The Hurt Game – Knowing When to Walk Away
The sight of Roy Jones Jr, refusing to quit the ring at 47, saddens many boxing fans. And many find it troubling 50-year-old “Alien” Bernard Hopkins – last seen getting his clock cleaned by the “Krusher” Kovalev in November 2014, still talks about fighting again.
But RJJ and Hopkins are simply carrying on the inglorious tradition of great fighters not accepting their time in the sun is over.
But thankfully, some have known when to walk away with health and wealth intact.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler
After years of laboring in obscurity and fighting some of the toughest middleweights around for chump change, Hagler finally won the title in his 54th fight, destroying Alan Minter, in three bloody rounds in London in September 1980.
Hagler subsequently cleaned out the division, but the big fights eluded him, and he had to wait for stellar names in the lower divisions to move up.
Hagler duly defeated Panamanian legend Roberto Duran over 15 rounds, but got little credit as many thought he should have KO’d the smaller man.
Hagler left no room for doubts against Thomas Hearns, knocking him out in a ferocious three-round shootout.
Two years later, with Hagler wearing down from a long, hard career, the calculating Sugar Ray Leonard, decided the time was right to come out of retirement.
Given the long-awaited chance to put a beating on a fighter he had little time for, Hagler blew it, opting to box the smaller Leonard in the early rounds, thus giving him time to get comfortable.
Hagler upped his intensity in the mid to late rounds, and many thought he’d done enough to win. But the judges thought otherwise, awarding Leonard a controversial split decision win.
Angry and bitter at the perceived injustice of the loss to the supercilious Leonard, Hagler’s life fell apart. He started drinking and separated from his longtime wife. To compound matters, Leonard teased and tormented him about a rematch, then retired…again.
Hagler also walked away…all the way to Italy, to check out the “home country” his longtime co-trainers the Petronelli brothers, had always talked about.
Leonard subsequently came out of retirement, and tried to interest Hagler in a rematch, but Marvin told him to go take a hike.
His legacy as one of the all-time great middleweights secured, Hagler got his life back together, remarried, and became a film star in Italy.
Hagler now lives predominantly in Milan, does occasional stints for the BBC as an expert analyst, and is sometimes seen ringside at big boxing cards in Europe and the U.S. He remains one of the most respected elder statesmen of boxing.
After turning pro in 1989, Lewis won the WBC belt in 1992.
Before losing it to unheralded Oliver McCall, and after regaining it from the same opponent, he made 10 successful title defenses then faced Evander Holyfield for the undisputed world heavyweight title in March 1999.
The fight was controversially declared a draw, but Lewis won the rematch eight months later.
Lewis made three successful defenses before another shock loss, this time to Hasim Rahman in South Africa in 2001. A focused Lewis won the rematch, brutally knocking out Rahman, seven months later in Vegas.
Lewis made a successful defense against Mike Tyson, then met Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitschko, in June 2003. After winning via a cuts stoppage, Lewis said he was happy to give him a rematch.
But sense prevailed in the end, helped by an an ear-lashing from his mother, and fiancé. Lewis was approaching his 38th birthday – grey showing in his beard and chest hair – and in a 13-year pro career, with the exception of Riddick Bowe, and Michael Moorer, had fought and defeated all the top heavyweights of his generation.
There was nothing left to prove, and he subsequently announced his retirement in 2004.
Like Hagler he is content being a highly respected elder statesman of boxing, and though never the most polished of public speakers, is in great demand at boxing events where he presents a dignified, quietly humorous figure.
He was also one of the pall-bearers at Muhammad Ali’s funeral in June 2016.
The man known as “Money,” or TBE, won world titles in five weight divisions ranging from junior lightweight to light middle weight in a 19-year pro career.
After years of procrastinating, Mayweather finally met his great rival Manny Pacquiao – the man thought to pose the greatest risk to his unbeaten record, in May 2015.
But Pacquiao, a fireball of a fighter with knockout power and blistering hand speed who threw a zillion punches a round was a pale shadow of what he had been.
Mayweather subsequently pitched a shut-out, with a unanimous points win. Mayweather had one more fight four months later, before retiring.
As he moved up in weight, Mayweather was criticized for cherry-picking his opponents, but there is little doubt “Money” managed his career brilliantly, and got out at the age of 38, with his health and wealth intact.
“For the right price, I might come back,” Mayweather recently told the Los Angeles Times, but he also stressed he didn’t feel the urge to box again.
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