Boxing: Lewis has much to lose as he fights losing battle against time

As they grow older and recognise that the universe is larger than a sports arena, it becomes difficult for athletes to shut out everything else and to play a game. It also hurts more. The human body was not designed to withstand punishment for almost 12 months of the year.

It was not designed to fight for the heavyweight championship at the age of 37, either, Earlier this week, I caught up on television with the contest in Los Angeles that saw Lennox Lewis extend his reign over the division when a gaping eye wound left Vitali Klitschko in no fit state to continue beyond the sixth round. Wearied by the lumbering activity, frequently out-punched, marked up and two points adrift on the official score cards, Lewis, in sporting terms, looked old. Time to quit? That time was more than a year ago when a lighter, sleeker, better-organised Lewis battered Mike Tyson in Memphis.

Watching Lewis slump heavily on to his stool took me back to 1978 when Muhammad Ali regained the World Boxing Organisation title from Leon Spinks in New Orleans. Giving away 11 years, Ali toyed for two rounds with the idea of knocking out Spinks but the work he had put in could not bring back the snake-tongue quickness of the hands. Ali missed badly with two rights. Then yielding to reality, he simply moved around and about Spinks, flicking punches, holding, sliding, holding, always three moves ahead. It was a boring and decisive victory and it must have hurt like hell. A sourness had invaded Ali's style. "It's murder how hard he has to work,'' his trainer Angelo Dundee said.

In truth, Ali, along with Joe Frazier, should have retired three years earlier after they fought themselves to a standstill in Manila. Knowing when to go. That's the thing.

Fourteen months after Ali's victory in Louisiana he crumbled against Larry Holmes, who implored the referee to stop the contest. A year later, Ali lost a 10-round decision to Trevor Berbick. At last, it was over. Nine contests too late.

Since it is Lewis's intention to fight on we can only conclude that the truth hasn't dawned, not only the long-term risk to his health but the prospect of being remembered as less than he was.

Oblivious to the discernible effects of a hard career, Evander Holyfield, now 40, announced yesterday that he is negotiating for a contest against James Toney. At a similar age, Frank Bruno appears to be serious about coming out of retirement.

"Enough is enough,'' the Welsh boxing sage Eddie Thomas said to Colin Jones after three unsuccessful attempts to win the world welterweight championship. Financially secure, Jones has never regretted taking Thomas's advice. "I was out of the ring at 27 and never tempted to return,'' he said. Barry McGuigan, prompted by the harsh truth he encountered in abortive combat, retired in his 28th year.

Across the past decade big-time sport has become an explosive growth industry. That's fine for many investors and lots of the performers, but "growth industry'' is no buzz phrase for fun. Newspapers and broadcasting organisations have concentrated on the high salaries and prize money available in sport. That doesn't mean simply, as some suggest, that the rich athletes all become complacent. It does mean that many work harder and longer and so may wear out sooner.

These days, motivated athletes respond to the physical effects of age by conditioning themselves more intensively. The high level of competence achieved by the England rugby union team springs in a number of cases from the efforts of men in the twilight of their careers and playing tactical games with time. They find no prejudice against age in selection. Harder and harder hits haven't driven them into retirement. But what does the future hold; arthritic joints, knee and hip replacements? The ageing athlete measures pain against glory, risk against profit. He considers what is left of his body, and then, I believe, he subconsciously decides whether or not he wants to go on.

Pat Eddery's decision to quit race riding at 51 wasn't taken prematurely. It sprang from a clear understanding that time waits for no athlete.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity now exists for a...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones