Most things in life are measurable. They have a beginning. They have an end. They exist for a period of time in which we are aware of them, but we are equally aware when they cease.
Relationships. Tube journeys. Friendships. A game of football. I would say a game of cricket but I genuinely have no idea when they end. Most things.
Last month, Roy Jones Jr fought a bareknuckle boxing champion named Bobby Gunn. Last year, he was brutally knocked out by Welshman Enzo Macaranelli. Sandwiched in between, he beat up a fan in an exhibition bout.
Jones says, all being well, he will retire in 2020. Most things.
But what is it that keeps the fire burning long past its brightest flame? What is it that refuses to die when a career does?
For Jones Jr, the king of the early millenium, boxing has been a harsh regime since he was a boy. Pain, intensity and relentless pressure sculpted the Penascola native as his father trained him in the early days.
The direct link between boxing and family was cemented.
In his prime, money rained down on Roy and worldwide acclaim followed. He was an outstanding fighter. An incredible entertainer. However, even in November 2008, Roy Jones Jr looked a shadow of his old self when losing to Welsh wizard Joe Calzaghe.
Eight years on and boxing nobodies, Jones Jr is searching. Searching for a bit-on-the-side. Something to keep his interest. Something to give him fulfilment. Unfortunately for Roy, that is taking punches to the head.
It seems almost as though Roy Jones Jr has something to prove, even now. Boxing can give children hope. It can provide them with an outlet for their anger, allow them to shine and offer them a way out. But proving themselves can be their undoing, as much as it can act as their fuel.
Alabama’s Evander Holyfield is another example of stubborn, wreckless abandonment. The greatest cruiserweight ever struggled on at heavyweight until aged 49, looking and sadly sounding like the final bell had sounded a little too late.
Prime Holyfield was in the mid-to-late nineties. Try to soak that up when we consider he retired 15 years afterwards. He would lose some controversial decisions and win some, just as debatable. Bear in mind, Holyfield won his first world title the year I was born, he retired when I was 24. Scary.
“I’ve still got hope”, said Holyfield in 2012.
He was 50 years old and delusional enough to believe he might win a world title. He needed the cash desperately.
‘Real Deal’ had managed to ‘seal the deal’ with various women leaving 11 children in his path. He blew £350m and held an auction of his belongings famously.
Boxing at the highest level provides a financial security like nothing else. Mike Tyson famously earned $500m or more and ‘Money’ Mayweather is the highest paid combat athlete in history. The downside? The hangers-on, the lifestyle and ultimately the short career. Getting out on top both physically and financially seems nearly impossible.
The sadness I feel when hearing or seeing these stories of former greats has been eclipsed recently. Now Jones Jr may be striving to regain past glory, Holyfield was struggling to make a buck (sorry, win a world title!).
They had their moment under the lights and were allowed to establish a lasting legacy. Many others have, and will follow the same path.
The story of a Nick Blackwell is the saddest of them all. After suffering a bleed on the brain, Blackwell made a remarkable recovery. He was coaching and working in a boxing gym when, for reasons completely unfathomable, he decided to start sparring.
Blackwell was such a famous case in British boxing due to his age, relatively fresh career and the public out-pouring of grief. Never was boxing’s addictive grasp on its employees more evident.
The infectious nature of the lifestyle, the routine, the brotherhood.
It was inescapable.
‘Knowing when to quit’ doesn’t always reference age. It’s a self-awareness often missing from elite athletes of any genre. A baseball player with a dodgy shoulder? Nightmare. A footballer getting outpaced by a younger opposition player? Embarassing.
A boxer being punched clean, to the brain, for smaller purses than he earned in his prime? Probably to entertain fans who care little for his physical or mental well-being? Damaging his legacy and the legitimacy of the sport?
You tell me.