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Fighting Father Time: Boxing's 10 best elder statesmen

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Quick Thought: Hey, ESPN -- either give real highlights or don't even bother. This morning's edition of SportsCenter breezed past the Jones-Trinidad bout, focusing more on the pre-fight glove issue than the bout itself. They neither showed nor even mentioned the two knockdowns, and acted as if Jones cruised with no difficulty whatsoever. Trinidad won some rounds -- not many, but some -- and was close to winning others before Jones pulled away with harder, cleaner shots.

I'm not saying I expected some fine analysis of the bout, because this is ESPN we're talking about, a network that totally disregards the existence of the sport, refusing to promote even their Friday Night Fights cards. How many commercial breaks do you have to wait to see what their college basketball schedule looks like for the coming week? Right, and now when do you ever see a commercial for FNF?

But it was as if the talking heads barely even knew that the fight had happened. I have friends who are, at best, very, very casual fans. Without my ever mentioning it to them, they knew of Jones-Trinidad. One of them asked if there was a fight last night, and then said, "It's two old farts, right?" That was more informed than ESPN sounded this morning.

Next Up: Sports Illustrated proclaiming that the Jones win may be just what's needed to "save boxing."

But let's move on, as that "Quick Thought" was a little less quick than I had anticipated.

I figure you can guess the idea by the title, but here is the one rule: The fighter must have been born December 31, 1969, or earlier. We're talking the true golden oldies of the fight game, not Joe Calzaghe, Winky Wright or Oscar de la Hoya.

Now, that said, no, there are not ten great active fighters born in the 1960s. There aren't ten very good active fighters born in the 1960s. You can argue that there aren't ten that are good anymore. But ten is a nice, round number, and five was too few to bother. Plus, it gives me some more opportunities to rail on my favorite fighter.

1. Bernard Hopkins
Date of Birth: 1965-01-15

The second-oldest guy listed (yes, that means he's coming up later) is also the best, and it is by no means a tight competition. The 43-year old "Executioner" still fights at an unbelievable level, and is on all top ten pound-for-pound lists, and in many of them, he maintains a spot in the top five. Some even go so far as to believe Hopkins is still the best fighter in the sport, a claim I don't buy, but you can form the basis of an argument for it.

Not only is he still a phenomenal fighter, having yet to become "a shadow of his former self" as basically every other guy here has, but he fights nothing but top-flight competition. When is the last time Bernard Hopkins fought an "easy" opponent? Most answers would come back as Robert "Armed & Dangerous" Allen, who had little in the way of notable wins prior to his 2004 blowout loss to Hopkins. Allen didn't fight again until 2006.

Since then, how about this list: Oscar de la Hoya, tough guy Howard Eastman, young stud Jermain Taylor twice in a row, and then he went from middleweight to light heavyweight to fight Antonio Tarver, dominating him before beating defensive wizard Winky Wright at a 170-pound catchweight last summer.

The knocks there are that de la Hoya is no middleweight and Wright didn't belong at 170 pounds. My responses there are, good, then that means Hopkins did exactly what he was supposed to do. He knocked out Oscar, giving "The Golden Boy" his only KO defeat, and outlasted Wright in what turned into a pretty rough and grueling affair. And you can also throw in on Benard's behalf that the two losses to Taylor were hotly-contested and still debated, both of them.

Hopkins has no peer in his age group in today's game, and very few fighters in the history of the sport have ever been as good as he is through age 42. And next up for the Philadelphia living legend? 168-pound king Joe Calzaghe in April. Sometimes I think Hopkins acts like a fool, but I will never cease to be amazed by his boxing brain. He's as smart as they come inside the squared circle.

2. Glen Johnson
Date of Birth: 1969-01-02

On July 20, 1997, Glen Johnson fought Bernard Hopkins for Hopkins' IBF middleweight title. Johnson was 32-0 entering the fight, and Hopkins was 31-2-1. Bernard won every single round until finally scoring the TKO in the 11th. And then it all went to shit, quite frankly, for Glen Johnson's boxing career.

He lost his next two fights, to Merqui Sosa and Joseph Kiwanuka. After four tomato can wins, he went to Germany to fight the dreaded Sven Ottke, losing a close decision that, if you followed Ottke's career any, you get the relevance of that. Johnson didn't lose that fight. Lots of guys didn't lose their fights against Ottke. But Ottke is a story for another day, or a story and career to be largely disregarded as farcical.

After the bunk loss to Ottke, he dropped three straight to Syd Vanderpool, Silvio Branco and Omar Sheika. Later on, he lost two straight to Derrick Harmon and Julio Cesar Gonzalez. At that point, he was 38-9, a forgotten almost-was that didn't quite make it. He was to serve as a gatekeeper the rest of his days.

Glen Johnson deserves all the credit in the world for what he's done with his career. Here's a guy that between his starting 1997 loss to Hopkins and before his 2004 win over Clinton Woods went 7-9-2, but a lot of that record came against really good fighters. He then, of course, beat the ever-loving hell out of Roy Jones, Jr., live on HBO, and the comeback story of Glen Johnson was complete.

He's working on a three-fight win streak of questionable merit, including a win a couple weeks ago in Atlantic City over a fat, old Hugo Pineda. He's got a shot at exciting young 175-pound titleholder Chad Dawson on April 12. We'll see how much he's got left in the tank, but I can't count Johnson out. He's already proven to have quite the reserve supply.

