History shows heavyweight fighting in your 50’s doesn’t go well

Ernie Shavers Heavyweight

World Boxing News asked the heavyweight question back in 2011, ‘Will it soon be normal to see boxers fighting in their 50s’. The article has since taken a sinister tone of realism.

The likes of Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., and James Toney were plying their trade at that time well into their late thirties and early forties.

Despite some holding less than impressive records later on in their respective careers, nothing transpired to intervene against any of those legendary boxers.

I guess it came with the territory of past accomplishments. Leading to an ‘if you’re old enough, you’re good enough’ kind of mentality.

Tell that to Ernie Shavers, though. The former world heavyweight title challenger severed an eight-year retirement back in 1995 to give it one more shot at 51.

A majority decision victory over 20-loss no-hoper Brian Morgan over eight rounds may have given the big-punching ‘Black Destroyer’ a false sense of security.

Two months later, against Brian Yates, a journeyman with five wins and sixteen defeats to his name, it all unraveled.

Yates recorded just the second stoppage of his career. But it was certainly nothing to celebrate. Using Shavers’ for his name only, the whole promotion was in poor taste.

Shavers luckily retired immediately, never to return.

READ: Will it soon be normal to see boxers fighting in their 50’s?

Now, there are arguments about some past champions coming back and doing okay. You might use Oliver McCall in this bracket.

But after five losses in eight bouts approaching his ‘first retirement’ while approaching 50, McCall had no business coming back four years later.

At 53, McCall – as with most who make a comeback – was capitalizing on his name. Two wins over shockingly mediocre opposition, though, led McCall to Jamal Woods in 2018.

Amazingly, ‘The Atomic Bull’ – looking considerably like a grandpa who should be at home with his pipe and slippers – went through all the pre-fight formalities before ducking out of the fight after the weigh-in.

His opponent at that time spoke exclusively to WBN to reveal what he saw happening.

Oliver McCall Jamal Woods
DM Productions

“Oliver McCall didn’t show to the fight he was scared at the weigh-in,” Woods exclusively told World Boxing News. “Oliver McCall is a has-been.

“He didn’t pay me for making a twelve-hour trip to the fight.”

With 42 losses on his C.V. and seventeen triumphs, Woods must have been a scary man at that weigh-in for McCall to exit stage left as he did.

We now have Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. and Evander Holyfield all preparing for their first bouts at fifty-plus. How many stories like those above will come from any events that ensue over the next few months?


Even the great Jack Johnson could have told a tale or two, maybe fired a warning to the trio about the perils of potentially ruining a legacy.

Johnson suffered three of his eleven losses into his 50s and could have left boxing with single-digit defeats had he not been enticed back.

So, how will heavyweight greats Tyson, Jones, and Holyfield fare? – Well, that’s anyone’s guess. My suggestion is it won’t be pretty.

Like a multi-car pile-up on the highway, you won’t be able to help but look. Sad but true.

Phil Jay is Editor of WBN. An Auxiliary member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay.