Peter “The Pride of Providence” Manfredo Jr. utterly obliterated fellow Scott “The Sandman” Pemberton on February 13. Manfredo used a crisp left jab and a number of devastating right hands to stop “The Sandman” in the third.
What is most interesting about this fight was the difference in age between Manfredo, who is an up-and-coming Super Middleweight at 24 years old, and Pemberton, an experienced 39-year-old veteran.
Until that brutal beating, though, Pemberton was regarded as one of the best Super Middleweights in the world, ranked seventh by the International Boxing Federation (IBF). It seemed as though Pemberton suddenly got old on that February night.
The real issue here is when is it time for a fighter – or any athlete for that matter – to hang it up and call it a day?
One must also ask why exactly an athlete continues to compete even when it is apparent to the rest of the world that he is clearly shot.
Though these competitors may be damaging their legacies, as well as a number of brain cells, I believe that they hold on at long as they do because they know nothing else.
Take Michael Jordan for example. After the 1997-‘98 NBA season, Jordan retired from the sport as arguably the greatest player ever.
However, in 2001 a 37-year-old Jordan returned to the court for two more seasons. Jordan definitely did not need the money, and surely he had nothing left to prove, yet he came back for the love of the sport. Though he was not the typical “Air” Jordan we had all loved and hailed for the past 15 years, he was doing the only thing he knew how to… play basketball.
Thirty-seven-year-old NFL quarterback Brett Favre has recently stated he is contemplating retirement… thank god. With all the brutal hits and devastating sacks that Favre has endured over his career, it’s amazing he’s still all there upstairs.
It is understandable that these men continue to step into the ring, onto the court, or onto the field because they have a passion for their sports, but when a man’s health and well-being is at stake, a good dosage of common sense is in order.
“The Greatest of All Time,” Muhammad Ali, continued to fight until he was 39 years old. After a number of brutal wars with George Foreman, Ken Norton (twice), Joe Frazier (three times), and many others, it became evident in the last few years of his career that Ali was in clear and present danger every time he stepped in the ring.
Ali began fighting professionally in 1960; in 1981 he finally retired after suffering back-to-back vicious beatings from Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. Though Ali retired, it was not early enough. The result of being hit by 200+ pound machines for 21 years… Parkinson’s disease, which unfortunately plagues The Greatest. Ali can no longer complete full sentences. He requires a walker to assist him, and he often shakes uncontrollably.
It is a sad thing to see the man whom many regard as the greatest athlete of all time, regardless of the sport, in an almost vegetative state. It’s even harder knowing that if Ali retired just a few years earlier he’d still be as great and probably not as messed up.
However, there are still a number of aging athletes out there who can still compete and win on a professional world-class level.
Antonio Tarver, the Light Heavyweight king of boxing recently turned 37, but he has shown no signs of slowing down or inability to throw and protect himself from punches. Tarver may be relatively old, but he has only had 26 fights, whereas a fighter the same age such as Roy Jones Jr., whose skills have severely diminished, has been in 53 professional fights.
Heavyweights such as DaVarryl Williamson, 37, and Audley Harrison, 34, are able to still compete on a world-class level and still make it a good fight without risking severe damage from being punch drunk considering they have had 26 fights and 20 fights respectively.
It seems apparent that an athlete’s age is more or less measured by the number of times they step out onto the field, or into the ring, or onto the court. The number of hooks and uppercuts, sacks and late hits, in addition to the flagrant fouls and elbows one takes, seem to mean a great deal more than how many candles are on his birthday cake.
There is no definitive method to figuring out when an athlete is too old to play his or her respective sport; however, when an athlete is too old, it is apparent and obvious to the public. Unfortunately, many times these competitors do not realize it themselves or if they do, are in deep denial.
These competitors are placing themselves in great danger every time they continue to step out onto the field of play. Physicals given annually should be more than an eye and ear test. Reaction tests, CT scans, Neurology tests and MRIs should also be a mandatory every sport, every year.
If an athlete doesn’t pass… he doesn’t play.