Ageless wonders: Greatest performances by fighters 40 and older

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Manny Pacquiao joined an exclusive fraternity when he defeated Keith Thurman by a split decision to win a major welterweight title in July 2019.

The ageless Filipino icon had turned 40 the previous December, which made his remarkable performance one of the best ever among fighters who are at least 40 years old.

How does it compare with other great performances by those 40-plus? Here’s a list of 10 that stand out, in order of magnitude.

Note: The Pacquiao vs. Errol Spence Jr. fight on Aug. 21 in less than a month away. This special feature is just one of many that will be posted in the coming weeks.

George Foreman KO 10 Michael Moorer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIyGIm9hm7A When: Nov. 5, 1994 Where: MGM Grand, Las Vegas At stake: Moorer’s IBF and WBA heavyweight titles Foreman’s age: 45 Result: Foreman by 10th-round knockout Background: Foreman’s “performance” essentially came down to one punch but oh what a punch it was. Moorer, who had outpointed Evander Holyfield to win the title in his previous fight, used his boxing skills and athleticism to control what seemed to be mismatch against his strong, but plodding opponent. Those at ringside could be heard saying things like, “This fight is a travesty! This shouldn’t have happened.” And then, BAM! Moorer might’ve gotten a little lazy for a moment and Foreman slipped a right hand through his guard, putting him flat on his back to become the oldest to win a major championship in any division. The victory came almost exactly 20 years after he lost the heavyweight crown to Muhammad Ali.

Archie Moore KO 11 Yvon Durrell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTtzltIK2ng When: Dec. 10, 1958 Where: Forum, Montreal At stake: Moore’s light heavyweight title Moore’s age: 42 or 45 (birthdate disputed) Result: Moore by 11th-round knockout Background: Boxing historians love this fight for obvious reasons. Moore went down three times and was hurt badly in the first round and appeared to on his way to an upset loss against the rugged Canadian. And he went down once more in Round 5. He had been campaigning at heavyweight in a series of fights before this one. It seemed his 40-plus body couldn’t take the weight loss. Then, in a demonstration of inhuman determination, he turned things completely around. He put Durrelle down four times and won the unforgettable fight by an 11th-round knockout. By the way, he stopped Durrell in the third round the following year.

Bernard Hopkins UD 12 Jean Pascal

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgReIeoxLK4 When: May 21, 2011 Where: Bell Centre, Montreal At stake: Pascal’s WBC light heavyweight title Hopkins’ age: 46 Result: Hopkins by unanimous decision Background: We could’ve gone with a number of Hopkins’ post-40 victories at No. 3. Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik, Tavoris Cloud, Beibut Shumenov. We went with his rematch with Pascal, with whom he had drawn six months earlier, because of its magnitude and Pascal’s ability. Remember, Hopkins was trying to supplant George Foreman as the oldest to win a major championship. Also remember that Pascal was highly respected. The Ring Magazine had him as its 175-pound champion. Although it was close and competitive, the old man, still a brilliant technician, outboxed a championship-level opponent 17 years his junior to win the WBC belt. If Hopkins wasn’t a legend before that fight, he certainly was afterward.

Manny Pacquiao SD 12 Keith Thurman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF7w98qiOio When: July 20, 2019 Where: MGM Grand, Las Vegas At stake: Thurman’s WBA welterweight title Pacquiao’s age: 40 Result: Pacquiao by split decision Background: Pacquiao had looked good against Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner leading up to the Thurman fight but the WBA champ was a different level challenge. He was unbeaten, a big, strong welterweight and athletic. Thurman had been dealing with nagging injuries and looked a little shaky against Josesito Lopez in his previous fight but he was still Keith Thurman, still one of the best 147-pounders in the world. That’s what made Pacquiao's accomplishment so special. Still quick, still clever, he put Thurman down in the opening round to set the tone, fought well in bursts, withstood Thurman’s rally in the middle rounds and then did well down the stretch to have his hand raised. It arguably was the greatest victory of Pacquiao’s career.

Larry Holmes UD 12 Ray Mercer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh4Mfwmn_tU When: Feb. 7, 1992 Where: Convention Center, Atlantic City, N.J. At stake: No titles Holmes’ age: 42 Result: Holmes by unanimous decision Background: Holmes had already lost back-to-back fights against Michael Spinks and was brutally knocked out by Mike Tyson a few years earlier. He beat some second-tier opponents subsequently but few observers gave him much of a shot against Mercer, the Olympic gold medalist who was unbeaten and had destroyed Tommy Morrison in his most-recent fight. Mercer was a 4-1 favorite. Well, Holmes, still skillful and fit for his age, outclassed Mercer in the end. He outsmarted and outboxed him to win a clear decision and put himself in position to fight for the title. And remember: He was competitive against a prime Evander Holyfield in that title fight, which came directly after his victory over Mercer. Holmes was still a good fighter into his 40s.

