Jack Dempsey, 29
Before: 60-4-9 and retired as heavyweight champion after just nine years as a pro.
After: 1-2 after launching a comeback at age 31 against new champion Gene Tunney, who won both fights by decision, sandwiched around a Dempsey win over Jack Sharkey.

Roberto Duran, 29
Before: 71-1, including eight years as lightweight champion and two knockout wins over his only conqueror, Esteban DeJesus.
After: 32-15, beginning with a victory over Sugar Ray Leonard. In the rematch, Duran said “No mas,” and his career went into decline, though he did briefly hold the middleweight title.

Joe Frazier, 29
Before: 29-0 and defeated Muhammad Ali in their epic first fight at Madison Square Garden.
After: 3-4-1, beginning with the first of two destructive knockout losses to George Foreman, and including two more fights with Ali, one of them the debilitating “Thrilla in Manila.”

Emile Griffith, 29
Before: 52-7 and the reigning middleweight champion after two welterweight reigns.
After: 33-17-2, including 1-6 in title fights. Lost his last three fights at age 39.

Larry Holmes, 35
Before: 45-0 and within four victories of matching Rocky Marciano’s record for victories by an undefeated heavyweight champion.
After: 24-6, starting with three victories that got him within one of Marciano, then consecutive losses to Michael Spinks twice, and Mike Tyson. Won his last four fights, the final one at age 52.

Evander Holyfield, 37
Before: 36-3-1, including 28-0 to begin his career, with title reigns at cruiserweight and heavyweight, two wins over Tyson, and an epic trilogy with Riddick Bowe.
After: 8-7-1, lost heavyweight title to Lennox Lewis, won one bid for a paper championship, lost several others, still fighting at age 48.

Jack Johnson, 43
Before: 53-6-7 during a historic heavyweight championship reign in which he crossed the color barrier.
After: 2-5 after a 1923 comeback, at age 45, following a three-year layoff. Before the comeback, Johnson had not fought a title bout in eight years, and few legitimate opponents afterward.

Roy Jones, 35
Before: 48-1 with few close bouts and the only loss via disqualification in a fight he was winning.
After: 5-7, with four violent knockout losses. Classic example of a speed-based fighter whose core skills were exposed when his athleticism slipped. Money problems have him still fighting, at 42.

Jake LaMotta, 29
Before: 77-14-3, including a middleweight title reign and five of his six fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, one of them a victory.
After: 6-5-1, beginning with a successful middleweight defense against Laurent Dauthuille in Detroit. Stopped in 13 rounds by Robinson in next fight and was finished as a legitimate contender. Three of four career stoppage losses came during this period.

Sugar Ray Leonard, 31
Before: 34-1 with title reigns in three weight divisions and wins over Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, the latter avenging an earlier defeat.
After: 2-2-1 after the Hagler win, beginning with a victory over Donny LaLonde. Lucky to get a spurious draw with Hearns, beat Duran long past their primes, then lost to Terry Norris and Hector Camacho.

Joe Louis, 36
Before: 58-1 and set the all-time record with 25 consecutive heavyweight title defenses.
After: 8-2, beginning with a 15-round decision loss to Ezzard Charles in his last title fight. After stringing together eight wins, lost his final bout on a disturbing knockout by champion-in-waiting Rocky Marciano.

Willie Pep, 26
Before: 134-1-1 and almost six years as reigning featherweight champion.
After: 95-10, beginning with his first loss to Sandy Saddler in their historic series, which was the undoing of Pep.

Sugar Ray Robinson, 30
Before: 123-1-2, with five wins over his only conqueror (Jake LaMotta), as he built a career widely acclaimed as the greatest in boxing history.
After: 50-18-4, including five straight wins to run his record to 128-1-2, after which he lost his middleweight title to Randy Turpin. He would regain the title three more times but his invincibility had vanished.

Sandy Saddler, 25
Before: 125-8-2, including title reigns twice at featherweight and once at junior lightweight, and one of boxing’s most memorable rivalries against Willie Pep.
After: 19-8, during which he regained the featherweight title from an aged Pep in their fourth fight (he was 3-1 in their series). He kept the title until he retired but lost seven over-the-weight, non-title bouts in the interim.

Michael Spinks, 31
Before: 31-0 and became the first reigning light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight championship.
After: 0-1 after finally deciding to fight Mike Tyson. In 91 seconds, his reluctance was explained conclusively, and Spinks was finished as a fighter.

Mike Tyson, 30
Before: 44-1, unified the heavyweight title, lost only to Buster Douglas, served a rape sentence, and became one of the most recognizable figures alive.
After: 6-5, beginning with a successful title defense, after which he lost twice to Evander Holyfield. Last title bid, vs. Lennox Lewis, was an execution.

Mickey Walker, 30
Before: 75-10 with lengthy title reigns at welterweight and middleweight, and an unsuccessful bid at light heavyweight.
After: 19-10-4, including a draw with Jack Sharkey in a heavyweight title bid, in his first fight after turning 30. He never won another title fight.

Pernell Whitaker, 33
Before: 39-1-1, with a decision loss to Jose Luis Ramirez that ranks among the worst in title-fight history, and a draw with Julio Cesar Chavez that many believed Whitaker won.
After: 1-3, with one no-contest, a streak that began with Whitaker’s final win, vs. Diosbelys Hurtado. The loss to Oscar De La Hoya was disputed but the ones to Felix Trinidad and nondescript Carlos Bojorquez weren’t. Whitaker had a victory overturned by a positive drug test during this time.


1 comment:

  1. ernell Whitaker, 33
    Before: 39-1-1, with a decision loss to Jose Luis Ramirez that ranks among the worst in title-fight history

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