Boxing Comebacks: No Stop Watches, But The Clock Keeps Ticking

26.08.04 – By Frank Lotierzo – – What is it about fighters that makes them want to continue fighting when it’s obvious to all that have observed them that it’s over. That being said, I’m not going to lump just professional fighters in this group. We see it in all Sports, especially Football, Basketball, and Baseball. Yes, there have been just as many athletes in those before mentioned Sports who have comeback or refused to leave the game when it was clearly over for them too.

Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan came back after they said it was time to let the younger guys take over the game. Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, and Joe Montana hung on too long. The same applies to Hall-of-Fame pitchers Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, who both stayed a little too long and attempted ill fated comebacks. Short sighted comebacks aren’t exclusive to just fighters.

In a perfect Sporting World, everybody would leave while they can still fight, play, or after a Championship. However, it’s so rare today for a great, I mean a genuine all-time great like John Elway, Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown, Rocky Marciano, and Lennox Lewis to leave at the perfect time. No doubt the athletes who retire and never comeback miss the limelight, adulation, money, and being in the Big-spot as much as their peers who temp fate and comeback. It could be the ones who stay retired have prepared and developed outside interest better than those who can’t stay away. Maybe the ones who comeback can’t find any other identity in life.

In professional Boxing, it’s easier for a former great to try and get back into the mix than it is in other sports. The problem fighters have is two fold. When Louis comes back and gets knocked out of the ring by Marciano, he looks sad and pathetic. Compare that to Unitas or Montana getting picked off in their last couple games because they now have a rag-arm. What looks worse, a 38 year old Ali getting pummeled by Holmes over 10 rounds, or a 38 year old Jordan being shut down by Kobe, who out scores him and had two or three steals off him. It’s not even a contest, Ali looks much worse than Jordan at the end getting abused by the new and future great. Same thing with Steve Carlton getting lit up in triple A-ball, compared to Holmes being stopped at 38 for the only time in his career by Tyson.

There’s no comparison. An old fighter taking a beating looks much worse and more pathetic than an old quarterback throwing a couple interceptions, or an old two-guard shooting 3/16 and turning the ball over six or seven times. Magic, Jordan, Montana, and Carlton didn’t tarnish their legacy by their last couple seasons or games. Just as Louis and Ali didn’t tarnish their legacies because of their last couple fights. It’s just that Louis and Ali look worse losing than Montana and Jordan. That’s because the short comings of Montana and Jordan are only highlighted for seconds, a missed shot or an interception. Instead of taking a beating for 8-10 rounds. Missing a shot or a open receiver doesn’t look nearly as bad as missing a punch or getting punched!

What else makes great fighters look worse compared to other great athletes is that the other athletes experienced failure in their prime. Michael Jordan missed plenty of shots in his prime, he just missed more at 38. Tom Seaver gave up home-runs when he was Tom Terrific, just not as many as he did at the end of his career. Johnny Unitas threw his share of interceptions and in-completions in his prime, but not as many as he did in the last couple years he played. Opposed to Joe Louis who was never taken apart in his career like he was by Marciano. And Muhammad Ali was never pummeled in a fight like he was by Holmes when he came back after retiring and not fighting for 25 months.

The other problem fighters have is that they don’t have to compete with a stop watch, radar gun, or a first round pick who is sitting on the bench. If Seaver used to throw 96 mph and is now only throwing at 89-90, the team will save him from himself and not sign him, or they’ll release him. If Montana can’t throw the ball with the same release and accuracy that he once did, he’ll end up playing for the Chiefs and struggling, especially if Steve Young is riding the bench for a lot of money.

Fighters don’t have to make the team or beat the stop watch. All they have to do is pass a physical and get their weight down. If you’re talking about a fighter like Ali, Leonard, or Holmes, you better believe that the sparring partners who work with them will be ones who will not try to make a name off of them. If Holmes is tuning up his sparring partners preparing for Jesse Ferguson, he feels like he’s close to the same fighter who prepared for Shavers an Ali. That’s the problem with Boxing, sparring sessions and workouts can be manipulated and controlled, unlike radar guns and stop watches.

The problem with older athletes is no different than it is with every aging man or woman. It just hurts fighters more than other athletes and the rest of society. I can personally attest to this. I feel like the same person I did twenty years ago, and see the same person in front of the mirror as I did then. I haven’t lost my hair and my body is basically unchanged, but I can’t pass for 24 either. You know when I feel older? When I go out to a club with a friend and start looking around, and then saying to my buddy, how many people in here you think are older than us. I’m 44 and he’s 45. I haven’t fought in a ring for real since 1982, yet when I stand in front of a mirror and mess around shadow Boxing, I see the same guy I did in 1982. However, I know it is a big lie that my eyes are portraying on me. Basically, fighters/athletes aren’t any different than anyone else.

It was announced earlier this week that former Heavyweight Champion Riddick Bowe is going to fight for the first time since December of 1996 when he last fought Andrew Golota. I was at Bowe’s last two fights versus Golota in New York City and Atlantic City. He was a shot fighter then and took a terrible beating in the second Golota fight. I remember talking to Riddick at the Bernard Hopkins-Simon Brown title fight in Atlantic City in January of 1998. Believe me, I hate saying this more than anybody about a fighter, but Mr. Bowe was a little difficult to understand. Maybe I caught him on a bad night, I sure hope so. That being said, Bowe looked like an empty Christmas present against Golota back in 1996.

I guess Bowe feels like he has some unfinished business in Boxing. Maybe due to some questionable decisions in his personal life which forced him to retire at age 30, it was too soon for him. From everything I’ve heard and everyone I’ve talked to over the years, Bowe was invested well and is very wealthy today. So money isn’t the motivating factor, which is actually a positive. At least we know it’s coming from his heart. Over the years Bowe has said to many that have come in contact with him that he’s not finished with Boxing. However, many were hoping that the urge would cease and he’d change his mind. You’d think after watching Holyfield getting stopped by Toney and Tyson getting stopped by Williams in their last fights would tell him something. And Holyfield and Tyson have kept a Spartan pace over the last seven years compared to him. No such luck.

Most likely this comeback by Bowe will be realized. Hell, Jerry Quarry was cleared to fight in his mid forties, Bowe just turned 37, he’s still a pup. Look for reports to come out during the weeks leading up to the fight on how great Bowe looks and how his weight is really down. We’ll probably hear how good he’s looked sparring and he’s close to the Bowe of old. No doubt a couple days before the fight Bowe will look in a mirror after a hard workout and feel like a million dollars. In fact he’ll see the same guy who took the title from Evander Holyfield back in November of 1992, in what was the signature fight of his career. Too bad only he will see that same guy.

I don’t see Bowe coming to his senses and realizing that he can’t become the next George Foreman, for many reasons. One being that when Foreman retired in March of 1977, he took less punishment than any Heavyweight Champ in history. Not to mention that Foreman is a physical freak of nature, Bowe isn’t.

Don’t look for Bowe to save himself from himself. And no way Boxing will save Bowe from himself. It never has before.