Bob Fitzsimmons PTS 20 George Gardner

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfuDTeSc3S4 When: Nov. 25, 1903 Where: Mechanic’s Pavilion, San Francisco At stake: World light heavyweight title Fitzsimmons’ age: 40 Result: Fitzsimmons by 20-round decision Background: Fitzsimmons already had Hall of Fame credentials entering this fight. “Ruby Robert” had held the middleweight and heavyweight titles, the latter of which he won in the 14th round by stopping James J. Corbett with his legendary solar plexus punch in 1897. He lost the crown to fellow Hall of Famer James J. Jeffries in 1902, after which the light heavyweight division was created. Fitzsimmons, a natural 175-pounder by then, challenged champion Gardner at the old Mechanic’s Pavilion before it was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Fitzsimmons didn’t exactly destroy Gardner but forced him to retire after 13 of a scheduled 20 rounds. Fitz retired in 1914 and died three years later. (Note: video is Fitzsimmons vs. Corbett.)

Thulani Malinga SD 12 Nigel Benn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrszIW6NyQ0 When: March 2, 1996 Where: Telewest Arena, Newcastle, England At stake: No titles Malinga’s age: 40 Result: Malinga Background: “Sugar Boy” found his greatest success at an age when most fighters are well into decline. The South African went 4-5 in a nine-fight stretch from 1990 to 1993 – including losses to Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Roy Jones Jr. – but bounced back to win five straight fights and earn another shot at Benn, who held the WBC middleweight belt. Malinga outboxed and outworked his rival to overcome a knockdown and win a split decision, giving him his first major world title at the age of 40. Benn said afterward that he underestimated Malinga even though their first fight was close. The lesson there? Never underestimate any opponent, particularly one as good as Malinga.

Bernard Hopkins UD 12 Kelly Pavlik

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OvCcI7FSMM When: Oct. 18, 2008 Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J. At stake: No titles Hopkins’ age: 43 Result: Hopkins by unanimous decision Background: In retrospect, it seems clear that a fighter should think carefully about moving up in the weight to fight an all-time great, even one at least somewhat beyond his peak. That’s what Pavlik did. The young star from Youngstown, Ohio, was a hot fighter a the time. He had defeated in succession Edison Miranda (at 160 pounds), Jermain Taylor (160), Taylor again (168) and Gary Lockett (160) going into his fight with Hopkins, which took place at a catch weight of 170. It wasn’t much of a contest. Hopkins gave Pavlik a frustrating boxing lesson to win all but one or two rounds and prove that he had plenty left as his 44th birthday approached. And, as we know, he was far from finished.

Cornelius Bundrage UD 12 Carlos Molina

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw0cxuvyCUw When: Oct. 11, 2014 Where: Oasis Hotel Complex, Cancun, Mexico At stake: Molina’s IBF junior middleweight title Bundrage’s age: 41 Result: Bundrage by unanimous decision Background: Bundrage had his greatest success in his late 30s and early 40s. The Michigander, a rough, clever boxer, had lost a close majority decision to Ishe Smith in the third defense of his 154-pound title early the previous year but wasn’t deterred. He rebounded to outpoint Joey Hernandez to set up a meeting with Molina, who had taken Smith’s belt by a split decision. Bundrage was near his best, putting the capable Molina down twice en route to a one-sided decision that allowed him to become the oldest ever to win a major junior middleweight title. He lost his belt to Jermall Charlo by a third-round knockout in his first defense and hasn’t been a major player since. However, the 48-year-old might not be finished. He made a comeback this past November, stopping journeyman Antoine Elerson in four rounds.

Ray Robinson UD 10 Denny Moyer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgZo12y4qhw When: Oct. 21, 1961 Where: Madison Square Garden, New York At stake: No titles Robinson’s age: 40 Result: Robinson by unanimous decision Background: Robinson has to be on this list. "Sugar Ray" had a long career after turning 40, fighting 44 times (30-10-3, with a no-contest). And he was still proficient, although he never fought for a major title in his 40s. His best victory was probably his unanimous-decision nod over Moyer, a 22-year-old who would go on to become a junior middleweight titleholder. Robinson no longer had the blazing-quick feet and hands of his youth but he retained good physical tools and a ring acumen that was as sharp as ever. That allowed him to outpoint his solid young opponent in a close fight. However, in the rematch 16 months later, Moyer dominated his once-great opponent en route to a one-sided decision. Robinson, generally considered the greatest fighter ever, fought until 1965 but struggled down the stretch.

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