Steve Bunce on Boxing: Carl Froch should follow the examples of Joe Calzaghe, Lennox Lewis, Barry McGuigan and Henry Cooper – and retire on his own terms, free of desperation
Thursday 05 June 2014
Henry Cooper was younger and possibly lighter than Carl Froch when he uttered the deathless final words of his career in the minutes after losing to Joe Bugner at Wembley in 1971: "That's it. That's me lot."
Cooper never even dreamt of fighting again, but he did take Bugner on once more in a cross-Channel swimming race, the veracity of which is hard to establish; I do, however, have a signed picture of the pair in their tiny trunks shaking hands before getting into the water. "I did it again, I won that," Bugner told me.
In the ring that emotional night at Wembley Cooper was 36 and 10 months and officially weighed 13st 7lb. He looks 10 years and two stone heavier in the harsh pictures from the night, and in his glorious retirement, as the gongs arrived and the legend increased, he looked younger at 50 than he did against Bugner.
Joe Calzaghe was three months younger than Froch is right now when he walked away from the sport after beating Roy Jones at Madison Square Garden in 2008. Calzaghe was unbeaten in 46 fights and Froch was less than a year away from being a serious rival. "I had nothing left to prove," insisted Calzaghe, who has refused several offers to end his exile.
Froch will be 37 on 2 July and has still not confirmed his ring intentions, sending out mixed messages that have been seized on by a disparate group of fighters; there are as many as six boxers looking to get in on the Froch business in three different countries at present. The number will increase if and when he ends the speculation and decides to continue fighting.
In 1989 Barry McGuigan walked away from the sport after a cut-eye loss to Jim McDonnell; McGuigan was just 28 but he was determined not to be the last to know when it was time to quit. The history of boxing is dominated by the sad tales of men who fought too long, ignoring advice from men they trusted and listening instead to the latest flattery bending their ears.
"The magic had gone," admitted McGuigan. "I'd achieved everything that I wanted to achieve in my career. I couldn't see the reason to continue." He walked away after holding a tearful, impromptu conference in a stairwell and refused all offers to return, including a comical effort that was oddly alluring from Don King one night in 1993. In McGuigan's chilling and often brutal 2011 autobiography, Cyclone: My Story, he recalls a meeting with the American promoter.
"Don King showed up and worked on me for about an hour," McGuigan recalled. "'Come on,' he said. 'I'll put you on in America and we'll have them little leprechauns and we will have people playing the harp and fiddle and I'll make you millions.'" At the time McGuigan was 32.
Perhaps the sweetest boxing retirement in the last 25 years was by Lennox Lewis, who has slowly turned into a dignified statesman, in early 2004. Lewis was 37 and nine months when he fought and won for the last time in late 2003 against Vitali Klitschko in the type of brutal, blood-and-pain slugfest that can make an old man of a young man inside a few rounds. Klitschko was leading on all three scorecards and had stood and traded ferocious punches with Lewis until his cheek and eyebrows exploded, forcing the referee to intervene in round six; Klitschko needed nearly 200 stitches to close his wounds and pull his face back together.
The news that Lewis had decided to retire was greeted by a spontaneous outburst of applause at his London press conference. The ride was, as they famously said of Muhammad Ali's years, finally over for Lewis, and he walked from that Park Lane hotel like a man without a care in the world; Lewis left behind no questions and that matters to proud prizefighters.
Froch is not walking away from a rival, not denying a man a chance and that makes the decision his. "Thirty-six is getting to the age. You know it's time to leave, but something tells you you've got to take one more gamble," said Muhammad Ali. He did take one more gamble, he lost and it remains a dark blot on his career and the men that surrounded him. Froch is a wealthy man, a family man and a proud man; his decision will be free of both hubris and desperation.
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