Luke Campbell’s resignation was encouraging and contrasted sharply with the comebacks of Oscar De La Hoya and Riddick Bowe
LUKE CAMPBELL, who announces his retirement with a smile on his face as he describes what is really important in life, his family, is at the top of my favorite moments in Olympic coverage so far.
Retiring at just the right time is rare in our sport and Luke looks like he’s one of the lucky ones. The pit life after death is difficult to negotiate and even Campbell, who has long been financially secure, will have moments when he longs to put on his gloves, hear the crowd shout his name and step between those familiar old ropes again . Too many leave the sport and let themselves be persuaded to return or succumb to the voices in their own minds telling them they still have it.
Two recent examples are Oscar De La Hoya and Riddick Bowe, who, like Campbell, got their first glimpse of worldwide admiration at the 2012 Olympics. Bowe took a silver medal in 1988, four years before De La Hoya performed better. Despite their remarkable achievements as professionals, no one could find solace on the other side of the ropes.
We often criticize those who choose to keep fighting without really empathizing. But unless we have experienced the ups and downs of the elite struggle or the stifling void that all too often follows, we may not be the best people to comment on. We shouldn’t blame a boxer for wanting to come back. However, there only has to be a duty of care.
The decision by the California State Athletic Commission to sanction 48-year-old Oscar De La Hoya’s eight-round comeback as a professional competition in October is unfortunate. I know the rounds are only scheduled for two minutes at a time, but that alone should set the alarm bells ringing. If they have to change the regulations to accommodate De La Hoya, we really have to ask ourselves why these regulations were created in the first place.
I can’t understand who pats the legend on the back when he talks about fighting Canelo Alvarez after doing a couple of warm-up laps. The notion that De La Hoya, who probably peaked as a super-lightweight 25 years ago, can somehow rebuild himself after his punishing loss to Manny Pacquiao to Alvarez in 2008 is utterly ridiculous. Furthermore, it is hard to deny that even a top-notch De La Hoya could have beaten a super middleweight Alvarez ‘size and caliber.
Bowe’s case is worse. Damon Feldman, the founder of Celebrity Boxing and the man responsible for providing a comeback platform to a 53-year-old with definite neurological damage, shouldn’t be allowed near the sport regardless of the level of competition he organizes become.
De La Hoya getting back in shape is to be admired, especially after the years of turmoil he’s been through. Those who say Oscar training for the fight is better than going back to rehab, or that Bowe’s return to a certain level of fitness will be beneficial, have a point.
But they’re also missing out on the biggest thing: boxing is a game for young people, and changing that truth will only increase the potential for disaster.
Even though boxers get fit again by the age of 40/50, lose weight and feel better than they have for years, and therefore convince themselves to feel better than ever, they simply cannot defy the physics of aging. A boxer who peaked in his twenties will not nearly reach those highs in his forties and fifties. And don’t get me started with George Foreman, because for every Big George – who returned after 10 years of clean living at age 37 to slowly work his way back – there are hundreds of brains destroyed. It is time we focused on those brains instead of allowing more harm to happen.
There are signs, like Campbell’s wise decision to retire, that boxers are beginning to understand the dangers of fighting too long. Over the past few years we’ve seen some high profile fighters hang up their gloves at just the right time instead of continuing to punish themselves. That is the message that we must campaign for.
- IF Campbell’s decision to retire was heartwarming, the boxers’ efforts at the current Olympics have been nothing short of impressive. At the time of writing there is still much to be decided, but GB is already ready for its best Olympic medal hunt since 1920. This is an incredible feat that speaks for a sport with a bright future in this country.