• Steve Bunce

Retirement in boxing: It's complicated

Steve Bunce January 8, 2013
If someone met his ,000,000 pricetag, even Lennox Lewis might come out of retirement © Getty Images

'When should I retire?' is a question modern boxers ask themselves even in the early stages of their career.

The question will hang over them for as long as they box and the strange thing is, once they have stopped fighting, the question often changes and expands: 'When should I go back into the ring and who for?'

Boxing is like no other sport in this regard because when a fighter retires, in modern terms at least, he doesn't really retire, he just steps aside until a good offer comes in. When they are younger, fighters might announce their retirement five years before they intend to stop. David Haye and Amir Khan are two who have done this and are now revising their decisions.

In the past 20 years very few fighters have retired and stayed retired. Lennox Lewis and Joe Calzaghe are two monster exceptions. They said "That's it" and they meant it. Lewis knew his body would not allow him to go where he had been before. He knew he could probably keep on winning for a long time, and make money, but it was getting harder and harder. Not just in the ring but with the preparation. He was getting older and had been putting his body through the mill for a lot of years and there's a lot of body on Lewis.

With Calzaghe, the situation was different. Here was a guy who was certainly not in decline. He had always had back, hand, hip, leg and shoulder problems but he always fought through them. In many ways Joe could still have some great years ahead of him, however he had something very few people take into retirement with them. He had a zero on his record - he had never lost.

That guaranteed his place in a very small group of brilliant fighters and he wanted to stay in the gang.

Both Lewis and Calzaghe have had monster offers on the table but their heads have not been turned. Lewis originally put a $100,000,000 dollar pricetag on his return and although offers started way short of that, it's halfway towards it as far as I can work out. As for Calzaghe it's a similar situation. He's had different offers and Carl Froch was talking about fighting him not so long ago.

When it comes to making the final decision on when to retire, it's your wife, ideally, who can advise you best. But there's been some cases, and there's one or two in America at the moment, where some substantially aggressive wives are looking after their husband's interests. Now I wouldn't put a rabid dog in the care of some of these women but they are out there.

David Haye has flip-flopped on his retirement more than once © PA Photos

Who are they? I can't say, but if you are in the ring, bashed up and almost unrecognisable, and your wife is front and centre, screaming at the referee that he has stopped the fight too soon, you might want to consider the fact that you made a mistake when you married her.

So it's not necessarily your wife. It's a combination of family and friends yet we certainly can't paint all promoters, trainers and managers as vile human beings. There's enough promoters in this country that refuse to work with fighters and then have quiet, and private, words with the British Boxing Board of Control to make sure that fighter is not given a licence again.

That happens quite a lot. It's not advertised because it would seem like a betrayal. But there's several high-profile fighters in this country that have drifted away from the ring and wanted to continue, yet their promoters/managers were instrumental in them not getting a licence.

It was sad to see for boxing fans when great fighters like Roy Jones, Evander Holyfield, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Hector 'Macho Man' Camacho, Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes continued fighting for way too long.

But making a comeback when you are past your best is not a modern phenomenon. Joe Louis had to come back and fight Rocky Marciano just because he had to pay the taxman in 1951. However what is amazing, is that fighters who have made the type of money that Jones, Holyfield and Hearns did, still needed a payday fight to pay the bills.

In the current arena there are some big names who must be considering their future, namely Floyd Mayweather Jr, Manny Pacquiao and Haye. But I don't think any of the three will genuinely walk away. Haye won't because he has some unfinished business with the Klitschkos and as much as he likes going into the jungle, making his keep-fit DVDs and his phone apps, the bottom line is that he also likes money.

But he has to balance the health-money ratio. He's not going to fight Billy Nobody for the right to get at someone, as Holyfield did, but he will hold out for a big fight and that could happen against Vitali Klitschko this year or next.

Could it be against David Price or Tyson Fury? Possibly. If they become world champions later this year, or in 2014, and become even bigger attractions than they are domestically at the moment then Haye would 100,000% end his retirement for a massive showdown at Wembley.

There's just no need to fight any of them now.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.