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6 of the Best Late Bloomers in Boxing History

Steve SilvermanFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 13, 2017

6 of the Best Late Bloomers in Boxing History

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    Boxing stories are unique.

    Each individual fighter goes through his own trials and travails on the way to becoming a top professional.

    Some fighters get started because of brilliant athletic talent that gives them an edge every time they step in the ring. However, most fighters go through a long learning process before they get to the top level.

    A late bloomer may be a boxer who shows little ability in the early part of his career and then suddenly surges later on. A late bloomer may be a good fighter in his younger years and then become a great fighter. A late bloomer may finally get the recognition and opportunity he deserved early on, but it comes later in his career.

    Here's a look at six of boxing's most notable late bloomers.

Ken Norton

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    Ken Norton was just another fighter who was struggling to make a name for himself in 1973 when he was given the opportunity to fight Muhammad Al on ABC's long-running sports series called the Wide World of Sports.

    Norton was 29 at the time of the fight. He had a 29-1 record at the time of the fight, and he was known for his bodybuilder's physique and intimidating size.

    However, he was not known as a big-time fighter who was on track to becoming a champion.

    That changed when he beat Ali in that fight. Ali did not appear to take Norton seriously, but when he was hit with a jaw-breaking punch early in the fight, that changed his attitude.

    Ali needed all his strength to survive. He lasted through the 12-round fight, but Norton became a household name because he won the decision and had beaten the great Ali.

    Norton would go on to become one of the best heavyweights in his era. He had two more fights with Ali and lost them both, but they were very tight decision.

    Norton was not as good as Joe Frazier or George Foreman, but he was comparable with the other fighters, including Larry Holmes.

    The two fought in 1978, and Norton lost a split decision by a narrow margin.

Bernard Hopkins

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    Bernard Hopkins is not a typical late bloomer.

    Instead of being a relatively unknown fighter in the early part of his career who came on at a later age, Hopkins made steady progress in the early part of his career and was always considered a talented boxer. He made a name for himself as a 25-year-old when he lost a decision to Roy Jones, Jr.

    Hopkins came on after that and became one of the top fighters through the end of that decade.

    However, Hopkins did not go away or start to fade when he turned 35. Many fighters no longer have the quickness or reactions after that age, but Hopkins has continued to fight.

    He held on to the WBC light heavyweight championship in 2011 when he defeated Jean Pascal at the age of 46, but he lost a majority decision earlier this year to Chad Dawson.

    While Hopkins first "bloomed" at the age of 25 in boxing, he bloomed again in his late 30's and 40's.

Rocky Marciano

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    Rocky Marciano is one of the most legendary heavyweight champions of all-time.

    Marciano, known as the Brockton Blockbuster, finished his career with a 49-0-0 record, and he knocked out 43 of his opponents.

    Marciano won the heavyweight title when he knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott in 1953 in the 13th round. At the time, Marciano had recently turned 30.

    Early in his career, Marciano had been looked at as an awkward fighter with a heavy punch who often seemed amateurish in the ring.

    However, he improved his foot work and balance and gradually became one of the most dangerous punchers in the history of the heavyweight division.

    While he never lost, he didn't become a great fighter until his late 20's, and when he got his title shot later on, he took advantage of it.

James Toney

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    James Toney is one of the most unique fighters in the history of boxing.

    As a young boxer, he got off to a stellar start, reeling off win after win with his quick hands and uncanny defensive ability.

    He had a huge match with Roy Jones, Jr. in 1994 for the super middleweight championship, and he lost that fight. He also lost the following fight with Montell Griffin.

    It seemed Toney was on an arc towards mediocrity, but he continued to work at his craft and get better.

    He later won championships as a light heavyweight and cruiserweight.

    Toney is still fighting as a 44-year-old heavyweight. He showed well as a young fighter, but he bloomed even brighter as an older one.

Sonny Liston

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    Sonny Liston is best known for his baleful stare and his hard knockout punch.

    He was an overwhelming favorite when he fought Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) in 1964, and he lost that title fight.

    However, he won the title at the age of 32 with a vicious first-round knockout of Floyd Patterson. He knocked out Patterson a second time in the return match.

    Liston had to climb the ranks slowly because he went to prison at the age of 20 for a conviction on an armed robbery charge (source: ESPN.com), and he was in trouble at various times throughout his career.

Archie Moore

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    Archie Moore was a top heavyweight fighter throughout his professional career. He had a record of 185-23-10.

    "The Mongoose" started boxing in the mid-1930s, and his career concluded in 1963 when he was 47.

    Once Moore reached the age of 30, he had 115 professional fights. That's a record of longevity that only a true late bloomer could achieve.

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