Boxing fans are captivated by a comeback, a ring return that, if successful, can move, inspire and give a feel good sensation to millions. Yet if such a comeback backfires, falls flat on its face as the fighter attempting it does likewise, it can be crushing, even devastating.
Right now, as many fans have no doubt read or heard, a British boxing hero, a living legend with absolutely nothing to prove (aside, perhaps, to himself), is on the brink of fighting again. The fact that Nigel Benn, a genuine great, is coming back is one thing, the fact that he is doing so at age 55, after having had 23, yes, 23 years out of action, is another thing entirely.
Throughout the long history of this fantastic sport that so enthralls and entertains us, dominates us even, we have seen some amazing, wholly unlikely returns to form. Think George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Bernard Hopkins, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and maybe one or two more champions who, against the odds, came back to rule all over again.
But Benn, at age 55 (56 in January), after 23 long years out of the ring? Can this particular comeback possibly prove to be a positive, inspirational one? Or is Benn, as likeable a figure as this country and it’s sporting history has ever produced, headed for one terribly failed comeback that will result in nothing short of cataclysmic consequences?
Benn is in fantastic physical condition (it has been said, by his new promoter, that Benn is “probably the fittest 55 year old on earth”), yet does this mean he can fight, take head shots, body shots, the way he was once able to do? Who amongst us really wishes to find out?
We have no real way of knowing if Benn can shock the odds and make good of his comeback (set to be officially announced tomorrow, likely at light-heavyweight, against Sakio Bika), but if it goes ahead as planned, many millions of fans who remember Benn and his great days, and actually care about him, will be watching through sweaty, trembling fingers.
It takes heavyweight legend and all-time great George Foreman, a man who made a mockery of the odds so many times, to put Benn’s chances of success into perspective. Kindly taking time to speak with ESB this week, “Big George” makes no bones about the fact that Benn, at 55 years of age, should not take the risk he seems hell-bent on taking.
As fans should remember, Foreman came back in 1987, at the age of 37, this after a full ten years out. It can’t be done, it shouldn’t be attempted, said the “experts” back then. Only for George to prove them wrong. But there are limits to coming back to the rigours of the ring; to sparring and being hit in the head.
As George explains here:
“I came back at age 37. [That’s a] big difference [to age 55],” Foreman said this week.
“I won back the world title at age 45. The age of 55 travels into another world. An unsafe world. I can testify to this. I myself wanted to [fight] at 55, but the head cannot endure the punching, not even in sparring. Why I don’t know. I would advise [Nigel Benn] to stay put. The age of 55 really is another world in boxing.”
But will Benn take head and listen to the words of Foreman, very possibly the wisest, and healthiest, of former champions?