Indiana man set boxing world record but died two months before Guinness made it official

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This story explores suicide, including a father's struggle after his 32-year-old son took his own life. If you are at risk, please stop here and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support: 800-273-8255

INDIANAPOLIS — Al Hughes, Jr., sat in the front seat of his pickup reading his son's obituary for the thousandth time, wondering for the millionth time if he could hold on just a bit longer to see their dream come true.

Moments later, he was gone. Hughes died inside his truck on April 21.

"Dad was really deteriorating," said his daughter Amanda Moles. "He grieved himself to death."

Hughes' health had been worsening since his 32-year-old son Albert Hughes III died by suicide in 2019. He didn't have much to live for, Hughes told IndyStar months after his son's death.

Except for that dream.

Hughes and his son had concocted a plan to train together and have the senior Hughes, a professional boxer most of his life, fight at age 70 and set the record for oldest male boxer in the world.

Inside Tyndall Armory Dec. 14, 2019, Hughes fought the undercard against Tramane Towns and he won. He was 70 years and 234 days old.

Al Hughes, Jr., is shown in his fight at the Tyndall Armory December, 14, 2019, that set the world record for oldest active male boxer.
Al Hughes, Jr., is shown in his fight at the Tyndall Armory December, 14, 2019, that set the world record for oldest active male boxer.

The oldest male boxer record had been held by Stephen "Steve" Ward of the United Kingdom, according to Guinness. He was 60 years, 337 days old at the time of the bout in Nottinghamshire, UK, on July 15, 2017, that set the record.

The evidence of her dad's fight was submitted by Moles. Hughes waited — and he waited — for Guinness World Records to make it official.

Moles was standing there by the truck when her father died.

"His dying breath was he didn’t know if he was going to get that record," she said. "He tried to hold on. He tried. But he couldn't. He died thinking he wasn't going to win this."

One last promise to keep

The verification process was stringent to make the record official, Moles said. No one in the family knew when or if Guinness would give its approval.

Two months after Hughes died, Moles received notification that Guinness had confirmed her dad had set the world record. Hughes is now listed on its website as the oldest active male boxer in the world.

"Dad was real excited about winning," said Moles. "I hate it he didn’t get to see it."

Weeks before the fight in 2019, inside a 200-year-old ramshackle barn in Parker City, Hughes sparred in a loft beneath one glaring light.

It was frigid outside, he was in a tanktop and shorts preparing for the fight of his life. He was beating the bag with tears in his eyes, talking of his late son and how they had planned for this.

"I said, 'Son, I'm going to do this for you,'" Hughes told IndyStar at the time. "Because you really wanted me to. And if you were here, you would be right here doing it with me. I'm going to do it for you because you wanted me to so bad. I'll do it or I'll die trying."

His son was found dead the day before Hughes' birthday in April. Hughes III, who came out of the Army in 2010, had been in recovery three times. He was doing great, enrolled at Ivy Tech, an honor student.

The family was shocked.

"I couldn't even tie my shoes I was so grief-stricken, couldn't think, couldn't train," Hughes said in 2019. "I went to skin and bones. I almost died from grief and sorrow. And now I live every moment in grief and sorrow and will till I die."

Albert 'Al' Hughes III was one of over 6000 U.S. Military veterans who have committed suicide yearly since 2017. Hughes III had planned to compete on boxing undercard with his father and fellow veteran Al Hughes Jr., who will be fighting Dec. 14th in the "Seasons beating'" boxing event to earn a Guinness World Record as the oldest active boxer in the world in honor of his son.
Albert 'Al' Hughes III was one of over 6000 U.S. Military veterans who have committed suicide yearly since 2017. Hughes III had planned to compete on boxing undercard with his father and fellow veteran Al Hughes Jr., who will be fighting Dec. 14th in the "Seasons beating'" boxing event to earn a Guinness World Record as the oldest active boxer in the world in honor of his son.

Hughes said there was a time in his life a fight like the one he was practicing for would have meant something different.

"I would have been so thrilled for all the adulation and the attention, the glory, the glamour, the fame, the possible fortune," Hughes said. "I could care less about any of that. It's not about none of that."

It was only about keeping one last promise to his son.

'So proud of him'

It was 1967 and Hughes was a junior in high school when he spotted an ad in the newspaper. The Muncie PAL Boxing Club team was being formed. Hughes and his friends headed to the tryouts at an old building on Walnut Street.

His love of boxing was born.

After graduation in 1968 and three years in the Army, where he worked out with the boxing team, Hughes came back to the Muncie PAL club in September 1971.

He boxed any time he could. He learned the best way for a 165-pound fighter to win.

"I've never been a dancer, never learned ballet," he said in 2019. "I'm mostly a plodder. I'm not a fancy dancer, no Sugar Ray Leonard, no Muhammad Ali, never have been. I just keep the stance, move around, move around."

Seventy-year-old U.S. Military veteran Al Hughes Jr. stands in the 200-year-old barn he uses to train on his family's property in Parker City Ind., Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Hughes Jr. will fight to earn a Guinness World Record, Sat. Dec. 14, in honor of his son, Al Hughes III, a veteran who took his own life just days before Hughes's 70th birthday. Hughes III originally planned to fight on his father's undercard.
Seventy-year-old U.S. Military veteran Al Hughes Jr. stands in the 200-year-old barn he uses to train on his family's property in Parker City Ind., Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Hughes Jr. will fight to earn a Guinness World Record, Sat. Dec. 14, in honor of his son, Al Hughes III, a veteran who took his own life just days before Hughes's 70th birthday. Hughes III originally planned to fight on his father's undercard.

After three years of learning the tricks, Hughes was good — really good. On Feb. 28, 1974, he headed to a match in Indianapolis, the Golden Gloves state championships. He fought the middleweight amateur division and won the state title.

He held his gloved hand up in victory that night inside Tyndall Armory. In the exact same place he would set that world record.

Hughes turned pro April 17, 1975 at the old convention center in Muncie, where the new one sits now. He fought four, three-minute round preliminary bouts. He won by unanimous decision.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hughes was ranked in the top 25 as a professional middleweight. He had no idea then he would take to the ring again for one last fight at the age of 70.

"It means people, they don’t have to give up hope," Moles said of her father's accomplishment. "Dad was 70 years old, he boxed and he was scared to death but he did it anyway.

"If he can do it, anybody can. I'm proud of him, so proud of him."

Get help and hope

Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

When in doubt, reach out: National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255

For information and other resources: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana boxer set Guinness World Record, died before it was official