Age is just a number. I say it to our fighters all the time. And I coach a number of Masters Boxers (age 35+) and have coached at several Masters Boxing Tournaments. I truly admire those who stepped in the ring at the Dreamland Boxing Masters World Championships last September.
But when Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr was announced? Completely against it. To the point that I didn’t want to contribute to the hype surrounding it. It’s the same familiar story of boxers post-retirement having the itch to step back into the ring, usually to disastrous results.
So when is a fight happening “too late”? It’s not about the biological years – it’s about the “boxing years” or the wear and tear that fighters put on their body. Some people argue Roy Jones Jr. should have retired after the Antonio Tarver or Glen Johnson losses in 2004-2006. At the very least, he should have retired before the 2009 stoppage loss to Danny Green, which preceded his scary knockout losses to Denis Lebedev and Enzo Maccarinelli. Roy Jones Jr started boxing at 6 and is now 51 – and now has a number of knockout losses under his belt. I really have no need to see him fight, even in an exhibition, ever again.
Which brings me to my next point. Don’t listen to your age. Listen to your body.
Everybody in this sport has a window. Styles and self-care can either shorten or lengthen that window. Some people burn out quick, and some have the style or make the adjustments to make for a long career. Someone mentioned that Bernard Hopkins was a world champion at 49. Well, Bernard Hopkins took incredible care of his body and didn’t take the punishment some fighters take even in a much shorter span of time. And he knew exactly when to get out. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (despite his KO losses) are guys that fought well in their 40s. All of our masters fighters at Dreamland are well schooled, and there is no way we would let them compete if we didn’t think they were capable of doing so at a high level.
Sometimes our young kids take for granted the time they have in the sport. But as a coach, I try to teach them how to extend that window, allowing them to do it for a long time. It requires a lot of discipline outside of the gym. My main tips for extending your boxing life are as follows:
- Don’t gain excessive amounts of weight in between fights.
- No alcohol.
- The norm is to stay away from drinking 5+ weeks before a fight, and some fighters like to “make up for it” in between training camps. They can get away with it in the short run, but it shows up in the long-term and shortens their time in the sport.
- RESPECT YOUR INJURIES. RESPECT YOUR BODY.
- Listen to your Body: No, you shouldn’t jump immediately back into the gym and fight through the pain. No, you can’t skip your rehab. No, it’s not a good idea to sleep for under 2 hours (when your body repairs itself), and expect to have a good day of training.
- Sleep: This is one I routinely ignored. No amount of caffeine can make up for a lack of sleep. Sleep is also where your glymphatic system is activated – or when cerebrospinal fluid flushes your brain of the beta amyloid plaques that build up and eventually lead to cognitive decline. Boxing’s a dangerous enough sport. Boxing and inadequate sleep is a horrible combo.
- Focus on Injury Prevention: Now, I’m focused on prehab and injury prevention first and foremost. Don’t shortcut your warm-up. I was one of those guys who never stretched and jumped straight into sparring – huge mistake, and I’m lucky I never paid the consequences with any major injuries. But I definitely have some mobility issues that I’m working through today because of that ignorance.
- Just remember that injuries can easily be the end of you.. Take it seriously.
- Eat properly.
- No crash dieting. The weight gain and weight loss cycle will get to be too much at some point.
- You can’t out-train a bad diet. There are so many health concepts that I discuss on this blog that should address how the quality of your food matters. Making weight in the short term is one goal. But the way you do it is even more important – reducing inflammation, reversing insulin resistance, and keeping all of your key biomarkers in check will paint a clearer picture of your overall health.
- ADJUST YOUR GAME.
- I wrote about Bernard Hopkins and his longevity earlier. He was a student of the game and always fought his fight. Floyd Mayweather is another guy who transitioned his game towards the end of his career. Roy Jones Jr is the example of a gifted athlete that couldn’t change his style when his speed left him.
- Be Honest with Yourself.
- You’ll know when to hang them up.
There’s no set number of fights that you should have, and no set age where you need to stop boxing. It’s really not that simple. But what I try to teach our fighters is to take care of their bodies, inside and outside of the ring to extend their time in the sport (and I believe, in life).