Roy Jones Jr., age 46, and Shane Mosley, age 43, are two of the best fighters of their era. That era, of course, has long since passed. Known for their otherworldly handspeed and incredible power, Jones and Mosley were two of the biggest and brightest stars of the sport way back in the early 2000s.
It’s been a while, folks.
According to Boxrec.com, the last time both men were ranked by Ring Magazine among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport at the same time was 2003. Mosley, by himself, was ranked No. 3 pound-for-pound in 2009 after knocking out Antonio Margarito but was knocked back out after losing a wide unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather the next year.
Judging by their records alone, one would be correct in concluding that the two men have seen better days. Jones has lost his last three meaningful fights. His eight-fight win streak is less a testament to his skill than it is to the lack of skill men he’s been fighting have. Case in point: Jones defeated some guy named Eric Watkins by Round 6 knockout over the weekend.
Before retiring in 2013, Mosley, who has since announced a comeback fight against Ricardo Mayorga, had won just one time in six fights. He narrowly defeated Pablo Cesar Cano in 2013 and suffered a draw to Sergio Mora in 2010. A prime version of Mosley would have eradicated both men within the distance.
Yet both men continue to fight on for reasons only truly known to them. It might be money or pride or simply not knowing what else to do. It doesn’t really matter. The result of the decision is two all-time great fighters, men who were beloved for their excellence at combat and peerless accomplishments as superstar boxers, are continuing their careers inside the boxing ring long after most everyone else in the world would prefer them to do so.
And they have every right to do it.
Some folks are uncomfortable with that. ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael tweeted his displeasure with the Jones fight recently, underscoring the widely prevailing belief that somehow a fighter continuing his career after his best days is sad:
Mosley took to the same social media platform to lament the tremendous blow back he’s been getting from the boxing public at large, people who probably feel the anonymity of the Internet gives them what they need to hurl all the vitriol they desire at such men.
The uncomfortable truth about boxing—that it is a brutal and physically damaging sport—seems magnified as the stars of our youth age passed their primes. Jones, who once knocked an opponent out after placing both hands behind his back, and Mosley, a fighter some boxing historians believe was the best lightweight since Roberto Duran, will never again be what they once were.
That's fine. But why does the grisly truth about boxing only seem to matter now?
Is it our own mortality that causes us to give pause to supporting them? Does life’s brevity seem even more apparent when we see Jones and Mosley fighting like mere mortals? Is it something else altogether?
Whatever the case may be, it’s hypocritical for boxing fans and media members to lambaste great boxers for fighting past their best. If any athlete has earned the right to go out on his own terms, it is the boxer.
Where were we when Jones and Mosley were toiling long hours in the gym to hone their craft? Where were we when no one but their families knew their names? Where were we when only they believed they’d someday be champions and have careers worthy of enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame?
Boxing is rough and dangerous.
But it was just as rough when the two were children, young fighters who would become worldwide stars in a future only they could imagine. It was just as dangerous when they were amateur stars, representing their country all over the planet, and the very same the first day they took the headgear off and put smaller gloves on to become professionals.
Boxing is always what it is. It’s scary and brutal, and no one comes out it unscathed. Ever. Selective acknowledgment of that truth doesn’t make it any less real.
But consider this: What about the hapless brutes the two men pummeled on their way up the ranks? Is it OK because those pugs were limited by talent rather than old age? Who’s to decide which factors have meaning?
People watch boxing because fighters do things normal people can’t. You can’t celebrate the amazing career of Bernard Hopkins for being a champion at age 50 while simultaneously lamenting Jones and Mosley for wanting to do the same.
Make no mistake: Jones and Mosley could do real damage to their bodies and lives by continuing to fight.
But that risk was always there. It’s inherent to all gladiators who lace up the gloves and duke things out for a living. Every fighter knows the risk he takes when he enters the ring. It's the same every single time.
So as long as Mosley and Jones are comfortable with that risk and as long as they can pass the standard pre-fight medical tests, everyone else should be comfortable with it, too.
It's not sad. It's boxing. And fighters have the right to go out on their own terms because they've risked their lives for the sport they love for their entire careers.
They've earned it.