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Sylvester Stallone, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones, JR., Bert Cooper, & More: When to Say When

By Geno McGahee

“I appreciate that, but maybe you’re looking out for your interests just a little bit more. I mean you shouldn’t be asking people to come down here and pay the freight on something they paid that still ain’t good enough. I mean you think that’s right? I mean maybe you’re doing your job, but why you gotta stop me from doing mine? ‘Cause if you’re willing to go through all the battling you gotta go through to get where you wanna get — Who’s got the right to stop you? I mean maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really wanna do, something you never said to somebody — somethin’! — and you’re told “No,” even after you pay your dues? Who’s got the right to tell you that? Who? Nobody. It’s your right to listen to your gut. It ain’t nobody’s right to say “No” after you earned the right to be where you wanna be and do what you wanna do.” – Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) from ROCKY BALBOA

I recently watched Sly Stallone say those words with passion as the character “Rocky Balboa” in the last entry of the series when the boxing commission opted against allowing his boxing license, but the conviction of the former heavyweight champion convinced them to give him a chance and put him into the ring with the current champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but to cheer on Rocky in his quest. You have to love the heart and guts of the fighter and, in a surprise to many, he nearly beat the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Shortly after, I heard that 45 year old “Smokin” Bert Cooper, 38-23, 31 KO’s, was facing the undefeated Cuban heavyweight, Luis Ortiz, 8-0, 6 KO’s, and I became immediately concerned. Cooper is old, has had his fair share of drug problems, his fair share of tough fights, and his recent record of 5-5 didn’t bode well for his chances of an upset. In fact, there was a great chance of a beating occurring, but then I thought of Rocky and his speech and began to scream “Bert! Bert!” I attempted to get others to join in, since Rocky typically had a chorus of fans screaming his name, but my crowd declined.

In the second round, Cooper crumbled. Rocky went down often, but he never stayed down with the exception of his bout with Clubber Lang, but he wasn’t focused due to the condition of his trainer. So, “Smokin” Bert was bound to arise and he did…and he got knocked down again and out of the fight. Hmmm…didn’t end like ROCKY.

Unfortunately, the boxers involved in this piece are not Rocky Balboa and there will be no big comeback of a fighter down on his luck and beyond his better years. It’s the unfortunate nature of the champion fighter to continue on and continue to do what they know how to do: fight. Those that have lived in the limelight have a hard time letting it go and living a normal life and this is part of the reason why we see these spent forces still duking it out in the ring.

Roy Jones, JR., 54-7, 40 KO’s, has me concerned as he heads into his fight in Moscow against cruiserweight Denis Lebedev, 21-1, 16 KO’s, at the cruiserweight limit (200 pounds). In a different time, Lebedev would be a heavyweight, and that is realistically what Jones is fighting on May 21st in Russia.

Roy’s recent track record of 5-6, coupled with his diminished reflexes and brittle chin make him a stepping stone sort of opponent for the heavy-handed Lebedev. The Russian fighter is slow, but it doesn’t matter at this point. Roy can’t get out of the way anymore and when he loses, he typically looks terrible and it can get scary. When Joe Calzaghe was giving him a systematic beating, it was a terrible sight. When Glen Johnson knocked him out, it looked dangerous, and when Danny Green pummeled him inside of one round, it verified what most were saying. He has nothing left. His reflexes, which he has built his career on are gone, and now he only has a puncher’s chance and he is not a puncher at 200 pounds.

Jones, JR., in financial crisis, will take this fight and win or lose, continue on, but the concern is that he will be seriously injured inside of the ring, and nobody wants to see an all time great suffer permanent injuries or even worse.

Evander Holyfield, 43-10-2, 28 KO’s, is another case, but at least he is taking on opponents that make sense. He took on Sherman Williams, would have lost had he not quit in his corner and was awarded a “no contest,” something that you can manipulate if you own the show, and decided that he wanted to take a few steps down and selected Brian Nielsen. With nine years on the shelf, you have to imagine that Nielsen will not be that sharp and despite that, I make the odds even in this fight with Holyfield. Nielsen isn’t a knockout threat as Williams turned out to be, so win or lose, Evander should walk out in one piece. If he somehow gets a shot at a David Haye or Klitschko brother, that’s when to worry. Holyfield’s reflexes are worse than Roy Jones, JR.

Those that quickly jump to the defense of Roy, Evander, Cooper, and others that have come back when it is obviously not in their best interest, point to the successful comeback of George Foreman, where he returned and won the legitimate title in his 40s, but Foreman was the exception, not the rule, and he never took a beating like the three mentioned have. He was never starched like Roy and Cooper were. He was rather fresh and took care of himself and was really just a special fighter. The comparison does not stick.

I’m nostalgic like most people are. I remember renting all of the Holyfield pay per views and cheering his heart and ambition in the ring. I watched the rise of Roy Jones, JR., the guts of Bert Cooper, but boxing is an unforgiving sport. Each fighter, no matter how good, has a lifespan in the game and when it’s over, it’s over. The opponent that every fighter cannot defeat is father time, and it has taken its toll on those mentioned above and many others.

In the end, a fighter fights. It’s up to the commission to do their job and give the appropriate tests to ensure that the fighter is as safe as he can be in this brutal sport. The unfortunate truth is that money talks and if a fighter can still draw a crowd, the commission seems to look the other way. Look for the trio mentioned in this piece to continue on and hopefully they can walk away with the faculties they have left in order.

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