3. Javier Castillejo
Date of Birth: 1968-03-22

Spanish warrior who fights in Germany now, still a contender at middleweight. Most American fans will know the name as being little more than a past victim of Oscar de la Hoya and Fernando Vargas, but Castillejo is a really good fighter. At 62-7 for his career, three of Castillejo's losses have come to Oscar, Vargas, and the still-underrated Felix Sturm.

I rank Castillejo over Jones, if you're going to wonder in a moment, because I think he's the slightly more relevant competitor in his weight class. Roy Jones has still not scored a notable win over a real light heavyweight in over four years, since he beat Tarver in their first bout -- a win, for the record, I felt Roy deserved, and the only people who to this day see that as a Tarver win are those that expected the flash-and-power Jones that night and didn't get it. He still beat Tarver, even though he wasn't his old self.

But here is where the two are quite similar: There is not a major titlist in their divisions I'd favor them against. Jones is not going to beat Hopkins, Dawson, Woods (not anymore) or even Erdei if a fight is made. Castillejo is not going to beat Pavlik or Abraham, and I would pretty greatly favor Sturm to defeat him again. This, already, is where we get into the high class of pretenders rather than the real contenders.

4. Roy Jones, Jr.
Date of Birth: 1969-01-16

I mentioned earlier the phrase "shadow of his former self." No fighter defines that more than Roy Jones, Jr.

It's not really Roy's fault. For a 39-year old fighter, he's still pretty good. But he is 39 years old, it does show, and he will never even approach his former greatness, no matter how good he feels or how much he smiles.

The win over Trinidad puts Jones back in position to fight another big money show, be it against Calzaghe or he who is still coming up or anyone in between. Just don't believe for a second that Roy Jones will ever climb into a ring with Hopkins again. As Igor Olshansky might say, "Please. He knows what's up."

5. Verno Phillips
Date of Birth: 1969-11-29

I'm not as high on him as some folks are, but he's a contender at 154, sort of the junior middleweight Glen Johnson, though not as glamorous. Phillips has no shot at beating Cory Spinks when those two fight sometime in the next few months, but he does deserve the shot. Why can't he beat Spinks? Because Spinks, as much as we hate to watch him fight, is very good. The 38-year old Phillips will not be able to keep up with Cory's jab-and-move game.

6. Andrew Golota
Date of Birth: 1968-01-05

Hey, why the hell not? I'm all for Golota, because he seems like a down-to-earth nice son of a bitch. He really does. He's a guy that gets his own failings and doesn't make excuses for them. When he loses, he knows it. When he has a psychobilly freakout, hey, that's just something that happens. But when he's at his best, he can be destructive. Showing the guts to fight hard against a younger guy like Mike Mollo was kind of impressive.

I'm on board with title unifications, too, but if Klitschko beats Ibragimov, I'd like to see him hold off on his mandatory defense against the Povetkin-Chambers winner, ignore Chagaev and Maskaev or Peter for another moment, and get into the ring with Andrew Golota. Between the glass chins and emotional fragility, I would actually pay to see them fight if it had a good undercard.

7. Raymond Joval
Date of Birth: 1968-09-15

The former Olympian is still truckin' on as a gatekeeper at 160. I'm one of those that thought he gave Fernando Vargas a pretty fair run for his money in 2005, which was also pretty much the green light on my then-forming theory that Vargas' career wasn't going to last a whole lot longer.

8. Antonio Tarver
Date of Birth: 1968-11-21

I know I've said it so much that it may have lost all meaning, but Antonio Tarver sucks. OK, so that's relative. He doesn't suck like the 3-20-4 fighter at the local armory sucks, but for a championship-level fighter, Tarver sucks now. He was the perfect (or worst possible, depending on your view) matchup for Roy Jones. He absolutely had Roy's number. But can you see the best Tarver beating the best Jones? Personally, I don't think the fight is even close.

Would Tarver ever have been able to beat Hopkins? No. And since getting demolished by Hopkins, he's been pedestrian at best in awful wins over Elvir Muriqi and Danny Santiago. He's not going to fight Jeff Lacy, even if Lacy waived his personal feelings and would fight on a Gary Shaw card. Tarver is fleecing Showtime every time he fights now. He's a total non-attraction, and I don't have him in my top ten at light heavyweight. And I'll tell you what, if they fought this summer or something, Jones would dominate Tarver. Guaranteed. Jones fell further, but he had a lot farther to fall. Tarver looks totally shot.

9. Evander Holyfield
Date of Birth: 1962-10-19

Told you he was coming. Evander is not a bad heavyweight fighter. He went all 12 one-sided rounds with a perfectly fine champion in Sultan Ibragimov. He'll never compete at a championship level again, but it's not his skill level that bothers people. It's the fact that most guys within six years of him that have his level of skill are content to be gatekeepers. Evander is so delusionally punch-drunk that he thinks God is going to carry him to the undisputed heavyweight championship. At what point is it clear that a man won't be regaining his senses, and that someone needs to forcibly pull him the hell out of the firing line? Does this great man and great champion not have a single friend or family member that truly cares about him?

10. Rodney Jones
Date of Birth: 1968-07-28

Only moderatley active, but who the hell else was I going to put here? Henry Akinwande? Juiced-Up James Toney?

To sum up: This is why boxing is a young man's game. Hopkins is a once-a-generation freak of nature.

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