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Modern Champs Hopkins, Klitschko and Mayweather are Proving Age is Just a Number
Father Time and Mother Nature Are Giving Birth to Stubborn Children
In 2014, age has become more of a number than a detriment. One only needs to glance at the current champions in each division in order to get an idea of the plethora and recent proliferation of world champions who are age 30 and above. There are seventeen weight divisions in boxing for which Ring Magazine lists a linear champion in eleven of them with the remaining being number one contenders and paper champions. Out of the eleven current linear champions, incredibly only two are under the age of 30! The two linear champions under 30 are Danny Garcia (Junior Welterweight Champ) and Roman Gonzalez (Flyweight Champion). The remaining linear champions range in age from 30 up to age 38 with the average age of a linear champion being 33.
Now get this --- of the remaining six divisions for which the linear champion is listed as "vacant", there are only two number one contenders in those divisions under the age of 30 (Hekkie Budler at Strawweight and Terrence Crawford at Lightweight). The remainder of number one contenders range in age from 32 to 49! You probably don't have to guess who the 49 year old is, but in case you are having a brainfart, it's none other than the ageless wonder Bernard "The Alien" Hopkins. Bernard will be fighting next weekend and if he wins, many will consider him to be THE champion at Light Heavyweight given the fact that the linear champion (Adonis Stevenson) has so far refused to face Sergey Kovalev and many believe he would lose to the Russian beast. At any rate, Stevenson himself is no spring chicken at 37 years old and still technically the linear champion, thus not exactly lowering the average.
With Very Few Exceptions, the Mid 30's Used to be the Ceiling for a Fighter
Never in the history of the sport have there been quite this many champions and number one contenders over the age of 30 (especially in their mid to late 30's) fighting concurrently. There have been quite a few champions in their 30's over the years but not a multitude of them fighting simultaneously. Back in the day, champions in their mid to late 30's were few and far between. Most boxers over 32 were considered shopworn and relegated to gatekeeper status. One might ask, "what about when Archie Moore and Jersey Joe Walcott were champions? Weren't there lots of older guys fighting back then?" Well, let's take a look and see if they were the exception or the rule.
In 1951 when Walcott was champion, there were still only three champions over the age of 30 (Walcott, Robinson and Dado Marino) with the average age of a champion being 29 which was slightly higher than now but still under 30. By 1955 when Walcott was no longer champion, there were four linear champions over 30 (Marciano, Moore, Robinson and Wallace Smith) with only Robinson and the ageless Moore in their mid 30's and the average champion's age being 30. This was the oldest average age of a champion until recently but still relatively young compared to the current era which we will get to soon.
The 70's and 80's are considered by many to be the most talent rich decades in recent modern history. In 1970, only two linear champions (Foster and Locche) were over the age of 30 with the average age of a champion being just under 27. Before anyone accuses this author of singling out one year in that particular decade, let's go forward a few years and see if anything changes. In 1973, only three champions were over the age of 30 (Foster, Monzon, and Napoles) with the average age of a champion being just under 28. In 1976, only two champions (Ali and Monzon) were over the age of 30 with the average age of a champion being 27. By the end of the decade in 1979, only one champion over the age of 30 (Cervantes) with the average age of a champion being only 25.
In 1980, only one single champion (Larry Holmes) was over the age of 30 with the rest ranging in age from 21 to 29 and the average age of a champion being only 25! In 1983 there were only two linear champions over 30 (Holmes and Pedroza) with the average champion's age being only 27. In 1986 there were only three champions over the age of 30, two of them being legends (Holmes and Hagler) with the average champion's age being only 27. In 1988 there was only one linear champion over 30 (Sumbu Kalambay) with the average champion's age being just under 27. So, as you can see things didn't change much throughout the decade.
The 90's was probably the third most talent rich division in recent modern history. Because there were so many vacant Ring Magazine champions during that decade, let's compare the ages of the Ring Magazine pound for pound best fighters from 1990 to today. In 1990, there were only two fighters on the Ring Magazine pound for pound list over the age of 30 (Esparragoza and Galaxy) with the average age being just under 27. In 1993, there were only two fighters on the Ring Magazine pound for pound list over 30 (J. Cesar Chavez and Holyfield) with the average age being 27. In 1996, there were only three fighters on the Ring Magazine pound for pound list over 30 (Whitaker, Ricardo Lopez and Holyfield) with the average age being 27.
As George Foreman Once Stated and Proved: "Old Ain't Old Anymore"
By 2000, things slowly began to change. There were three fighters over the age of 30 on the Ring Magazine pound for pound list (Jones Jr, Lennox Lewis, and Hopkins) with the average age being 28. By 2004, there were seven fighters over the age of 30 on the Ring Magazine pound for pound list (Hopkins, Tszyu, Winky Wright, Juan Marquez, Barrera, Glen Johnson, and Tarver) with the average age being 32.
In 2014, there are amazingly only two fighters under the age of 30 on the Ring Magazine pound for pound list (Roman Gonzalez and Canelo Alvarez) with the average age being 33 and Gonzalez and Canelo being at the very bottom of the list! Things have done a complete 180 with the rare champion/top fighter pound for pound being in his 20's. Advancements in medicine, technology, and nutrition have certainly played a role in enabling boxers to fight at such a high level at a very advanced age. Certainly the issue of performance enhancing drugs cannot be dismissed as a contributing factor.
One also might argue that the level of talent has dropped increasingly over the past few decades and that has enabled current highly skilled older boxers to compete more easily with lesser skilled younger ones, something they might not have been able to accomplish back in the day. Lastly, boxers nowadays do not fight nearly as often as they did back in the day are able to preserve their bodies and thus prolong their careers. One could argue that inactivity can also lead to a reduction in effectiveness and ring rust and subsequently lead to lesser performances and/or losses. There are many angles to take. Of course, it could also be a combination of all the above. One thing is for certain: The mid 30's is no longer the ceiling. Modern fighters have raised the roof.