There is a common saying that age is just a number, and it shouldn’t hinder anyone from achieving their goals. While this is true in some careers, does the saying hold water in extreme sports, especially boxing? 

Professional boxers usually retire at around 30-35 years. However, we have witnessed some retire as young as 26 and others go well past their prime. Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran scored a victory by a unanimous decision in 2000 against 31-year-old Patrick Goossen at 50.

The general agreement is that boxers should retire at age 30, at the latest 35. During this time they are still in good shape and at the prime of their careers. However, there are several factors a boxer should consider before retiring. These factors include age, injuries, money, performance, and passion. What is the average age to call it quits before time catches up with you?

Key Factors To Consider in the Boxing Retirement Debate

While there’s no age limit in pugilism, there are several factors to consider before putting yourself against a younger competitor. To qualify as an Olympian boxer in the 2021 Beijing Olympics, one had to be younger than 41 years. 

With age comes an entanglement of past injuries and vagaries of time. These factors combined reduce a boxer’s effectiveness, exposing them to more losses and risk of injuries. This is the main reason why it’s tough for boxers to maintain a successful career after 40.

Many legends have bounced back from retirement to score major victories. Others have held on past the primes and paid dearly. When calculating a boxer’s average retirement age, there are several factors to consider:

Age

Aging spares no one, not even iconic boxers. The human body is in its prime in the 20s, becoming healthier and stronger until it reaches its peak. This happens in its thirties and the biological clock starts ticking downwards.

As the years go by, many fighters experience reduced physical fitness. The bodies become more fragile, and injuries become the order of the day. More debilitating is nagging or repeat injuries. The ghost of past injuries comes back to haunt you.

Decreased flexibility leading to slower reaction speed and time is another age weapon. This makes older boxers prone to more injuries. They throw fewer punches and get more punches in return because they are slow to evade.

However, some fighters like Wladimir Klitschko fought in their 40s and succeeded. They’ve done so by replacing what age had taken from them with their unique boxing styles.

The Length and Success of Careers

How long one has been boxing, and the accrued success can significantly affect whether the boxer stays or leaves. Some debuted boxing as early as 16 years and have had long and successful careers well into their thirties. This means they have accrued much experience and passion for the sport.

To some, years of experience have allowed them to build unique fighting styles and skills. These qualities help them conquer younger inexperienced boxers who rely on their physical strength. Some older boxers have scored more wins than losses and are still physically fit. Therefore, they may see no reasons for retiring. Others have had unsuccessful careers and need to hold on as gatemen to make ends meet.

Injuries

Injuries will also determine whether the boxer holds on or goes home. Fractures and head injuries are more common than in any other sport. Let us paint a picture of how these injuries accumulate.

An icon boxer who is active and trains every day endures an average of 50 head blows daily. Now imagine taking 50 hits a day from the age of 16 until you’re 30. Fragile bones lead to pain and fractures. This causes some fighters to hold punches due to pain and getting punched in the process. Mayweather used anesthetics like Novocaine and Lidocaine to ease pain during some bouts.

Knockout Risks

A fight must end in a knockout or a technical knockout. KOs and TKOs cause concussions and hemorrhages that cause scarring of the brain tissue. The brain doesn’t regenerate, making the injuries permanent. The size of the glove also allows the boxers to hit harder.

Accumulation of brain injuries is life-threatening and ends careers. The fighter who has incurred more injuries is likely to retire younger. A person with impaired brain function can respond to some stimuli but is incapable of voluntary acts. Prichard Colon had to retire when his last bout put him in a vegetative state.

Money

Money can affect a boxer’s retirement in several ways. Some continue fighting because of a bigger earning potential. A good example is Floyd Mayweather, who retired several times but bounced back when there was a lucrative fight.

Other boxers hold on despite the red flags that they shouldn’t because they really need the money for survival. Some have to hang on to afford their lifestyles even when their body is asking for retirement.

Monotony and External Motivation

If you have been working the same job for 14 years, you know how draining and boring a routine is. The performance also declines with age, and by 30, some boxers have no motivation to soldier on. The youngest boxer to retire at age 26 simply said, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Decreased motivation can come in several ways. One is a repeat training routine in the same mundane training camps. Two, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. While old boxers can learn new fighting techniques, the procedures drain them and expose them to further injuries.

Lack of External Motivation

Retirement usually follows losses, although some retired early in their boxing careers when they were still winning. External motivation comes in the form of pressure to retire from fans. If you’re past your prime and your fans can sense the damage you’ve endured, they may pressure you to retire.

Despite all the factors we have listed, some fighters still have fought successfully well past their prime. There’s no shortage of older, more experienced boxers who have (successfully) managed to maintain their career. Let us look at some of them in recent history.

Boxers Who Successfully Boxed Past 40

The following people defied the biological clock and graced the ring at old age in recent history:

Floyd Mayweather

The legendary fighter has had one of the most successful careers retiring unbeaten. Mayweather first announced his retirement from professional boxing in 2007 after beating the Mexican American Oscar De La Hoya. He changed his mind two months later and won against the Brit Ricky Hatton 30-0 in the same year.

The icon would later come out of retirement and fight Marcos Maidan, Canelo Alvared, and Miguel Cotto back in 2009. He retired the third time and resurfaced to fight Manny Pacquiao in a fight dubbed “the fight of the century. He won the bout and fought Andre Berto, then officially announced his retirement.

Floyd would shelve his retirement plans and fight against a UCF fighter Conor McGregor. This allowed him to break Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record. He took out the Irishman with a technical knockout. Afterward, he officially retired unbeaten at age 41. He still holds exhibition fights.

Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao

Despite being a welterweight champion, the Philippine national attained eight different medals in 8 other divisions. Pacquiao had had a 26 years career since he made his debut at 16, weighing 106 pounds (48.08 kg).

He became an overnight sensation in some boxing circles. This happened due to his explosive style. Additional weight and speed allowed him to fight against hall of famers Juan Manuel Marquez, Erick Morales, and Marco Barrera.

Other Boxers Who Retired Past 40

In 2008 Pacquiao TKO’d Oscar De La Hoya to retirement and added Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton to the list. He featured in a super fight against the unbeaten king Floyd Mayweather in 2015. He lost but later won a junior middleweight world title the same year.

Pacquiao’s later years saw him win against the likes of Adrien Broner, Timothy Bradley Jr, Lucas Matthysse, and Jessie Vargas. He beat the unbeaten Keith Thurman at age 40, regaining the welterweight title. The former eight-division champion officially retired from professional boxing aged 42 to concentrate on politics, having attained 62-8-2, 39 KOs.

The oldest boxers to win titles include Larry Holmes (53), Roberto Duran (50), Bernard Hopkins (49), and George Foreman (48).

Final Thoughts

Most boxing experts agree that boxers should retire at the peak of their careers, usually at ages 30 to 35. However, there is no set retirement age limit, with some retiring as young as 26 and others aged 53.

Famous examples include Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran, and more. These icons managed to extend their boxing careers successfully for decades on end. Mayweather even finished his career unbeaten, proving that technique is much more important than strength when it comes to boxing.

 Therefore, if good fortune smiles your way and your health allows it, keep fighting!

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