Most aging fighters, of course, decline gracefully and over time a la Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield and Oscar De La Hoya.
But yes, fighters have been known to 'hit a brick wall' when no one saw it coming. Roy Jones Jr is a fine example.
In fact, Jones Jr started his monumental decent at 34, getting heavily touched-up in his narrow decision verdict to a slightly older but far less shopworn Antonio Tarver. It would be Roy's last victorious hurrah on boxing's biggest stage as he would be knocked out in Round 2 of their rematch and never come close to regaining his previous status.
Prior to the 1990s, fighters in their mid 30s, especially non-heavyweights, were often considered over-the-hill or past their prime. That's not always the case today but fighters north of 35 still must be wary of Father Time because it can creep up and bite them without prior notice.
Tonight, 36 year old middleweight champion Gennady "GGG" Golovkin faces superstar Canelo Alvarez in a rematch of their September 2017 draw, an affair most believe Golovkin deserved to win. But in that encounter, Canelo, the younger man, used his speed to good effect while GGG looked hesitant at times to let his hands go.
Will Father Time catch up with the 36 year old Golovkin tonight?
Will he hit that proverbial brick wall?
Canelo vs GGG
Date: September 15, 2107
Broadcast: HBO PPV (US)
Champion: Golovkin (Consensus)
Venue: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Let's cycle back to Golovkin's 2017 and 2016 bouts with Daniel Jacobs and Kell Brook, respectively. He got hit far more than in those bouts than we'd ever seen.
Was age a factor? And after 350 (345-5) amateur fights and 40 prizefights, is Triple G slowing down?
Prior to the Brook fight, Keel's trainer, Dominic Ingle, told Sky Sports he believed Triple G, who was approaching 35 at the time, was slowing due to age and the years of physical wear and tear.
"Martin Murray is a big guy, a tough guy and had been in tough fights. He knew what he was up against in Golovkin and back then, Golovkin was an animal but watching his last couple of fights he seems to be slowing down."
Golovkin stopped Brook in impressive fashion but not before eating some heavy powershots from the smaller, naturally quicker Brit.
And in his 2017 bout with Jacobs, Golovkin was not nearly as explosive as fans have come to expect as Jacobs worked well behind a strong jab and superior body work. Following 22 straight knockouts, GGG had to settled for a close decision verdict as two judges scored it 115-112 while the third had it 114-113.
Golovkin, for the first time, looked human.
Was age a factor?
Some would insist 'level of competition' had everything to do with it. After all, Brook was the consensus welterweight champion and a top pound-for-pound fighter while hardcore junkies and true experts expected the little-known Jacobs to give Golovkin trouble because of the former's size, ranginess, power and overall skill set.
Gennady Golovkin, in his last 3 of 4 fights, hasn't looked like the invincible 'force of nature' we are accustomed to seeing - But again, GGG's level of competition had sharply risen.
The bigger argument
Often overlooked and sometimes mistaken for age is the accumulation of wear and tear on a fighter's body, which is arguably plays even a bigger role than age in a fighter's demise.
Fighters with long amateur careers such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker and Roy Jones, Jr, tend to slow down in their mid 30s while fellas with brief amateurs stints, like Bernard Hopkins, seem to have more in the tank at advanced ages.
Take George Foreman, for example. He was awesome in his 40s and, although his amateur career wasn't brief, Big George took a 10 year hiatus from the sport at 28. When he returned at 38, he was far fresher than his contemporaries at that age.
Fans see the fights but don't see all the training and hard work fighters do to prepare, including sparring. Think about all the training and sparring Golovkin did in his amateur career alone; 350 fights, even if only for a maximum of three rounds, is nothing to sneeze at.
And at the pro level, a fighter can spar hundreds of role to prepare for one fight. That's a lot of exertion on the body.
Thanks to enhancements in training and nutrition as well as more few open minds, today's professional athletes, especially boxers, are able to thrive at ages that were once unimaginable. So perhaps age, in some sense, is just a number.
And yes, we've seen exceptions to the rule. Floyd Mayweather and Wladimir Klitschko, despite lengthy amateur careers and 40+ pro bouts, were top 10 pound-for-pound fighers past 35.
If I'm Team Golovkin, I'd be more concerned with Gennady's wear and tear over the years moreso than his numerical age. That stated, I'd still make him the favorite tonight because, although not dominant, he's been winning against the best possible opponents.
A few top fighters in their mid 30s who hit a brick wall
- The great Sugar Ray Leonard was only 34 when he was beaten and battered by a 23-year-old Terry Norris; but Ray was a part-time fighter at the time, plagued by inactivity.
- Julio Cesar Chavez, still riding high, was a few weeks shy of 34 when he was sliced and diced by a younger Oscar De La Hoya
- Roberto Duran, at 33, was KO'd in two by a younger Thomas Hearns
- A heavily-favored 33-year-old Thomas Hearns was floored twice in his decision loss to Iran Barkley in their rematch.
- At 35, the awesome Pernell Whitaker tasted "real" defeat for the first time, losing a unanimous decision to Felix Trinidad.