Nothing Left To Prove

Most great boxers do not go gently into the good night of retirement, but instead rage and fight against the dying of the light. And while, having long passed their primes, they can still find opponents to beat, that doesn’t mean they should. Too often, they do, taking wins from novices or journeymen and in the process doing nothing to burnish their legacy. In fact, such victories can tarnish it. The health risks for aging boxers are well documented and such concerns are second to none, but matters of reputation and legacy factor in too when one has spent decades putting together a Hall of Fame career. Consider: Roy Jones Jr. won his last four fights; Bobby Chacon his last seven. But what boxing fan wouldn’t have loved to see both retire years before they finally did?

retire boxing jones gunn
Notching a win over Bobby Gunn added nothing to Roy’s legacy.

With such thoughts in mind, here’s my take on who should give serious thought right now to hanging ’em up, despite the fact these boxers can no doubt collect more wins and more paydays if they keep answering the bell. But a career doesn’t have to end with injury or humiliation to end badly, and I say better to retire and move on, then become like an aging RJJ or “Schoolboy.” The truth is, a number of active fighters today have both nothing left to prove and, whether they realize it or not, only one likely direction their career can now follow, that being decline, disappointment and defeat.

I was getting my hair cut this week, which is basically a monthly boxing chat with my barber, and at the mere mention of the name Gennadiy Golovkin, the snip-snip of the scissors stopped and my barber let out a sigh so profound he had to take a second to readjust his mask. There are few bigger fans of the Kazakh warrior than the two of us, and we both want him to call it quits.

Golovkin looked vulnerable against Derevyanchenko.

It’s no secret Golovkin is chasing a third fight with Canelo Alvarez, but given his performance against Derevyanchenko in October of 2019, and even going back to his close fight with Daniel Jacobs, it’s clear he just isn’t the same fighter who steamrolled Martin Murray and David Lemieux and who made both Miguel Cotto and Canelo decide discretion was the better part of valor back in 2015. That said, he still has plenty of power in his fists, not to mention a fan-friendly style, so even “gimme” fights, such as his stoppage of the overmatched Kamil Szeremeta, are watchable. But I question if the intelligent stalking of the Golovkin from say four years ago is still there, and if his next few outings won’t be a little uglier.

GGG is rich, he’s not shooting for belts in multiple divisions, and he’ll go down as one of the most feared champions in middleweight history. But at the age of 38, I don’t know that even beating Canelo, which at this point is unlikely, would allow him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Hagler, Hopkins, or Monzon. It’s a shame the division lacked elite talent during Golovkin’s prime, or that what talent was available didn’t have the guts to take him on, but that’s not his fault, and more punishing battles while he’s pushing forty can’t change the past. Speaking for both myself and my barber, at this point a retirement announcement makes way more sense than another fight date, even with Canelo.

It was evident as early as 2017 that Golovkin was in decline.

A past victim of Golovkin, Kell Brook, might also have been well served to walk away from the hurt business after having his face broken in that gutsy challenge back in 2016. Now, after seeing Brook dominated by Bud Crawford in November, it has to be time. No doubt the Englishman could find a string of lesser fighters to outclass over the next few years if he needs to capitalize on past accomplishments, but he’s no longer elite and on the wrong side of thirty and I can’t see him adding to his reputation by fighting on.

Brook’s signature win, a majority decision over Shawn Porter, is years away. He’s been thoroughly beaten by Spence and Crawford, and in my estimation even a middle-aged Pacquiao—who I would include as a candidate for retiring if he didn’t play with the concept of time more than anyone since Einstein—looks like he’d be too much for him. A much-discussed clash with Amir Khan would make the British fans happy, and certainly be a major payday, but that match is long past it’s “best before” date and, given Brook’s technical style, I don’t think it would be an entertaining watch for the fans.

Brook took some serious punishment from Spence in 2017.

Brook has a deserved reputation for being a gutsy fighter, but let’s face it: he’s made his money, and has nothing left to gain or to prove. If he were to ever ask for my advice it would be to hang up the gloves now and capitalize on his natural charisma and wit and move behind the microphone. I can easily envision him as a stellar analyst for fight broadcasts on Sky or BoxNation.

Meanwhile, Brook’s rival, “Showtime” Shawn Porter, should also consider the same route. He’s won titles, banked big paydays, and proved his quality and toughness, but losses to Thurman and Spence, not to mention a highly debatable win over Yordenis Ugas, show he’s never going to be the top guy at 147. There’s a chance he could beat Pacquiao, but at this point that win wouldn’t add much to Porter’s legacy. Given that Shawn has begun developing a broadcasting career, and that his flashy suits garner as much attention as his next potential bout, it’s time for him to move on.

Porter battles Spence in 2019; time to walk away?

On the women’s side of the sport, Amanda Serrano, fresh off a first round stoppage of Dahiana Santana, and still one of the queens of women’s boxing, should, in my view, consider walking away. She’s won nine championships in seven different weight classes; what else can she do? The only reason for her to stick around is for a big money fight with Katie Taylor, but the talk right now is this match just isn’t likely to happen. In my opinion, it would be wise for Serrano to step aside and let the next generation take center stage while she slides deservedly into the ‘GOAT’ conversation in women’s boxing.

There are dozens more fighters to discuss in this context, especially a group of aging heavyweights which includes Derek Chisora, Alexander Povetkin, and Kubrat Pulev, all of whom have zero chance of winning a belt from Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury, and so will likely end up being stepping stones for other contenders. That said, I’d like to finish my lecture with a bold claim: Vasiliy Lomachenko, Mister Hi-Tech himself, would be smart to retire right now.

Usyk outboxes Chisora: time for “Del Boy” to hang ’em up?

Now hear me out: I’m a big fan of Loma, as big as I am of Golovkin, maybe more so. And, admittedly, of all the boxers I have mentioned here, he has the most left. No doubt he could win more belts against top competition, and I would not put it past him to best Teofimo Lopez in a rematch. But the fact remains, with the loss to “The Takeover,” the Ukrainian has reached his ceiling.

Think about it: he’s done it all. Even if he dropped down and beat the best at junior-lightweight, which I consider a much better weight class for him, would we think more of him? He’s defeated great fighters like Rigondeaux, fought and bested bigger men like Jorge Linares and Luke Campbell, and demonstrated truly elite skills. He boasts one of the best amateur records in boxing history and he’s got belts, gold medals, and loads of cash in the bank. This is what we call stupendous success in the brutal business of professional prizefighting.

time to retire for Loma?
Loma’s achievements can’t be questioned; is now a good time to walk away?

Sure, I can see the argument for Loma dropping back to 130 and taking on Miguel Berchelt or Gervonta Davis, either of which would be a great win, but for me such victories would solidify his standing, not improve it. Say what you will, the undeniable fact is Lomachenko has reached the summit of his profession and established a lasting legacy; the only direction to go from here is down.

I’m well aware my arguments here are likely to be ignored, that few, if any, of these warriors are even thinking about retirement. As all fight fans know, boxers are, in the main, fervent and driven competitors. I understand and admire that. But I also admire Andre Ward for stepping away at his peak, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk for knowing when he’d accomplished all he could and leaving with both his health dignity. And of course we all remember such greats as Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano quitting while they were ahead. Health must be the primary factor when a boxer  deliberates retirement, but the question of whether the reward is worth the obvious risk, if significantly more can be gained in terms of accomplishment and legacy, should also be considered.

— Joshua Isard   

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