By Eric Raskin
It’s a timeless tradition in boxing: A young up-and-comer looks to elevate his legacy with a win over whatever remains of an aging all-time great. That’s what Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is aiming for against “Sugar” Shane Mosley in the co-featured bout Saturday night, and there’s no shortage of examples over the years of sad spectacles that played out decisively in the younger man’s favor.
But there are also plenty of noteworthy cases where the “old man” rediscovered the magic and, whether he won or lost, the result was a classic fight that delivered drama and thrills.
Surely the most famous case was “The Rumble In The Jungle,” when the world feared for Muhammad Ali’s life against the destructive heavyweight champ George Foreman and Ali outwitted his stronger foe en route to an eighth-round knockout. And that wasn’t the last time ancient Ali took care of business against an opponent roughly a decade his junior. After a shock loss to neophyte Leon Spinks in 1978, Ali, in what would be his final victory, reversed the result to become history’s first three-time heavyweight champion.
Roberto Duran is another legendary fighter who twice pulled off late-career miracles in fights where he was supposed to serve as cannon fodder. His brutal beatdown of previously undefeated Davey Moore in ’83 was a stirring affair, topped six years later by Duran’s shocking triumph over Iran Barkley in The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year.
Of course, you can’t talk about age-inappropriate warriors excelling against younger opponents without talking about the three greatest 40-and-over fighters ever, Archie Moore, George Foreman, and Bernard Hopkins. Moore’s recovery from three first-round knockdowns to top Yvon Durelle in 1958 stands as the defining fight of his career. Although Foreman’s knockout of Michael Moorer in ’94 was the fight that made him the oldest heavyweight champ ever, it’s his competitive loss to Evander Holyfield three years earlier that stands as the more entertaining cross-generational clash. And though Hopkins isn’t known for making classic fights, his recent victories over Kelly Pavlik, Jean Pascal, and, in both cases, Father Time, were stirring in their own ways.
Two of the best recent examples of classic fights between an aging great and a hungry young gladiator featured modern Mexican legends exceeding the expectations of many observers. In 2009, Juan Manuel Marquez outdueled Juan Diaz on HBO in what would be named the Fight of the Year. And in 2011, Erik Morales bravely ignored a grotesquely swollen eye to give Marcos Maidana all he could handle en route to a narrow decision loss.
It’s been said many times that boxing is a young man’s game. And that statement is 100 percent true. Except when it isn’t.